United Airlines = Satan’s Chariot. A Customer Service Hell Hole.

The horror of travel realized. I hope someone, anyone in senior management at United Airlines reads this, and feels compelled to pick up the phone. Maybe one of them has a Google alert for “horrible nightmarish United Airlines customer service from hell” – just maybe. If so, give me a call. I work at DDB Los Angeles.

I’m fine with travelling on a holiday weekend; I’m fine with showing up at the airport pre-dawn, two hours before my flight. I’m fine with not being able to check in online because Henry’s a child travelling on a different itinerary from mine; I’m okay paying $15 extra for a bag, so I can check both our bags under my name to try to save some time; I’m glad they don’t charge you for a car seat, even if it’s not clear to the United employees that it’s their official policy; I’m fine with having to wait in a line along with my fellow travellers just looking to get to their destinations.

What was unacceptable: the complete lack of proper staffing, order, interest, care, customer service, friendliness, information, assistance, flexibility, process or semblance of competence on the part of numerous United Airlines employees at LAX. I’m not talking about one; I’m talking about an entire cadre of employees who, from the time I walked into the airport until I buckled my seatbelt, collectively managed to construct the worst customer service experience I’ve ever had. Period. Times are tough, I get it, I’m with you, I know you think your customers are rude, impatient and callous, but do your job. We’re all asked to do the same.

The highlights:

  • Being told that I wasn’t going to get my bags checked in time because it would take at least a half an hour before I missed my 45 minute deadline for checking bags, with no proposal or indication that there was any alternate solution (which, of course, there was).
  • Being told to get out of the correct line in order to stand in an incorrect line and then being informed I had somehow created the problem myself.
  • The employee who told me to check my 2 bags under my name and pay $15 (which was not a problem) because the car seat would be free, since I had checked in online, and then we could just check in Henry without bags, but then who decided it was time for him to be somewhere else, leaving two of my bags with luggage tags, and the car seat in limbo (because it didn’t print a tag for the free car seat). I’m not exaggerating, he walked away and was not seen again.
  • Having to then act like an asshole and walk up in front of the agents at the ticket counter servicing the paper ticket line, and beg for them to get me out of limbo, so I could make it through security and get on the flight. I was basically ignored, as was a woman – also travelling alone with a child – who was next to me and couldn’t find anyone to assist us, even though we were sent to this United Airlines pergatory by staff.
  • The United Airlines employee who then came by cleaning up soda cans, scrap paper and pens and other miscellaneous garbage behind the counter, who chose to ignore me and the other traveller. At this point, I think the stranded mother and I actually laughed out loud.
  • Finally, and I’m not making this up – a NON-EMPLOYEE who works for baggage handling listened to my problem, then took Henry’s passport and walked it down to the ticketing agents who’d previously ignored my pleas, so they could get him a boarding pass and check in the car seat.
  • The United Airlines agent decided to ignore the fact – for no clear reason – that Henry had his own booking code and paid ticket, and chose of her own volition to check him in as an infant-in-arms, with the same seat assignment as mine, because he was under two. At this point, I was so dangerously close to missing the flight, that I was told to go ahead and go through security, and then get boarding passes and seats reassigned at the gate. (I bet you can tell where this is going to end up, can’t you?)
  • This has nothing to do with how poorly United Airlines is run, but just to add to the fun, the TSA security line was an operation worthy only of a B-movie comedy starring mentally handicapped graduates of a prison-work release program. Yells of “bag check” were met with no response, so the TSA handlers on the scanning machines and metal detectors had no support to actually search bags. Then a guy came, but he had to do both sides of the line, so it ground to a complete halt. Fine. I’ll ignore the three guys standing around behind the glass panel hallway (which I know is where the TSA break room is, since you have to go through it to take a stroller up to the gate level. I’ve seen you all sitting back there, getting your fat asses fatter on sodas and vending machine junk food). And there was no clear policy when a mother, with an expired Illinois driver’s license, informed the TSA agent that her two daughters were 15 and had no identification because they didn’t drive yet. (Even my 2 year old has a passport.) A couple of other TSA officials came to his rescue, and somehow decided to collectively violate every rule of common sense in this day and age and allow three white women to pass through security without proper identification. At this point, a man behind me who I’d been chatting with, declared it to be the most obvious breach of security he’d ever seen. Note to Al Qaeda: recruit white people.
  • When we finally make it through the line, through the TSA fattening chamber (they should take out the vending machines and put in some treadmills – your tax dollars are paying for their obesity) and up to the gate, running at this point as the p.a. system is announcing final boarding at gate 74, the agent at the gate gives me a minute long explanantion on how the supervisors at the ticket counter should have called her at the gate to tell her that they were going to need to rebook my seats. Like that’s any of my concern. Which I actually manage to spit out: “that’s really not my problem.” Which results in being told by the gate agent that the supervisor should have called. Shockingly, I still didn’t give a shit. I just wanted the seat for Henry that I paid for. So they finally gave me two boarding passes: a seat for me in business class, and a seat for Henry in economy. Oh, I know, you can do the math. A child in one section and the parent in another. But don’t worry. There was a plan: I was told to use the business class seat pass in economy, to trade with the person in the seat next to mine (it was a 777 so it was 2-5-2 seating and I was in 39A). So I get on board, plan in hand: offer Henry’s business class seat to the person sitting in 39B). Done.
  • Oh, you didn’t think that plan would actually work, did you? HAHAHA. Nope, didn’t work. When a flight attendant overheard me making my deal with Mister 39B, she said that wasn’t allowed. Wasn’t allowed because there were too many empty seats on the plane. So at this point, I just decide to argue. Just decide to argue because at this point, United Airlines and its employees, and the entire chain of customer experience, is such a cosmic joke, that all the karma in the universe is on my side. But, alas, it was not to be: the flight attendant decided to use the power only they have, which is to yell “SIR! SIR!” at me, and to trigger the “if I don’t sit down, they’re going to have me arrested for nothing more than raising my voice in response to their stupidity.” That said, the flight attendant was probably just doing her job, and had no idea of her end role in United Airlines game of complete mishandling of passengers.
  • So when we get to Chicago, we have to check in again to getting a boarding pass for Henry for the flight to RDU. Which is okay, at this point I’m just glad to be on the way, not rushing to the gate, and almost at the end of the trip (Henry behaved as well as you can expect a 2-year-old to behave on the flight, which was a relief). So it was pure comedy when, Henry sitting in his stroller next to me at the gate, the counter panel to my left (no one touched it, really) fell off. Fell off and topp
    led onto Henry. He didn’t cry, some mayhem ensued, as flight attendants ready to board the flight came rushing over, the agent got nervous, and asked if I wanted to speak to a supervisor. Which led to me being able to stand tall, a wry grin spreading across my face, with all the calm of a patient father, and with a kind voice to say,

“The last person on earth I’d like to speak to, would be anyone who is employed by United Airlines.”

Then I got out my camera phone, snapped a photo, and trotted off to change a diaper and grab a sandwich. . .

Now the maintenance guys

And they have it working. The bigger question is why I am waiting in line still to get on.

The worst part was that they let a guy with a screaming baby asking to be left off fly by. They backed up and now pissed off people are getting off, and getting attitude from the carnies.

And yes, I'm still getting on the ride.

J