Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

United Airlines Sucks: The Day of the Flight

Yes, this series is still going. Ugh. If you'd like to read the rest of the story, check out the tag unitedsucks.

If you've been reading along, you know that last night, the night before my flight, I was assured that United would ticket my flight overnight, and I would blissfully awake to find my ticket in my email, ready for me to use at the airport. And, again, if you've been reading realize how big a joke that was.

There was no ticket in my email when I woke up.

When my alarm went off, I grabbed my phone, hopefully looking for the fabled ticket that I had been promised. I was sorely disappointed, though honestly not surprised, when I discovered zero communication from United. Luckily, I anticipated that the night before and got up an hour earlier than I needed to so I could arrive at the airport with time to spare to get this sorted out. I got ready for my flight and rolled for the airport.

When I got there, I was relieved to see that the United ticket counter wasn't super busy. I told the ticket agent what had happened, he typed a few things on the keyboard and - pop - out comes my ticket! I couldn't believe it! How could it have been so easy to just tap tap tap on the keyboard and print my ticket? I assumed that the United folks had finally gotten their act together and prepped everything for me so that all the agent had to do was print the actual ticket.

Of course, all was not as it seemed. Since I doubted that United could've done it right after their epic failure over the past month, I asked the guy at the counter to check and see how the ticket was paid for. Of course, this guy works for one of United's little subsidiary airlines called ExpressJet, so he's basically a middle man. He has no actual way (or authority) to make anything happen with my ticket. He looks up the account, makes a comment about the length of the notes there (hahaha) and then says it looks like a gift certificate was used along with a credit card.

That's exactly what I suspected. And, of course, that was wrong. United had told me earlier (via a supervisor on the phone, whose employee ID I have) that compensation in the amount of my entire ticket was reasonable and would be appropriate. This was back when the agent told me she would email United Customer Care on my behalf and CC me the email (which, of course, she never did.) I had hoped beyond hope that United had come through on their promise and issued my ticket for free, but, no, they just decided to go ahead and charge my credit card. United sucks.

Since I had about 45 minutes before takeoff, I called United again. I knew that if I went ahead and got on the flight, there would be no going back. United would say that I had used the ticket, and they were certainly not going to refund me for a ticket I had already used. By some stroke of luck, I was connected with a reservations agent in the North Houston Center - a southern lady, judging by her accent. I asked her to read the notes on the account and then try to help me out. She got caught up and then, as is protocol at this point, put me on hold for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward my imminent flight departure.

About 15 minutes before departure, when the gate agent began making the announcement for final boarding, the agent in Houston finally got back on the phone and told me that there really wasn't anything she could do, but she suggested I call Customer Care to get it resolved. CALL CUSTOMER CARE?! What is this alternate universe to which I've called? You'll recall from a previous post in this series, I was told by multiple reservations agents that it was quite simply impossible to call Customer Care. I was literally told that not only do they not accept calls, they literally cannot accept calls. And now, I'm being told I should call them!

If you're reading this blog because you're experiencing problems with United as well, United's Customer Care hotline is 1-800-932-2732. Given to me directly by a North Houston Center phone agent. As if it was public information! The agent with whom I spoke actually made the off-hand comment that, according to the notes on the account, every call I've had with United has been routed to their out-sourced phone center in Manila. That explains a lot.

I thanked her for her help and got on my flight. When I arrived in Houston, a major United hub, I decided to seek out some help from a real-live human being at a customer service counter. The staff at the customer service counter were super friendly and quite sorry to hear about my miserable experience with United. They confirmed for me that there were a ton of notes on my account about the massive failure. And, of course, they directed me to Customer Care. They said there was really nothing they could do for me, because only the Customer Care department (which, apparently, is different from customer service. bizarre) can issue refunds and/or compensation. And, of course, Customer Care has no offices in one of the largest United hubs in the world. Sigh.

I called the Customer Care number that the phone agent had given me earlier that morning. I only waited about 5 minutes on hold this time, which was pretty good, considering the past few months. The kind, American agent who answered my call seemed sympathetic and read through all the notes. She asked me what specific compensation I would like to have, and I told her that I had been promised a full compensation for this flight. She told me that she'd have to check with her supervisor. I was put on hold. Again. Seriously, at this point, the hold music for United's phone system makes me want to kill myself at this point.

After about 15 minutes, the agent came back on the line and said that her supervisor was willing to give me the most compensation she could give - $75. Really? $75? I'm asking for way more than that. I know, some of you may say that I've already pushed enough, and I'm not being grateful. I actually agree with you.

I suggested that perhaps, instead of a gift certificate, they could just refund the money they charged me for this flight. That would be the same effect. The agent put me on hold, again, to talk to the systems department to see if that was even possible. She comes back after a while and tells me that since I've already used part of the ticket to get to Houston, they could only refund me the half I hadn't used (which is exactly what I was worried about that same morning). The kicker, though, is this next part. She tells me that they could refund the unused portion of my ticket but that would cancel the rest of my itinerary - leaving me stuck in the airport in Houston! Unbelievable!

The problem is that I'm just really frustrated at this point, and I'm determined to get some good customer service. I thanked her for her assistance and asked to speak with her supervisor. She said that wouldn't be a problem, but her supervisor was on another call. She said it would only be a "three to five minute" wait on hold. Twenty minutes on hold later, I hung up. I had to catch the second leg of my flight, so I just gave up.

And that's where I find myself now. I arrived at my destination (by some kind of miracle, I'm sure), but without resolution. I intend to call Customer Care one more time - just once - after about a week or so. I intend to ask them to give me the $75 that was offered to me yesterday, and then I plan to let this go. I have fought it for over a month without a really acceptable resolution. But that's ok. You can only try to get good customer service for so long before having to simply admit that you just won't get it.

Until next time...peace.

Friday, April 27, 2012

United Airlines Sucks: The Saga Continues

This is the last sadly, still in of a series of posts about how terrible United Airlines (and especially their customer service) sucks right now. Check out the tag unitedsucks to find the others.

I just got off the phone with United. We are now less than 10 hours out from my scheduled departure, and I STILL. DO. NOT. HAVE. A. TICKET. How, exactly does that happen? This is what we call an epic fail.

Here's the skinny. Last night, I called United (about 36 hours before the flight) because I still did not have a ticket. I waited on hold for about 10 minutes and was connected to a reservations agent. As soon as I gave him my confirmation number, he literally sighed aloud, on the phone, when he saw the mountain of notes in my account. After taking about 3 or 4 minutes to read them, he told me that he would check with the ticketing department. Back on hold I went, to listen to United's hold music from hades.

Monday, April 23, 2012

United Airlines Sucks, Part 5

Update 4/27: This is no longer the last in this UnitedSucks series. Check out the tag for the continuation.

This is the last of a series of posts about how terrible United Airlines (and especially their customer service) sucks right now. Check out the tag unitedsucks to find the others.

The following are actual copies of the emails that I sent to United and their corresponding responses:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

United Airlines Sucks, Part 4

This is the continuation of a series of posts about how terrible United Airlines (and especially their customer service) sucks right now. Check out the tag unitedsucks to find the others.

Three days later, I received the voucher they promised, worth a whopping $150. Sigh. The flight reservation is worth $460. I wrote a response to the email I received "from" the Senior VP for Customer Experience, pointing out the fact that United's response was to my first feedback-form complaint, after just the first night and only about one hour on hold without resolution. I wanted them to know that I had since waited over six hours and still didn't have a ticket.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

United Airlines Sucks, Part 3

This is the continuation of a series of posts about how terrible United Airlines (and especially their customer service) sucks right now. Check out the tag unitedsucks to find the others.

The following Thursday was a Mexican holiday, and I had family coming to visit me. Since I had some spare time in the morning, I decided to give United another call to try to finally resolve the issues I had been having. I dialed the number and settled in to the all-too-familiar (and utterly soul-crushing) hold music. I only waited about 15 minutes this time before finally being connected with a reservations agent.

Friday, April 20, 2012

United Airlines Sucks, Part 2

This is the continuation of a series of posts about how terrible United Airlines (and especially their customer service) sucks right now. Check out the tag unitedsucks to find the others.

Six days later, after receiving neither a call from the Data Engineering team, nor a response from the Feedback team, I decided to call United back to see what was going on. I called on Saturday, March 31st, around 2pm. I waited an hour on hold for the first available agent. Yes, one hour. I finally reached someone in the reservations department. I explained my situation once again. He, again, tried to book my ticket using the gift certificate, with no success. He then suggested I just continue waiting for the Data Engineering team, or for the Feedback folks to contact me. Since I had been on hold for so long, I once again asked to speak with a supervisor. I waited on hold another 50 minutes, and the call dropped. I can guarantee that the call didn't drop because of me - my phone was plugged in to the wall and had not moved for two hours (I set it on speakerphone and left it on my couch this entire afternoon.) United Sucks.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

United Airlines Sucks, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about how terrible United Airlines and their customer service folks are. To read all related posts, check out the tag unitedsucks.

Many of you Foreign Service-related folks are probably already aware of how terrible United Airlines' new pet policy is. It puts a huge burden on folks trying to ship their pets worldwide, including us Foreign Service officers who go abroad on government orders. I won't bore you with the typical rant about how much that pet policy sucks for us. Instead, I'm going to lay out for you step-by-step the worst experience with an airline I've ever had. Buckle up - this story is a rollercoaster ride from frustration to ridiculousness to so-stupid-it's-funny and more. Plus, I include the original emails I sent/received to/from United so that you can laugh at them with me!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Hello folks - just dropping in to share a little video with you. I couldn't resist the chance to go skydiving for a second time in my life. Needless to say, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance.

The first time I went skydiving, I fell in love with the exhilaration of plummeting toward the earth at around 150mph - who wouldn't? There is really no way to express the feeling of sheer adrenaline-filled excitement when you leap out of the door of an airplane. I think I'm ready to say that skydiving will be something I'll try to do everywhere I go in the world.

Enjoy the video...

Until next time...peace.

Friday, April 6, 2012

It's Bangkok, Baby!

Yes, I realize that I was supposed to blog a lot more in February and March about the bidding process and the results of my future assignment. I'll post a new blog entry in the next few weeks explaining why that didn't happen.

I've been assigned to Embassy Bangkok, Thailand! This was my #3 choice, but in reality it was my #1 because I knew that my #1 and #2 choices were long shots anyway. (For those of you keeping track, my #1 was the US Mission to NATO in Brussels, and my #2 was Embassy Paris.) I really couldn't be more excited with my new assignment. I think Bangkok will be absolutely fantastic for me for these reasons:
  • Embassy Bangkok is HUGE. I'll be going from one of our smallest Consulates in the world to literally the 3rd or 4th largest. I'm in for a massive (but great) shock.
  • The city itself is also massive. 12+ million people. It's a major international hub, with a very large expat community. Not to mention that I don't think I could ever get bored there (as opposed to Matamoros, once again.)
  • Public transportation! Hoop yeah!
  • Easy and cheap regional travel. Expect me to be traveling somewhere in southeast Asia pretty much every weekend.
I'm also excited about the work I'll be doing there. I got a rotational assignment, so for the first year I'm there I'll be working as a Consular officer (like what I do now). I still don't know if I'll be doing nonimmigrant visas, immigrant visas, fraud, or American Citizen Services, but I'm sure that it'll be a totally different experience than in Matamoros. I can only imagine the types of absolutely, downright crazy American citizen services cases I'll handle there.

After that first year, I'll then rotate into a political officer position for my second year. Again, I don't know yet what my portfolio will be, but I assume it'll be fascinating.

In related news, I don't really know anything about Thailand. I know that they have a king, and that it's illegal to disrespect him or the royal family in anyway. The king (or another royal family member)'s face is on their currency. Apparently, because of the laws against disrespecting royalty, you should absolutely never stomp on a coin or bill that is rolling/blowing away from you because you'd be stomping on the king's face. That's a reflex I'll definitely have to work on.

I made some Pad Thai the other day to celebrate my new assignment. It was delicious - and I assume it'll be way better when it's actually authentic!

Until next time...peace.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The New Year

Let's get straight to the good stuff: I'll be bidding in a few weeks! The list for AIP (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan) posts has already come out, but since I'm not really interested in any of those right now, I think I'll pass. I've gotten some sound advice from some senior people that I trust that going to AIP as a second tour is no longer worth it, career-wise. Of course, it's a huge boon if you need money fast (my salary would more than double for the year I would be there), but since I'm not cash-strapped, I'm fine with passing that up for a job that might be more beneficial to my career. Of course, going to AIP wouldn't necessarily hurt, but the advice I've received says it has no influence on tenure or promotion at this point. If I were a mid-level officer, then sure, I'd probably consider it. But at this point, I'm looking elsewhere.