Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

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.

Once again, I explained the entire situation. Instead of letting the agent try and fail to book my ticket, I decided to ask straight for the top again. I asked to please be connected with a supervisor immediately. Sure, I was told - just give me a few moments to connect you with the next available one. Thirty minutes later, I'm talking to a supervisor. Again, the explanation. I ask them, nearly begging, to please connected me with the Customer Care department. This agent tells me that the Customer Care department simply does not accept calls, that I should, once again, fill out the Feedback form on the website. I didn't really want to take no for an answer, so I pushed for another supervisor. Surely I can just keep working my way up the chain, I thought.

I was told to wait on hold once again while the next available supervisor's supervisor could be on the line. Fifteen minutes later, I started hearing someone talking on the line, and then, of course, the call was cut off. Brilliant. I wasted another hour or so on the phone and got nowhere. I decided to give up with phone support completely and try my luck with a real-live human being, face to face. I already had to go to the airport to pick up my incoming visitors, so I departed for the airport about two hours before the flight's arrival time. (At this point, I was pretty familiar with the idea that United Airlines takes forever to deal with customers, so I figured it would be a good idea to build in some extra time.)

I got to the airport and there was a gaggle of people trying to check in for their flights. I decided to let people who needed to check in go ahead of me in the line. I can wait - I've certainly gotten good at it by now. Finally, the passengers finished checking in, and the ticket counter was wide open. I asked to please speak with a manager or customer service representative. Sure, I was told - hang on just a second. A few minutes later, the same person came back out and told me the manager was busy on a conference call and wouldn't be able to speak with me. I wasn't surprised. I told them I could wait, I had time. They told me to come back in about 45 minutes.

In the mean time, I decided to call United phone support again. Why not, right? After about 45 minutes on hold, I returned to the ticket counter (still on hold), and the manager came out to see me. I explained my problem to her while holding my phone to my ear, hoping the phone center would pick up the call as well. The ticket counter manager told me there was nothing she could do, that I would have to speak with the United phone center. I was crushed.

Just then, an agent from the phone center picked up the line. I excused myself from the ticket counter and found a quiet corner of the airport where I could talk. I ran through the whole ordeal once again, but this time I was speaking with a very sympathetic young woman. I asked her to please shepherd my call to the highest supervisor she could find me. I made her write down my cell phone number so that she could call me back if we got disconnected.

After about twenty more minutes on hold, she had finally found me someone to talk to and connected the call. For the first time in the whole week and a half, I spoke with someone who actually seemed to care. I explained my situation, and that I would appreciate a ticketed flight and also some compensation for this hassle. I told her I thought compensation in the amount of the flight cost would be appropriate, and she AGREED. She actually said she thought that was reasonable! Here comes the rub.

Unfortunately, she tells me, she can't issue compensation. She promises me that she will send an internal email to the Customer Care department with all of my information to let them know they should contact and compensate me. I asked her to please copy me on that email so I could have a record. I made her literally spell out my email address back to me, just to confirm she had it right. As you've come to expect... I never received a copy of that email. I gave up.

Eventually, though (a solid three and a half weeks after this all started), I received a response to that very first Feedback form I sent myself on day one. The response was vague and clearly just a form letter from the "Senior VP for Customer Experience." He apologized for the delayed response, blamed the merger for the problems, and promised to send compensation via a separate email.

I never expected that voucher email to actually arrive.

Stay tuned for the next installment of United Airlines Sucks, coming tomorrow!

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