My new-found hatred of United Airlines (long, insufficient swearing).

My wife booked us two tickets to Sydney, Australia for what was to be essentially a long weekend (3-1/2 days on the ground). Yes, it’s a long way to go for a relatively short time, but she found decent airfares, and the miles would give her 1K status with United for the coming year. Those of you who travel a lot for your job (as she does) understand the importance of this.

So, the original plan was to fly from O’Hare to San Francisco, have a 5-hour layover, and then go to Sydney. The ORD-SFO flight was scheduled to leave at 3:05 PM, getting into SFO about 5:20. SFO-SYD plane was scheduled to leave at 10:40PM. We got to ORD at about 1:15 PM, and were through security and walking to gate C16 by 1:40 PM.

Somewhere around 2:20 or so, we noticed that the monitors said our departure would be delayed, as the inbound aircraft was delayed. This is precisely why we left a long layover in SFO; this time of year ORD is a mess. Close to 3:00, we were told that the inbound aircraft was going to be diverted to a different gate, to be used for a different flight. Another 777 was coming in from Frankfort; it would arrive in at the international terminal, discharge its passengers, get the usual customs inspection, then get towed to our gate where it would be cleaned and reprovisioned. New estimated departure, approx. 4:15 PM. Still leaves us a 4-hour layover in SFO, so I’m not too worried.

Due to the usual efficiencies of the airline industry, this process takes longer than expected. New departure time - 4:50 PM. No problem. Due to Cheryl’s status, we get to board the airplane in the first group, so there is room for our luggage (all carry-on; at least we didn’t have to deal with checked baggage). We settle into our seats to await departure.

Departure time comes and goes, and the pilot informs us that we are all boarded, and the airplane is ready to go, but there is no food and drink on board. Once the aircraft is provisioned, we’ll take off. New departure time - 5:30. Still leaves about a 2-1/2 hour layover, maybe more. The pilot is anticipating making up time in the air.

Close to 5:30 the pilot announces that we have food and drink (yay!) but there is a maintenance issue. One of the cargo doors is bent, and maintenance is unsure whether it can be repaired in situ or whether the plane will need to go to the maintenance hanger. A decision will be made at 6:00PM.

At 6:00, we are told that the plane has to go back to the hanger. A replacement plane will arrive for an 8:30 PM departure. Cell phones come out, everyone grabs their stuff, and we dash off the plane. We are only two gates away from the United service counter, and Cheryl is one of the first to arrive there. We explain our situation to the nice lady at the counter, and she begins the process of getting us on another plane. It takes a few minutes, because according to UA’s computers, we never boarded the first plane. After about 10 minutes, she hands us two cards that show that we have “confirmed seats” (their terminology) on a flight scheduled to depart gate C11 at 6:45 PM. We don’t have specific seats, but we are told that our name will be called at the gate once they determine precisely which seats would be assigned to us. Off we go.

Gate C11 is packed, but the monitors note our names as numbers 1 and 2 on the “Confirmed Seat” list. There are lots of angry people bombarding the agents with questions and complaints, so we hang back a bit. At this point our concern was that they would run out of overhead bin space, which fears were confirmed when they announce that no more roll-aboards can be brought on the aircraft; they’ll have to be gate-checked. I don’t like this, but if I can pick up my bag at the gate in SFO (instead of at baggage claim) I can deal with it. Cheryl gets even more nervous, and heads back to the service counter to see about alternate arrangements. I remain at the gate and we agree that whichever one of us gets something definitive to happen, we’ll call the other. I listen to another passenger also trying to get to Sydney talk to the gate agent. “I have a confirmed seat!” he says. The gate agent informs him that they are still boarding, and to please be patient. Uh oh.

About 6:40 PM, the door to the jet bridge closes, and the gate agent walks off. Cheryl and I are not on the aircraft.

I go to the service desk, where I find that Cheryl is still in line and has not even managed to get to an agent yet. A few minutes later we do, and we are told that we can get back on the 8:30 departure, be put up in a hotel in San Fran, and take the next flight to SYD, which departs 24 HOURS after our original. When we explain that this would only leave us 2-1/2 days in Sydney, the agent agrees to refund our tickets. This was unexpected, but to me was a sign that she recognized that United had screwed up; getting a refund on a non-refundable fare is usually like pulling teeth. So we went home.

I probably should have been more concerned right from the beginning when our incoming aircraft was diverted to another outbound flight. Triple-7s aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, so to be trading them around like that meant that there was already a problem in United’s system, and we were downstream of it. It just didn’t occur to me at the time. Had we known about all the problems with the plane we did receive, we might have been able to get on a 5:40 flight to SFO. Or we might have had enough time to explore getting routed through LAX instead of SFO.

Each individual employee we dealt with was nice enough, but clearly United’s system can’t handle aberrations well. It turns out that the second flight we were put on was oversold; if the service desk agent had been able to tell us, “I can put you on stand-by but there are no guarantees,” we might have been able to come up with alternate plans, but based on her running commentary while pecking away at her keyboard she didn’t know this either. What made me the angriest was holding a booking card that read “Confirmed seating,” only to find out that that word does not mean what you thin’ it means (with apologies to Mandy Patinkin). I’m trying to figure out how I can book first class tickets to somewhere exotic and just “confirm” payment with United. When they ask where the money is I could tell them that the payment was “confirmed,” but I gave the money to someone else.

We have a dive trip to Fiji scheduled for January, and the first leg is on United. Cheryl’s got about 160,000 miles we have to burn, and then I’m never flying United again. They won’t really miss my business, but I’d like to think they’d miss Cheryl’s. Had this trip gone through she’d have reached 1K status and flown United a lot more in the coming year, since upgrades and other perks would be forthcoming. She always travels on full-fare, fully-refundable tickets, which are pretty expensive. Looks like American will get most of that revenue this year. I realize that all the major carriers have their problems, but I’ve never experienced a cascade of fuck-ups like this anywhere else.

“Confirmed Seating” = we have confirmed for our own records that you would like to have a seat.

So you want to fly on American? Try this one on. I and the better half live in Columbus, but we see a good deal to fly to London leaving out of Cleveland and connecting through JFK. We drive up the night before, because the flight to NY leaves before the crack of dawn. Get to the ticket counter and find out that American has two flights out of Cleveland at that time of day, one to JFK and one to LaGuardia. Care to guess which one they cancel? Yup, the one to JFK. But they reassure us that we can make the transfer between the airports in the time we have and they are even arranging for a car to take us.

We get on the plane and discover the only other passengers are a family flying to the Bahammas. They had their original flight cancelled that morning and had also been rebooked on the flight to LGA. YES- American chose to cancel the flight that was carrying passengers connecting to international flights at JFK and put them onto a flight to LGA, a flight that had not one single person scheduled to be on it. They made no arrangements to transfer us between airports as promised. My wife and I basically forced ourselves into a town car headed to JFK and made it to our flight just before it left.


Have you actually gotten your refund from United? Do you have something IN WRITING saying that they promise to do so? I wouldn’t believe them until you see that refund hit your credit card.

Every really bad experience I’ve ever had has been on United, including jamming me into the middle of 5 seats when I specifically asked if they could try for an aisle or window seat. Yes, someone’s got to have that seat, but don’t LIE to the customer and tell her you’re putting her in an aisle seat when you’re not (and then don’t upgrade her colleague - who paid LESS for the ticket than you did - to Business Class).

And if you’re taking off on a 5 hour cross-country flight, MAKE SURE the FOOD SERVICE equipment is working. That turned out to have been a bad day for me to be so busy I had no time for lunch.

And I know United can’t control the weather but I still blame 'em for the most frightening flight I’ve ever been on, turbulence between Laguardia and Dulles that cause the entire plane to bounce and shake and be tossed around like a scrap of paper for the entire flight.

Pretty much. Like I said, I really wish I could find a way to use their definition of “confirmed” to my advantage. Haven’t quite worked out the details on that one yet.

howeye, I’ve had plenty of bad airline experiences on all major carriers, so I really do feel your pain. I guess my recent history has been more favorable with AA than UA. Plus, we’re divers who like to go to the Caribbean, and that pretty much means dealing with AA. If I’ve got to deal with a major carrier, I figure I should at least accumulate my FF miles with a carrier who goes where I want to go.

I have a printed receipt that shows the refund. It hasn’t hit my credit card yet, but I’m going to give it a couple of days and keep my fingers crossed.

I have been screwed so many times by the evil combination of O’Hare and United that I avoid both of them like the plague. United loves to cancel the late (6pm or later) flights from O’Hare to Des Moines (yes I know its small, but dammit its home). Of the last 5 times I had to take that option, I got screwed all 5 times. In one case, there was no other flight until the next Tuesday! WTF?!

I really, really try to avoid United and O’Hare.

Ouch. My sympathies. That why, if Southwest doesn’t fly there, I don’t go there. Southwest has always come through for me. The only airline that I like better than Southwest hasn’t existed in years (Western).

I was so disappointed that Southwest’s deal to buy another carrier fell through because I have to go to Birmingham from Atlanta to fly their airline. It’s worth it to me sometimes.

They are my absolute favorite.

Flight refunds always take forever to show up.

For anyone who doesn’t like United, or even airline travel in general - this music video ROCKS!

You may wish to register your displeasure here. Look carefully: it’s not, it’s

I feel your pain about the once-a-day flights.
My family and I once spent an unplanned day stranded in Atlanta where we waited for the next daily flight to Rio de Janeiro. And we feared that we would spend multiple days, coming to the airport once a day to try for a seat :frowning:

One thing I learned in that experience: take your cell phone, even if you are going to distant foreign lands. Call the airline as soon as the plane is at the gate, long before the huge line forms at the service counter. You might just get everything dealt with far better than the folks who wait forever in line.
And if you need a hotel, just call the hotels directly (e.g. Marriott’s national reservation desk). It is quite common for hotels to sell out totally when there are weather delays.

To top it off, Brazil closed their airspace while we were en route due to ATC issues, we diverted to Puerto Rico, then finally they allowed us to fly to Rio, several hours later, and without half of our luggage.

First order of the day in Rio was a trip to the mall so my wife and her sister could buy new outfits (my clothes made it, but theirs were delayed).

I’d nominate a bit from Jerry Seinfeld’ eponynmous TV character, although he was talking about rental car reservations.

Bricker, don’t get me started on rental car “reservations.” Especially in Orlando.

I used to have this attitude whenever an airline totally screwed me over. I quickly ran out of airlines.
Now I just play the “what insane problem will crop up on this flight” game. Last one was a 6 hour delay because they didn’t have enough crew members.

First off, I’m sorry your trip to Australia had to be scuttled. I’d be really pissed.

Second, if I were in your shoes, my first response would be to blame O’Hare, that deep, dark shithole of aviation. How any airline can reasonably operate in that overcrowded, nightmarish, chaotic mess of an aerodrome is a puzzle to me.

Third, fully acknowledging point number one, I try to maintain a sense of humor about these things. It still strikes me as amazing that one can even conceive of jetting off 10,000 miles for a 3.5 day trip. That this technology is reliable as it is – even with the delayed flights and mechanical problems – and is as safe as it is, is a tremendous blessing.

Fourth, try negotiating for the 1K status. This has been such a bad year for the airline industry that if you are close, United has been giving some leeway in the status upgrades. Can’t hurt to try.

Yeppers. And if there are two of you, the one of you that’s not calling the airline on the cell should pull out their netbook and get on the airline’s website, to try to deal with it online. The more angles you play, the better chance that one of them will work out.

I’m flying United out of O’Hare just next week. I usually fly Southwest for my annual winter trip to see family (even though O’Hare is much closer to where I live and easier to get to), but this time 'round, United was $70 cheaper even accounting for bag fees. Nevertheless, I’m wondering if I made the right decision.

My United story is nothing compared to the OP’s, but I’ll tell it anyway.

I had to fly from SFO to BOS a couple of months ago. It’s a 6+ hour flight. Due to a comedy of errors (God, I hate SFO) I was running a little late and so couldn’t get my hands on a bottle of water. And I was feeling a little dehydrated already. There was no way I was going to make it for 6 hours on 2 little dinky cups of soda or whatever.

During the drink service, I saw one flight attendant with a big bottle of water. I asked her what I had to do to get one of those big bottles. Nope, not going to happen. Two tablespoons of ginger ale later, I was still really thirsty. A couple of hours later, I asked the flight attendant if I could get a drink of water. She cheerfully said yes. In fact, she thought it was such a dandy idea, she decided to offer water to every single passenger. So she started at the front of the plane, and another attendant started at the back.

I was in the middle.

It took them a huge long time to work their way to the middle. By the time they got there, they had run out of water.

Yeah, I’m going to see if I can do that. I wanted to wait a couple of days until I was merely annoyed and not seeing-red angry.

Her boss is a United Global Services flyer, so he may be able to do more good on that front than we can, but it’s worth a shot.