Sunday, August 5, 2012

Oh United Airlines How I Dislike You.........

Oh the joys of air travel.  I used to love flying- the excitement of boarding a flight and taking off for unknown parts.  You could show up at the airport, your loved ones could escort you to the gate, then you and your baggage would arrive at your destination on time.  That isn't the case any more.........between baggage fees, paying extra to reserve a seat, too large people cramming into too small seats, and people who don't realize that body aromas should be minimized before embarking on a journey in a small metal tube (please bathe people!) , air travel has become an unpleasant experience.  It has gotten so bad, that crying babies are the least of our concerns.

I started writing this from Gate C 22 at Dulles International Airport where at the time, I was twelve plus hours into my travels.  After a very long day, I was waiting for my delayed flight to Portland, Maine.  I had left Copenhagen Denmark that morning on what should have been a 1220 flight.  (I had arrived at the airport at 0800 since Glenn and Sidney's flight back to Tirana was much earlier).  Instead of the SAS flight I had expected to be on, we were put on "a very special"- yes, this is a direct quote from the chief steward-- flight that was operated by Euro Atlantic Airlines who in turn was sharing its crew with SAS.  (Prior to this flight I had never heard of Euro Atlantic Airlines and they aren't listed on Star Alliance's roster of code sharing airlines).   We boarded the plane on time but then we just sat there for close to two hours. SAS prides itself on its on time flight arrival record but our delay-- due to food needing to be loaded onto the plane-  did not help their record.

My flight touched down in Washington ten minutes prior to the time my Portland bound flight was scheduled to take off.  I had given up on even making my connection but a gate agent assured me that since my United flight was delayed a half hour, I had plenty of time to make it.  I hoofed it through Passport Control where I was interrogated by an agent who didn't understand why I had been out of the country for so long, waited for my bag to be the last one to appear on the luggage carousal, went through Customs and security screening again then pulled an O. J. Simpson to make it to my distant United gate.  I arrived hot and sweaty but with what should have been ten minutes to spare. I had made it!  Or so I thought..........

In typical United fashion, the flight was delayed yet again and customers were being provided with a variety of excuses.  First we were told the flight was over sold and they were looking for volunteers who would be willing to give up their seat in exchange for a seat on a later flight out of National Airport and a $500 voucher.  (There one taker- who was headed to visit his in-laws- but he wasn't allowed to leave for National until after our flight left).  As the delay kept creeping back in ten minute then twenty minute increments, we were simultaneously told that we were waiting for the plane to arrive, waiting for the crew to arrive, and waiting for the plane to be repaired from an unspecified ailment.  As time ticked away we were all getting conflicting text messages and email updates from the airline.  The man sitting next to me received an email saying the flight would leave Dulles at 1800 and arrive in Portland at 1900 while I received a simultaneous email message saying we were leaving at 1815 and arriving at 1800.  Obviously neither of these scenarios were feasible and we weren't the only ones receiving these messages.

Fellow passengers were getting increasingly irate and the flustered gate agent continued to provide conflicting answers to the barrage of questions that only continued as time passed.  At one point the gate agent fled to find her supervisor (or to escape our ruthless questions). She returned with a supervisor who had a sense of humor and promised not to leave us until we actually boarded the flight and took off (in today's traveling world, there is a distinction between the two).  At one point we were all shuffled down four gates to the location where our new plane was ready to go once our crew arrived.  Again, no formal announcement was made (since the screen was broken at Gate 22???) but with each continuing minute our frustration and sense of humor seemed to increase.  We began sharing travel horror stories- most of which revolved around United's horrible customer service.  The one positive (?) story involved lost luggage than United shuttled four hours into the wilderness for a group of white water rafters.  Unfortunately, when you are flying to a small city, your flight options are limited so United ends up being the airline of "choice" for many of us.

Finally part of our crew arrived to a standing ovation from all of us (the flight officer remained AWOL for an additional twenty minutes).  They were only three hours and a hundred excuses late but they finally arrived.  So to Max the United supervisor and all of my fellow passengers on Saturday night's United Flight 3385 from Dulles to Portland, kudos to all of us for using humor to get through another poor United Airlines customer service incident.

I am happy to report that we all made it to Portland in one piece.  And my luggage arrived with me.  Unfortunately, I get to do this all over again in reverse next week.

Update:  Not everyone is so "fortunate"-  Think link share a far more horrific United experience.  When will the airlines get it together and started remembering that without customers they won't have any business?

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