Monday, August 16, 2010

United Airlines F’s over its Customers

On Thursday I had what must rank as one of my top ten all-time worst customer service experience at the hands of United Airlines.  It all started when my 2:30 pm flight to Washington-Dulles was cancelled due to bad weather in the DC area.  I don’t blame them for not flying without permission, but cancelling the flight altogether put the 130 or so folks on the plane in need of rebooking to get to their destination.  Had we flown when the airport reopened, I would have made my flight to Kuwait which was also delayed instead of enduring the torture that followed.

As we pulled back to the gate an announcement was made for domestic customers to line up at one gate and international customers at the other.  I’m thinking that they will give the international customers a priority since they have more expensive tickets and longer delays if flights are missed.  Nothing could have been further from what happened.

The domestic line was about twice as long as the international line, so it wasn’t surprising to see two agents servicing those passengers.  I was 9th of about 45 passengers in the international line.  Things were looking ok until the second customer in my line.  The first customer was in the wrong line so he was gone at once.  The next guy took over 50 minutes to try every possible option and ask every possible question.  Several international passengers asked for the agents to help us out a bit.  That wasn’t going to happen. 

As the ‘help’ whet on, the average time to book domestic passengers was maybe 5 minutes and the average passenger in the international line took about 30 minutes.  Even though I started 9th in line, I didn’t get any help with my travel until I had stood in line for over 3 hours.  Of course, by that time there was no way to get to Kuwait in time to catch my connection. None.  And since my connection only runs three days a week, it pushed my travel back 3 days.

Even though our line was moving so much slower, the 2 agents serving domestic passengers made no effort to help our line at all until all of the domestics were gone.  That happened right about the 3 hour mark.  Score 90 domestic, 8 international.  Nice.

At that point, some folks from further back in the international line stepped into the domestic line.  Once the domestics were gone, the agents continued with those line-jumpers in front of them instead of serving the next customer in the proper line.  Let that be a lesson to those who listen to instructions and play by the rules.  The folks behind the desk don’t give a crap about that.  They will do what is easier for them.  And did United keep all 3 agents working to help customers?  Nope.  One of the agents disappeared with no explanation.

Thankfully I was in my home town, so I could schedule a tentative trip and go home.  I really feel for the folks who were still 3 hours deep in the line and facing a night in a hotel and another day of traveling.

DId I say I could just go home?  That’s not quite true.  I still had to retrieve my bag from the airline.  That took another 30 minutes of waiting at the bag conveyor line.  From there I hopped on the waiting shuttle to airport parking and got right to my car.  Then I say the worst backup at the parking pay windows that I’ve every seen.  It took another 30 minutes to pay for the parking that I didn’t need.  I was home about 20 minutes later, much to the surprise of Dr. K.

As I’m writing this, my second try at this trip is going much better, but there is a long way to go.

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