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22 June 2012

Bag with wedding clothes arrives after epic journey

Date: 3 May 2012
Airline: United, flight 6179H
Location: Chicago, IL; Albany, NY; and Wilkes-Barre, PA

Although traveling with United in the past has generally been a reasonably smooth experience, I would like to report that my most recent travel experience was borderline disastrous due to a number of incidents demonstrating incompetence, rudeness, and total disregard for customer satisfaction.

The Four-hour Delay
My wife and I were scheduled to fly from Chicago (ORD) landing in Wilkes-Barre (AVP) on May 3, 7:16 PM, flight UA 6179H. The weather was causing some delays on various planes that night, with many of them being cancelled. Although delays are understandable, the manner in which this was handled was unacceptable. At one point, a frustrated gate attendant began audibly cursing and slamming his phone around, clearly causing an uncomfortable atmosphere to people already on edge from constant 15 minute delays totaling over 4 hours. Despite many flights being cancelled due to plane damage, ours was thankfully not, and nearly 5 hours later we boarded our plane.

After sitting on the plane for about 30 minutes, our pilot informed us that the flight was canceled, because the flight would mean him working over 16 hours. We then waited almost 40 minutes to get off the plane, since there was no gate available for us to return to. This is completely unacceptable, because a very basic calculation would have prevented us from wasting several hours of our time boarding a plane that could have never possibly taken off—United should have been able to calculate hours before that the flight could not occur due to the pilot being unable to work longer.

We were then shuffled off to a customer service area where an airline employee was rudely yelling and acting impatient with understandably outraged customers, as if she was annoyed that she had to perform her duties. Eventually we were seen by a representative.

A Key Checked Bag Gets Lost
Now, my wife and I were traveling to Wilkes-Barre where we would spend the night with my family and drive to Schenectady NY together the next morning. The next flight to Wilkes-Barre was too late the next day such that our family would not be there to pick us up, as there was a very important wedding rehearsal dinner occurring at 6:00 PM in Schenectady. In order for us to attend this dinner, we needed to change our flight destination to Albany, NY. After some debate with a United representative who was saying we’d have to pay for the new flight despite our original one being cancelled (which he comically denied ever happened, even though the room was full of people from the same cancelled flight!), we were finally transferred to a new flight to Albany, flight UA5905, departing March 4th at 7:49 AM.

Before leaving the airport to try to get a little sleep, we were told that our luggage (one bag) was not automatically transferred for us and that we’d need to go to United baggage services to ensure that it was transferred. The lady there looked at our boarding passes and said that they were already transferred, which is of course impossible considering what we had just been told. We asked her to make sure, and she did something on her computer and then assured us that it was done.

More Delays the Next Day
After returning to the airport the next morning and reaching our gate, we once again were informed that our plane to Albany was delayed. Except this time, the delay was handled with extreme unprofessionalism. We were moved to a number of different gates over and over. At one point, we were told to go to another gate because our plane was there waiting for us. It was not waiting for us, meaning we were blatantly lied to by a United representative.

At another time, we were told it was ‘on its way from the hanger’, and then told an hour later that it was still sitting at the hanger. We received completely different stories depending on who we asked. Eventually, we learned that the reason our plane hadn’t arrived at the gate, almost four hours later, is because there was no personnel to taxi the plane from the hanger to the gate. Our pilot had been sitting at the gate for over an hour at this point, and he was then summoned to be driven over to the hanger so he could taxi the plane himself. Note that if communication wasn’t so terrible, this could have been done at least an hour before.

Moments before boarding the plane, I spoke directly with the person loading the bags onto the plane. Skeptical that my bag was properly transferred, I had him take a look at my baggage claim ticket, asking him if he could please verify that my luggage was loaded onto the plane. After consulting with another man, inputting some numbers, and then scanning my baggage claim ticket, he assured us that the bag was on the plane.

United Unsure of Bag Location
We arrived in Albany shortly after, but our baggage did not. It was now 2:45 PM, meaning we’d have to go to a rehearsal dinner without the clothing in our baggage. A man at United baggage services in Albany filed a report (Reference [redacted]), and was unable to locate where our bag actually was, although he suspected it was still in Chicago since it wasn’t in Albany and wasn’t in Wilkes-Barre. Luckily there was another flight to Albany that evening, since we had a wedding the next day at 4PM, and desperately needed our clothing (suits, dresses, toiletries, medication, etc.).

I spent a great deal of that afternoon and evening speaking with various representatives from the provided hotline, 1-800-355-2247, making sure that the bags would indeed be sent on the next flight to Albany, where we could pick it up that evening as to be prepared for the wedding the next day. Some of these representatives were confused about the current location of the bag, insisting that it was in Albany since it was scanned onto the Albany flight (I suspect this is because the aforementioned bag loader scanned my claim ticket). After insisting that no, the bag was not in Albany, I received yet more reassurance that the bag would be sent out on the next flight to Albany.

The Bag Shows Up in the Wrong City
That evening, I called the hotline again to check on the status of the bag, since by about that time it should have been en route to Albany, and would have been scanned. The representative said that yes, it had been scanned, but to Wilkes-Barre! So, after spending hours on the phone with baggage services, it’s as if everything I had requested had been completely ignored. At this point, my wife and I were very worried that we’re not going to receive our baggage in time for the wedding. Although there was a flight from Wilkes-Barre to Albany the next morning, my confidence in the ability of United to properly execute any request has been demolished. Regardless, I asked them to do this, which of course they assured me would be done.

United Customer Service Continues to Fall Short
Note that the calls themselves also demonstrated extreme unprofessionalism on the part of United. On at least one occasion I was told I would be called back by a supervisor, only to never be called. On others, I was put on hold for 20 minutes while a representative tried to answer a very simple question. Asking for a supervisor was a huge ordeal, as the representative I spoke to completely ignored my request and tried to solve my problem herself, despite the fact that several had failed before her. At no point was there any respect for the urgency of the situation, nor were there ever any options for me to escalate the problem to someone with more power or knowledge.

Another Company Saves the Day
The morning of the wedding, I received a call—not from United, but from ‘Best Value Passenger Services’ at the Wilkes-Barre airport (AVP). So, United failed to act on my request yet again, and my bag was a three-hour drive away with no more flights available before the wedding. However, I was relieved, because finally my bag was in the hands of somebody that wasn’t United Airlines. And thanks to them, we were able to receive our bag about an hour before the wedding, because an employee of theirs delivered our bag directly to us, a 3 hour drive away.

Overall, my wife and I are extremely disappointed in the quality of service we received from United. Our trip was certainly marred and came very close to being completely ruined. At no point during the entire support process were we ever offered any compensation. We do believe we should be compensated for the flight and baggage charges and look forward to hearing what United can offer us.


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