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An open letter to United Airlines

September 8, 2010

I’m so glad this happened today, and not tomorrow (my birthday). Now where did I put that bottle of scotch…

From: Nathan Novak
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 8:52 PM
To: xxxxxxxx@united.com
Subject: Huge thanks to Louis for saving a horrible United experience

I called into the main United phone line this morning hoping to get our reservation (XXXXX) changed since we’ve booked an extra couple days at Disney World.  I was told by the rep I spoke to that there were no seats available on Dec 14th for awards travel, and that the next available date to change the return flights to was Dec 20.  The agent then asked if I was willing to upgrade to Economy Plus “for $132”.  I pointedly asked 3 times if doing that upgrade meant I could fly on Dec 14, and I was told yes each time.  So I gave a credit card number and the transaction was completed.  I was told the flight numbers were the same with the upgrade – which reinforced the idea that the date had also changed.

I waited a few minutes after getting off the call for United.com to reflect the changes, and when they showed up the return flights were upgraded but were still booked for Dec 12.  The outgoing flights on Dec 3 remained in Economy.  I immediately called back and explained what had happened, and was again told that there were no seats available on Dec 14.  I was told to check back periodically to see if anything freed up.  I asked a few times if there were any regular seats available (not on miles) but I kept getting the same answer.  I also said that I wanted the upgrade backed out since I was misled into purchasing it.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor but the agent got defensive and assured me he could help; I kept getting the same answers though – they wouldn’t let me even buy 3 seats at regular price. I gave up for the moment and said I’d call back after conferring with my wife.

We decided that we really wanted to fly on Dec 14 since there were some special activities we’d booked (and paid for) at Disney on those extra days, so I called back.  I got the same run-around where I couldn’t get a straight answer.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor because the agent again was not answering my questions, and after some considerable back-and-forth the agent relented and transferred me … to a dead-end in the system that hung up on me after 25 minutes.

An hour or so later I called yet again.  By that time we had decided to give up on United for the return flight and I had already booked return travel for my family on Alaska Air (non-stop for roughly the same cost as the $150 change fee United would charge us anyway).  I wanted to get my return trip cancelled and the upgrade refunded.  The agent again pushed the “call back again another day” line and I again asked to be transferred to a supervisor, and predictably they didn’t want to do that.  So the agent cancelled the return flights on Dec 12 (I saw them disappear on the website) and then transferred the call to the refunds department.  I explained the situation after I was connected and the rep didn’t know what to do.  She put me on hold for a few minutes, then came on line and said she was going to transfer me to a supervisor.  I was on hold for about 45 minutes … and then the same rep came back on.  She said she couldn’t figure out the phone system or had some technical issue, and then she tried to help again, and then tried to transfer to a supervisor again.  I was on hold for another 15 minutes and someone finally came on, heard what had happened, and said she had credited me $279.

I went to lunch, and when I got back I checked the reservation again and the return flights on Dec 12 were back, and now not only the 12/12 but the 12/3 flights were also upgraded to Economy Plus.  I checked the e-receipt online and found I had been charged twice – once for $279 and then again for $264.  Keep in mind that I was told the upgrade was $132, and of course that the upgrade would also get me on flights for Dec 14.  At that point I was fried, and I had real work to actually get done.

I called again tonight and was eventually connected with Louis.  He was the first person I talked to who could fully speak and comprehend English, and he quickly realized the pickle I was in and vowed to do what he could to help out.  He also let me know the ins and outs of the Mileage Plus travel program (1-way and round-trip flights are the same cost in miles) and that to get a 1-way ticket would be a change fee of $150 (I’m assuming per seat).  Louis worked with his manager to properly note the account with the erroneous upgrade charges and got our tickets put back in Economy and got seats assigned.  He also worked with me to get the security questions answered for the itinerary and let me know how to contact the refunds group via email.

Needless to say this has been a completely horrible experience with United Airlines, and this trip is likely the last I’ll be taking with United.  All that being said, I want to commend Louis for being exceptionally understanding, level-headed, comforting, and helpful.  Louis was remarkably professional and let me know that he’d do whatever he could to ensure things were set straight.  As I’d say to one of the guys on my team, Louis had a “gold star” moment.  Please thank Louis again for me, and share his commendable devotion to customer service with your management chain.

Thanks.

Nathan

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  1. chris
    September 8, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Great story, and the irony, the ad on your page right now is for Alaska Air:) Sorry I could not meet today, my phone was dead till this afternoon.

    Peace out bro.

    Chris

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