Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

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:
From: Andrew To: United Feedback Form // Sent: March 26
This message is in reference to a phone call placed to Customer Support (800-396-1751) on 3/26 around 8:30pm. I was given a reference number of [redacted]. I attempted to use a gift certificate, issued on February 26, 2012, in the amount of $50. While booking online through's website, I received an error code when entering the gift certificate. I called the support number in the hopes of resolving the issue quickly. 
I was connected to a support staffer who attempted to book my ticket herself but was unable to do so as well. I was then placed on hold numerous times, sometimes waiting up to 10 minutes at a time without hearing back from the person who answered the phone. She informed me at one point that the engineers were attempting to figure out a way to use the gift certificate, but that they, too, were receiving an error. Later, I was told that this was the first time they had encountered this issue and were not sure how to fix it. Finally, I was told that the support team would have to call me back once they could book the ticket. I am expecting a call tomorrow with a resolution on this ticket.  
I then asked to escalate my call to a customer support manager, who told me that she was sorry for my wait but that there was nothing she could do for me except to have the engineers call tomorrow. Since I spent just one hour waiting on the phone for your company to fix an internal problem that had nothing to do with me, I would like to know what other kinds of compensation you can provide me for my wasted time. I am a regular United Airlines customer, but this experience has given me a bad impression of your organization, and I would hate to have to consider taking my business elsewhere. I would like to be clear that I harbor no ill feelings toward the specific support staff members who assisted me. I understand that they are limited in their personal ability to help me. I find it unacceptable, however, to spend an hour on the phone (mostly on hold), without receiving any resolution whatsoever.  
I look forward to your reply.
Three and a half weeks later, the robot-response to my Feedback Form email. Remember, the feedback form was sent on day one. It did not have any information about the 6+ hours I waited on hold with United, still with no resolution.
From: Customer Care To: Andrew // Sent: April 13

Dear Mr. [redacted]:

Thank you for contacting United Airlines. I regret we have taken so long to answer your correspondence.

While the merger of United and Continental Airlines has been a successful one, there have certainly been challenges resulting in higher than normal mail volume and more calls to our contact centers than expected, making it harder for us to resolve some issues and provide assistance in real time. Our key technology migration, in which we combined reservations systems and websites on March 3, went well—but it was not without difficulties, ones we are working very hard to correct.

Whatever factors contributed to the concerns you shared, I do apologize for the inconvenience we’ve caused you and, again, for the delay in responding.

While my reply is brief and not as detailed as I would like, please be assured that we do understand your concerns. They have been documented or review and appropriate internal action.

In appreciation for your feedback and patience, please enjoy the electronic travel certificate, which will be emailed to you under separate cover, on your next United Airlines flight. We hope your next experience with us earns a positive review.

Again, I am sorry for the delayed and brief response. I very much appreciate your business.

Martin Hand
Senior Vice President – Customer Experience
So, what do you think? I sent the following email as a response to "Mr. Hand" (knowing, of course, that he'd never read it himself.)
From: Andrew To: Mr. Hand // Sent: April 16 
Dear Mr. Hand,

Thank you for responding to my concern, albeit it late and via a form letter (reference number [redacted]). I was hoping for at least a personalized response, but I guess even that is not to be expected considering the current state of affairs at United.

I am writing once again because the email you sent and the electronic gift certificate for $150 was in response to my first day of poor service with United. For the week and a half following my first Customer Care feedback form, the situation began to deteriorate further. Judging by your response and the value of the gift certificate, I'm assuming my case was not reviewed in its entirety. As a result, I write to you now to further explain my terrible experience with United, and to give you another chance to make it right.

After submitting the first Customer Care form quoted below, I did not receive a response from the original supervisor with whom I spoke. I was promised a followup phone call the next day with a ticketed flight - to date, I have STILL never been contacted by United regarding this particular flight. Because of this radio silence, I proceeded to contact United on three separate occasions. I can provide you with dates, times, and employee IDs at your request. 
I use capital letters in the following sentence for necessary emphasis. In total, I have spent OVER SIX AND A HALF HOURS on hold with United Airlines - and I STILL do not have a ticketed flight. This is unacceptable. The last supervisor I spoke with ([redacted]) assured me that notes had been added to my confirmation number ([redacted]) that clearly and specifically noted my over six hours of wasted time on the phone with United. That same supervisor also agreed that my specific compensation request (that the flight on that confirmation number be ticketed FREE OF CHARGE was reasonable). I requested that that supervisor please CC me on the email she promised she would send to Customer Care on my behalf. Of course, I have not received that email, either.

You will also note that this flight has not been ticketed to date. At this point, I don't even know if I will be on this flight or not - will United issue me a ticket, or will I arrive at the airport only to find there are no more seats available?

I have lost faith in United, but I'm still hoping that you will redeem yourself by making this situation right. I understand you've had a rough merger, and a few bumps are to be expected. But everything I'm reading online and in print about this merger debacle is making me want to find a new airline on which to focus my travel.

Please review the confirmation numbers I have given you. I am confident you will agree that your original compensation offer of $150 does not nearly cover my wasted time and extreme frustration. Satisfactory compensation, in my mind, would be to receive this flight free of charge. You will notice from my flight history (and future reservations) that I am a regular United customer, and would be willing to give United another chance if this situation is handled properly.

Thank you,
I thought that my response was reasonable and measured, although I admit I did use all-capital letters a few times. Within about 30 minutes, I got this response from the Customer Care department:
From: Customer Care To: Andrew // Sent: April 16 
Dear Mr. [redacted]: 
Thank you for contacting us again. Please know Customer Care Department is the highest level of management where escalated complaints go to.

You have asked us to re-examine your request, and we have done so. All things considered, we do support our earlier decision. I know this was not the answer you had been hoping for and we are truly sorry for the trouble that we caused you. We recognize that our goodwill compensations will not always amount to our customers incurred expenses and loss of time. But realistically and financially it is necessary for us to have compensations guidelines in place.

We often receive similar requests to yours which ask us for an exception to our policies, however to remain fair and consistent for all of our valued guests. We are not in a position to honor all such inquires. I am sorry to disappoint you since we cannot assume the responsibility for deciding which requests might be worthier than others.

We ask for your understanding that your request for additional compensation had been declined and will continue to be.

We recognize you have a choice of airlines, and we thank you for choosing to fly with United this occasion. We wish you the best with all of your future travel.
Sigh. At this point, I decided to give up pushing the compensation issue and just try to get a ticketed flight, preferably using the voucher they just gave me. I sent this minutes later:
From: Andrew To: Customer Care // Sent: April 16 
Thank you for responding in a timely manner for the first time during this entire terrible experience. It's a step in the right direction.

Can you at least ticket my flight already? I'm honestly worried that I will either show up at the airport with no ticket, or that I will be forced to call United phone support the day before and wait in call-holding purgatory (please, for the love of Pete, change your hold music) for a few hours the day before to try to get my ticket.

If you can ticket it now, please apply both the $50 continental gift certificate that caused this mess and the $150 you just offered me.

Get ready - here comes the perhaps the absolute most frustrating response of them all. This is the kicker for me:
From: Customer Care To: Andrew // Sent: April 16 
Dear Mr. [redacted]:

You will have to deal directly with our Reservation Center with completing your ticketing. I apologize but we don't have the capacity to ticket reservations in Customer Care. Please contact us at 800 864-8331 for assistance with your future booking. I regret to hear of your long processing times.

Jeffrey Grant
United Customer Care
Now I'm just completely frustrated. It's clear that no one person has read all of my emails together to understand that it's that very same Reservations department that started this mess in the first place! In desperation, I sent one more email:
From: Andrew To: Customer Care // Sent: April 16 

Thanks again for your quick response. But, you're joking, right? You seem to have missed the point: I don't have a ticket because the Reservations center is unable to use my perfectly valid gift certificate. That's the root cause of this mess. I was literally told by a reservations agent, who left me on hold for an hour while she contacted the data engineering team, that they had never encountered this problem.

Now you're asking me to go back to square one? I find it hard to believe that your "highest level of management" cannot help me get a ticket.

Here, let me help you. Maybe you could somehow invalidate that original $50 certificate and then issue me a new $50 certificate? That would seem to solve the entire problem. I could then call Reservations to have them ticket the reservation immediately using working gift certificates.

I'm really trying not to be rude. I know you're having trouble with the merger, I get that. But seriously, your answer is to call that number again? After all I've been through with them so far, you're telling me to call them again?
I never got a response to that last one.

I gave up. How could I talk sense into these folks? I even thought my suggestion there at the very end was a logical and easy one. Apparently, United doesn't want any logical or easy solutions to their own problems.

If you've read through all of this, from part one all the way through to this last one, I congratulate you. Thanks for listening to my rant.

Until next time...peace. And, United Sucks.


  1. Andrew,
    I am a United Airlines retiree (40 years providing excellent customer service) out of SFO. I am dismayed to hear your story as this is simply unacceptable service.
    This new United managed by Jeff Smisek and his Continental team, have made a shambles of the company that I was proud to work for. You are not alone in your complaints, all very justified.
    The United Retirees are seeking legal advice in a battle with United over breeched contracts for retirees regarding seniority and guaranteed pass benefits, loss of pensions, paid holidays, reduced sick pay, and reduced paid vacation time for current employees.
    I am amazed by your patience, cool demeanor, and staying power to have waited as long as you did. I hope you get some compensation and a resolution to this mess. I certainly can't blame you for wanting to take your business elsewhere. Do what you have to do.

    1. Its not the continental people that are corrupting united... its the other way around. United was known for suck service prior to the merger, while Continental was #1. The unionized united people just want a hand out, while continuing to provide suck service. Anytime you are ever on board a continental crewed flight, take a look around, and then compare. You'll be amazed at the difference in aircraft, the way you are treated by everyone from the gate to the aircraft.

      "Continental has recently earned other noteworthy recognition, including:
      No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline; FORTUNE magazine (three years in a
      No. 1 Most Admired U.S. Airline; FORTUNE magazine
      Best Executive/Business Class; OAG Airline of the Year Awards (four years
      in a row)
      Best Airline Based in North America; OAG Airline of the Year Awards
      (three years in a row)
      Best Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific Business Class among U.S. airlines;
      Conde Nast Traveler (eight years in a row)"

  2. I got the same form letter, regarding the voucher to be emailed to me under separate cover. Out of curiosity, how long did that take to come? I got the form letter yesterday but no separate email yet with the voucher.

  3. Thanks for your comments. To the retiree: thanks for your years of providing excellent customer service. I'm sorry you're not with the company anymore to show them how it's done!

    Regarding the voucher, it was about 3-4 days after the first form letter.

  4. I hope this isn't the end of the story. Keep tilting at that windmill.

  5. Andrew - I came across this post from a google search. On Monday, I received the exact same form letter from Martin Hand as you did in reply to a complaint that I had sent to United nearly a month ago. I won't go into details of my complaint except to say that I made it on behalf of myself and two travel companions. Today (2 days later, ugh..) I received the travel certificate Unfortunately, it was only issued to me and it seems unfair for me to use this and have my friends (who shared the same travel experience and were also awaiting a response to our complaint) get nothing. I tried to reply to the email and point out this fact, only to find out that the email address ( was discontinued on April 7th as part of the merger. I was just wondering how you were able to respond to the message from Mr. Hand. Was there a different email you were able to use or did you use the feedback form on United's website for all your correspondence?

  6. Daniel - the emails I received were from Good luck!

  7. Thanks Andrew. Just resent to that address.

  8. I just got off a 45 minute phone call trying to book a flight using a gift certificate that the (barely legible) agent said had an invalid number. He then tried to transfer me to tech support and what do you know, technical difficulties. Had awful time a month ago trying to change a flight (1.5 hrs on phone) in FL. United sucks, plain & simple and so does the US government for allowing this airline and others to merge, creating markets filled with collusion.

  9. Thank you for sharing you information. I am trying to find email addresses for direct communication to the United executives that I can escalate my service issues to. Can you all share any that you may have?


  10. United Customer Service is the WORST I experienced in my 40 years in the travel industry. I spent 168 minutes on the phone with them on Saturday, 74 minutes Monday and another 45 minutes today, and yet my reservation that they changes still puts me in Florida 5 1/2 AFTER the departure of my cruise. I was SCREAMED at by Supervisor Lisa Burrows, hung up on by Supervisor John Milby and treated with TOTAL DISREPECT by a long string of incompetent booking agents. Sadly, United has my money and I have 2 worthless tickets. Does anyone have a contact number or email address for Martin Hand? Hmmmm how convenient this information is not posted anywher.

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  11. You sound like a whiny baby to me. You would like to be compensated for being placed on hold? ha! You're being overly dramatic about a $50 gift certificate.

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  12. Andrew,
    Just read your post. I have similar issue with UA right now. A very long story, but the short version is that UA owns me about $1300 from my last trip to China. They acclaimed they have sent me a travel voucher but I never received it. I called them many times and they refused to do anything about it. Now they are saying the time is too long and they no longer own me any money. Do you know whether there is any legal action possible?

  13. What customers expect is a Knowledgeable and available staff, friendly people and a fast finish, may it be a inbound or outbound call center software. We have been influenced by so many competitive companies now that good service should be given.

  14. We recently flew my son from San Luis Obispo to San Diego and back for his grandma's 88th birthday. He had finals the next morning at Cal Poly, so it was very important for us to get him back to San Luis Obispo early in the evening. We paid $200 extra for Flight 6470 (the highest priced flight) so he could make it back to San Luis Obispo early. The flight was "on time" when we left for the airport. However, in actuality, it was one hour and 45 minutes late because it was "awaiting its crew" in LA. There was no delay in LA, no weather-related issues, no mecahanical failures; United had just failed to staff the flight. As a result, my son had to take the later flight, which would have cost us $200 less had we selected it in the first place. He arrived in San Luis Obispo at midnight with an 8:10 a.m. midterm the next morning. When I requested a refund for the price difference because United failed to staff the "preferred" flight, here is what "CustomerCare" wrote, "United does not compensate for delays under 4 hours. Your request for a refund for the $200 difference between fares at the time of purchase has been denied." How can they change a $200 surcharge for a flight from LA to San Luis Obispo, not staff the flight, and then not refund the surcharge? I didn't ask for a refund of the flight cost. Rather, I asked for a refund of the surcharge. When I attempted to explain this to "CustomerCare" I received the following response, "Please know that it is our sincere desire to move forward in our business relationship with you, and we realize that you have a choice of carriers. As we have nothing else to add, we will consider this matter closed and will no longer correspond regarding this issue, but invite you to contact us again if we may address a different travel-related issue." I've been dismissed. Why would I bring another issue to their attention when they completely failed to address the first issue? I think they need a new name for their customer service department!

  15. United Airlines is rather similar to the US government - they presume that everyone is a criminal, and treat them accordingly.

  16. Same issue here: unbelievable - simple thing to change a ticket and they wanted to charge more for tickets on phone when the vouchers they gave us didn't work on line. Unbelievable - will not fly them again and I fly 100K miles a year.... bye bye United.