Thursday, December 31, 2015

Regarding Flight UA6407 out of SFO, that was unexpectedly and unnecessarily cancelled (aka, screw you United!)

Regarding Flight UA6407, confirmation number ETMME4, from SFO to SNA on Dec 28th, 2015, which was cancelled, without warning or due consideration to myself or other passengers.

I've been flying regularly since I was 5 years old and this was single-handedly THE WORST experience I've ever had with an airline. United cancelled at LEAST 11 flights out of SFO on Dec 28th, 2015, one of which was my flight from SFO to SNA. Presumably, all of these were due to "weather."

Most importantly, the scheduled in-bound flight from Mammoth that supposedly "never took off" in-fact did take off and land as scheduled

It's worth noting at this point that neither SFO, nor SNA were experiencing inclement weather at this time, or any time within 24 hours before or after. Most importantly, the scheduled in-bound flight from Mammoth that supposedly "never took off" in-fact did take off and land as scheduled, according to flight tracking resource flightaware: https://flightaware.com/live/flight/SKW4996/history/20151229/0115Z/KMMH/KSFO.

Which brings us to, why was UA6407 cancelled at all? What of the inbound flight? Why were all of Flight UA6407's passengers not issued refunds for undelivered service? Because United is a terrible company. Read on...

Then comes the utter lack of customer service. After announcing two delays of UA6407, pushing it's take-off to nearly 8:40pm, United abruptly cancelled flight UA6407 in the most casual of ways. A soft-spoken ticket-agent comes on the P.A. and gently informs us that the flight has been cancelled with no explanation. She said it so softly in fact, that that many passengers didn't hear anything at all. Only moments later, when the displays changed to reflect a LATER flight to Phoenix, was it made obvious that our flight had been cancelled. After some murmuring in the crowd, another agent comes on the P.A. and announces again the cancellation, along with instructions to see the Customer Service Counter (a misnomer) for help re-booking.

Then begins the mad dash to customer service, where upon arrival, myself and over a hundred other passengers face an enormous, ~500 person line of angry and distraught United castaways. There's no further communication from United at this point. No one traversing the line to offer condolences, or refreshments. No one to inform the line that there's actually a SECOND line for Premier Access members (presumably United's frequent flyers). Still no explanation as to why our flight was cancelled.

Several clever passengers begin polling the other gates to be added to their standby/wait-lists. While this strategy was effective for some, for others (like the lady two spaces ahead of me) it proved to be a fruitless endeavor.

I try calling United's customer service phone number, because a tiny spark of hope resting deep within my soul peeks out momentarily to bash wisdom over the head with a mallet

More flights cancelled and the line continues to grow behind me. I try calling United's customer service phone number, because a tiny spark of hope resting deep within my soul peeks out momentarily to bash wisdom over the head with a mallet. After listening to elevator music for over an hour, and realizing that my phone is at 2% battery anyway, I hang up--what was I thinking? I consider, briefly, renting a car and driving home (it would have be faster), but alas I have checked bags and I can't trust United to get those to my final destination, so I wait in line.

Hours pass. The line barely moves, but as more flights are cancelled continues to grow behind me, now wrapping around the terminal. Finally at the stroke of midnight, five hours after my scheduled departure, I can see the front of the line. There's 3 customer service reps for a line of well over a 1000 angry passengers. I take the photo below, using my tablet's front-facing camera. Weeeeeee lots of people in line.

After 5.5 hours of waiting, I can see the customer service counter! Notice the still-growing line of castaways behind me. Taken with my tablet.
Moments after this photo was taken, an elderly man ahead of me takes a spill, because he simply couldn't stand anymore. People are obviously upset and after some commotion, FINALLY, a United representative rushes over to see if he's OK--the guy should sue. He's really nice about it all, and to United's credit, a Rep offered him her computer chair to sit on. 15 minutes later she took him out of line to help him at the counter.

At this point, another castaway notices a cart full of refreshments--water and oreos. No one from United mentioned this because apparently it's a secret. Too bad all those people in the back have no ideas it's here. Word does spread quickly.

Nearly 7 hours in, and I'm three people away from the counter. We finally discover that "weather" is the cause of our woes and that the "plane coming from Mammoth never even took off." I'm skeptical. The two young girls en route to Australia can't catch a break with their rebooking. The United rep actually has to get on the telephone to call corporate for permission to book them on another international flight? We're all baffled. The elderly man that fell earlier is still standing at the customer service counter--apparently no one has been able to help him and he looks weary.

My turn at the desk--Woooo! The guy trying to help me is very nice and apologetic for United's practices. He seemed genuine and I wish him no ill will, so I'm not going to reveal his name. I explain that all I want is a refund for my ticket, and my checked bags, so I can book on another airline. I explain that I find it ridiculous that they've cancelled our flight without notice, or without reason. There is no weather, and our inbound flight showed as arriving. Initially, the man tells me that a refund is impossible, then as the supervisor lady next to him issues a refund to another passenger, he explains that only she can do refunds.

The elderly man finally leaves but I overheard that they booked him on another day, and offered him no Hotel or Taxi credit. Wooo, fantastic.

United "always overbooks flights" and counts on passengers not showing up, or missing their connections.

While waiting for the supervisor to help me, the male ticket-agent begins to quietly explain to me, that this is United's business strategy and that United flights cancel all the time without notice, and that there is never any concessions made to passengers. He says that they give out excuses about tickets being nonrefundable due to weather, or having been purchased with "mileage points" but that it's all part of the business strategy, and assures me that the supervisor lady can issue my refund. He also explains to me that he can put me on standby for several flights the next day, which I'm "guaranteed" to get on, because United "always overbooks flights" and counts on passengers not showing up, or missing their connections. He assures me that this will definitely work, as he sees it all the time at the ticket counter. I'm not buying it and I push for my refund.

Roughly an hour goes by, while I'm waiting at the counter. The male ticket-agent leaves, as apparently his shift is over (?) The supervisor lady continues to ignore me for a time, and then finally approaches me with hostility. "There is no refund!" I again explain the situation, and posit my argument that the weather back east doesn't have any bearing on my flight, and that I simply want a refund for my unused ticket. She's not really interested in hearing it and comes up with some poor analogy about buying food and sending it back. Finally she walks away from me and helps two other customers.

"United is a bad company and we will never fly them again!"

An elderly Italian couple now to my left, simply wants to get back to Italy. The man leans over to ask why I've been waiting so long without help--I have no answer. After watching the Supervisor crush their hearts with her icy coldness, the man exclaims that "United is a bad company and we will never fly them again!" They leave without hotel or taxi service, visibly upset. I hope they eventually made it home =/

The guy to my right is trying to get his family to Hawaii, when their connection to LAX was cancelled. United has no help for him either, because they don't offer anything to guests originating from SFO (they don't offer anything to anyone it seems).

I finally catch the supervisor lady again and ask her to simply get me out of here, so I can book another flight on another airline and go home. She looks at me with disdain and asks me what I'd like her to do; I ask her for her manager and wait. While waiting I book another flight home (via LGB) on JetBlue.com--fantastic experience by the way!

...the only way to receive a refund is to complain to corporate on United.com

The manager shows up around 3:00am, but he also ignores me and helps other customers. I become agitated and raise my voice. Finally, he helps me. I again explain everything and he assures me that the only way to receive a refund is to complain to corporate on United.com. I'll try that, just "Get me out of here so I can go home." He begins to look up my baggage and lo-and-behold, they were sent to SNA without me. How this is even possible blows my mind. Why wasn't I on the flight with my bags? Why were they sent without me? What if I booked a different flight altogether? I'm livid at this point. The man agrees to refund me the checked bag fees. Whoopdeedoo.

I ask the guy what I'm supposed to do until my next flight, he has nothing for me, but finally offers me an "overnight bag" which consists of a disposable toothbrush, some toothpaste and a deodorant towel (new experience for me). I guess it's something.

I end up staying in the airport, because at this point, my JetBlue flight takes off in 2 hours. I find a place to charge my phone, and then walk back out of security to get over to the International Terminal for JetBlue. I finally made it home the next morning and hours later collected my baggage, amongst a sea of lost luggage, at the United Baggage Claim in SNA.

All in all, the experience was terrible and I will NEVER fly United again. There was a complete lack of communication from United as to what was happening or how we might be able to get help. Further, and most insidiously, it appears as though our inbound flight, which purportedly "never took off" did in fact arrive in SFO and landed at another gate. United allowed hundreds of passengers, many of which were elderly, to stand in line for HOURS without any information, nevermind consolation or condolences. United then shipped my bags off to SNA on a flight that I damn well should have been on. Refused a refund for failing to deliver upon services promised, and showed a total ignorance towards the concept of Customer Service. Terrible experience and I will NEVER fly United again.






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