When I learned of how United’s stock plummeted after an information mishap this week, I have to admit that I laughed out lot. It wasn’t a LOL, but full-on hysterics. I couldn’t help but think: karma, bites you in the ass every time. Y’see, whenever I think of United, I think of my trip from hell this summer and the atrocious ways in which the company handled it. I shudder when I hear their name and when travel agents try to put me on a United flight, my emotional response is pure panic.
United managed to dehumanize me at an unprecedented level this summer. United’s attitudes were worse than AT&T and Blue Cross… combined. I felt used, abused, and taken for a ride. I missed the wedding of two dear friends and was practically laughed at by United when I voiced my dissent. I have never spent so much money to be treated so terribly. And I’m so bitter about it that I do everything possible to dissuade those that I know and love from getting on one of their aircrafts. (So for those of you booking flights, think twice before going with United.)
Earlier this summer, I went to China. I got there via American, did my speaking thing, and then went to leave. By that time, my lungs were a mess and I was anxious to leave. Plus, two of my dear friends were about to get married and I was to leave Beijing to join them for their rehearsal dinner. I had booked the United flight because it was the only direct to Dulles. I was wary of United and so I had checked multiple other routes and felt confident that I should be able to get to DC one way or another, especially since I was booking an expensive business class seat (almost $10K). I should’ve known. Here’s the abbreviated story:
As we were about to board, they reported mechanical issues. We were to wait around. Delay after delay and eventually I went to the Lounge, hoping to find a United rep to tell me what was going on. All of the other business folks were there too, irate. Much to my horror, there were no United reps there because it was a partner lounge. Worse, the Air China employees were downright hostile and unhelpful. I asked to get onto alternate flights, but the Air China people told me they couldn’t help me and, more irritatingly, wouldn’t. They told me I had to speak to United. I asked where I could find a United rep and I was told (rudely) that I would have to go back out through security/customs to the front desk. My visa wouldn’t allow this. I asked if I could call United from there and they told me no. Everyone around me was calling back to the States to get information. There was no WiFi and only 5 Internet data ports so there was no way to go that route.
Things got worse as the night progressed. It became clear that the flight was to be cancelled, but they wouldn’t cancel it which prohibited any of us from being moved to other flights. Finally, late into the evening, United reps came around to hand out vouchers to a hotel. No clear instructions were given and it was utter mayhem. From the time they gave us the vouchers to the time that they got us to the hotel (sans luggage) took three hours. The United reps called twice in the middle of the night to wake us and tell us that we would be leaving earlier.
At 9AM, I met the United reps downstairs and they hurried us onto shuttles. We got to the airport (having collectively bonded) and when we were given our boarding passes, they had vastly different board times on them: 11.45, 12:15, 14:15. Much confusion, every rep said something different. It also became clear that there was no plane and that we wouldn’t be leaving.
Y’see… we learned later that they didn’t have a mechanic. They didn’t bring one in the night before and they didn’t have one in the morning. We sat around the lounge all morning, getting more and more angry as no information was provided and the China Air folks continued to be hostile to our presence. Many flights came and went but we weren’t allowed on those other ones. At noon, a representative showed up with little to no information and was bombarded by pissed off people with questions that she couldn’t answer. She told us that she’d return again at 1PM. It took us a few more hours to get out of there and we boarded a plane with barely working A/C and a worn-out but gracious flight staff.
Not only did I miss the rehearsal dinner, I missed the whole wedding. I was exhausted, miserable, and emotionally drained. The only people who were remotely polite were the United reps who were too junior to have any information whatsoever and just kept apologizing in broken English and the very exhausted flight attendants. Everyone else was as rude and horrid as possible, along with completely unhelpful, unresponsive, and unaccommodating. Even though there were a bazillion alternatives (who weren’t even flying full), United did nothing to help. It wasn’t even that I wasn’t high enough on the totem poll – they were universally assholes to everyone. I asked a few of the Business Class passengers why they flew United and their reason was depressing: “because my company makes me.” A few of them told me that when they flew personal, they flew anything but United.
At the end, we were given a “friendship kit” to submit to United. I did, along with a four page letter detailing what happened when. The response? A generic apology letter and a $150 discount for future flights. As an apology for a mangled $10K flight. Fuck you too United.
My partner always makes fun of me for being an overly loyal customer. It runs both ways though. I’m loyal to those companies who I feel treat me with respect and I hold long grudges against those that appear to enjoy screwing me. Grudges that I’m happy to share with others and incite mini-boycotts. And, at the end of the day, when I watch such ungracious, condescending, cruel, and greedy companies get fucked over by an act of fate or information accident or however you’d like to explain how that old article about their earlier bankruptcy ended up getting treated as contemporary, well, I just have to laugh. Karma… it bites you in the ass every time.