I just returned from an amazing vacation visiting family in Seattle, WA (I’ll post about the details of the trip later). As I said, the trip was AMAZING, but I haven’t posted one of my “rants” in a while, and I felt that the customer service (or lack thereof) I encountered while flying with United Airlines deserved it’s own blog entry. So I’ll start by saying that I will NEVER fly with United Airlines again (unless of course they offer me a free roundtrip ticket to Costa Rica or Indonesia or any of the other countries I so desperately want to visit)!
I work in retail, so I fully appreciate how difficult it can be sometimes to deal with upset, irrational guests. I realize the frustrations of trying to appease someone who is angry over a company policy, or equipment malfunctions… things that may be completely out of your control. But I also realize that it is my job to try to assist the guest in any way possible; offer different solutions to their problems, attempt to help them locate an out of stock item elsewhere, etc. Unfortunately, the employees with United Airlines don’t seem to appreciate the importance of customer service in any way.
The first time I heard a United Airlines employee use the phrase “I’m a person too” (as in “please be nice to me, I’m a person too and I’m trying to help you”), I genuinely felt that the employee was being somewhat attacked by an angry passenger who was upset because she had encountered issues with the self check-in kiosks. In fact, I wouldn’t even have mentioned the incident if I hadn’t realized that there seemed to be a pattern throughout my trip of malfunctioning equipment, poor customer service, and overuse of the phrase “I’m a person too”, or “I’m just a person”. It’s as if United Airlines, as a company, does not care to address the issues, but rather deflect them back onto the passengers by depicting them unreasonable, irrationally angry people who are attacking their employees for no apparent reason. And, of course, this is not the case.
So that’s where I first noticed the issues- at the self check-in kiosks in the Seattle Tacoma Airport. I had already checked in for my flight, but since I was checking bags, I still had to go through the check in line to do so. Luckily, I had priority passes, which meant I was able to stand in a much shorter line (nothing to complain about there). However, I quickly realized that the line was moving much slower that it should, given the number of computers available for check-in. That’s also when I realized that several passengers were beginning to get upset with the airline employees because the kiosks were freezing during the check-in process, and there were not nearly enough employees on staff to efficiently check-in passengers without the kiosks available. There were 8 computers available for priority passengers to use for check-in, but of those, 3 were showing error messages, and 2 were frozen in the middle of the check-in process. This wasn’t a huge setback, but I mention it because it was one of many issues I encountered while flying United Airlines.
Since it is almost impossible to find a direct flight from anywhere on either coast to Oklahoma, I had several connecting flights during my trip. On my way home, I was scheduled to fly from Seattle, to San Francisco, to Las Angeles, to Oklahoma City. While in San Francisco, we were informed that our plane was delayed because of “engine problems”. Made me feel real safe… Anyway, we weren’t given a lot of information. We were told that they would keep us updated. Fifteen minutes later, we were told again that the flight was still delayed, but that they would update us at 5:30pm. Well, 5:30pm came and passed, with no information. 6:00 came and passed with no update. Once 6:30pm rolled around, we still had not received any kind of verbal update, so I checked the monitors to see if they had been updated with our expected departure time. Our flight was now showing to leave at 8pm (scheduled to leave at 5pm). Our connecting flight in LA was supposed to leave at 7:30pm, so I knew I would have to change flights. The lines were extremely long, so I called to have my flights changed over the phone while I stood in line. But I still had to wait in line to get my updated itinerary, tickets, and hotel and meal vouchers. I stood in one of two lines for 30 minutes before a third agent came out to assist passengers. But for some unknown reason (and this is where their lack of customer service skills really starts to show), she only called people over from one of the lines (and of course it wasn’t mine). A fourth agent also appeared to help out, but allowed passengers to form a new line, rather than assisting the next passenger in line.
Finally, after waiting in line for over 45 minutes, I stepped over to an agent who was only available to answer questions, and asked if there was a reason that the third agent was only pulling over passengers from one line, instead of both lines, and explained that I had been waiting for over 45 minutes, and that people who were being helped who had only been in line for 5 minutes. The response I received was “I’m sorry, I can’t help you”. Wow. Ok… so I waited some more.
There was a women in the line next to me who was very frustrated because she had been dealing with delayed flights all day. She was trying to reach San Antonio, TX, and had been traveling since 6:00 that morning. When she reached the front of the line, she asked if this kind of situation was normal for United Airlines. The agent actually responded with “Yes, this happens all the time. Everyday.” The passenger responded by asking how they can possibly stay in business with all the delays and poor customer service. The agent stated that with hundreds of flights each day, one flight experiencing a problem was inevitable. The passenger then explained that she had been dealing with delayed flights all day, to which the agent responded by sarcastically stating “That just means the pilots are playing a joke on you.” At this, I laughed out loud and shook my head. You have got to be kidding me!
Another woman who made it to the front of the line explained that her carry-on bag (with medications, reading material, clothing, etc.) had been checked during her first flight because the plane was full and there was not enough room. As she spoke to the agent, she stated “you guys took my carry-on bag, and there are things I need in there”. The agent responded nonchalantly with “ma am, we did not take your bag”. The passenger then stated “United Airlines, your company, the company you work for and represent, took my carry-on from me, and now I can’t get to the things I need”. The only response she could get from the agent was “well I didn’t take your bag”. When the supervisor was called over, I heard the same ridiculous phrase I heard earlier. “Ma am, I’m a person too, you need to treat me with respect”. I wanted so badly to jump to the front of the line and yell, “Well I’m a person too, where the HELL is my respect”. But of course, I did not.
So finally, after a full hour of waiting in line, I got everything I needed. I had to stay in San Francisco for the night, but that was actually nice because my husband has family there, so we were able to see them for a few hours. However, the hotel shuttle didn’t run until 4am (our flight was scheduled for 5:19am), so we ended up having to pay for a cab to the airport (which, of course, the airline does not give vouchers for). But our flight out of San Francisco took off on time, so we were finally on our way. Until we reached Denver. We waited, and waited and waited for the agents to call for us to start boarding the plane. It was a little disorganized since they had 4 different flights (all scheduled to leave within 10 minutes of each other) boarding through the same gate. So I just assumed we were late because of this. Finally, we hear a very quick overhead page that our flight has been delayed until 11:30am (an hour and a half late). I wasn’t even sure that I had heard them correctly, so I tried to step up to the counter to simply ask if my flight had been delayed, but was told that I would have to wait in line. So I waited in line, again. Just when I get to the front of the line, they finally make another announcement that the flight to Oklahoma City was delayed, but that we should all stay in the area in case the plane we were waiting on arrived earlier. And then guess what? Of course the flight didn’t arrive earlier, in fact we weren’t even able to board the plane until after 12:00pm.
In addition to all of the delays and poor customer service, we also were forced to spend a fair amount of money due to all of the issues we experienced while traveling with United Airlines. Yes, they provided us with a hotel room, and food vouchers to be used either at the hotel or in the airport. But we had to pay for the cab ride to the airport and for an additional day of parking. We also board our dogs while we are on vacation, so we had to pay for an additional day to board them, as well as a late pick-up fee. None of which is reimbursed by the airline.
So, as I said, I fully understand that sometimes things happen outside of your control. Sometimes customers can be completely out of line. But this is not what I experienced. What I experienced (and also witnessed with numerous other passengers) was issue after issue after issue, and instead of providing the customer service to counter all of those issues, I experienced some of the worst customer service I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with. As one passenger put it, “You know it’s really bad when the DMV provides you with better customer service than United Airlines”! And it’s true.