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Nihilists at the Ticket Counter: an Update

December 17th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments

united-airlines-sucks1Since I took the step of publicly feuding with United, I might as well give a surprising update. They had told me often—as a blowoff, I figured—to complain through their website. The call center representative slowly spelling out the URL: w-w-w-dot-u-n-i-t-e-d-dot-c-o-m was easily the most infuriating part of my whole experience.

And yet.

It turns out that United Airlines might have one thing in common with me: they find it easier to express uncomfortable emotions in writing rather than over the phone. In this case, they managed to express their regret for having secretly rebooked me and then canceling my whole ticket once I missed my new (secret) flight. Here’s the meat of the email they sent me:

We apologize that you have never received a flight notification via email or phone contact.  We have been in contact with our Easy Update Department about your concern of not being notified properly.  They have informed me it is a known issue system wide and are working on correcting the problem as soon as possible.

They then followed their words with $200 vouchers, three of them (a strange number, since there were four people in our party). That is, of course, appreciated. But, in a perhaps predictable fashion, it wasn’t really the vouchers that I liked most about this. It was the simple acknowledgment that they could have done better and that it is a “known issue.” I now know why hospitals that simply acknowledge and apologize for mistakes face fewer malpractice suits. I’d like to think that most people are not wired to be litigious or even whiny. They just want to be heard and acknowledged, which can be a challenge in a huge customer-service bureaucracy like the airlines have. So thank you, United, for finding a way to express yourselves. We are friends again.


  1. Matt says:

    December 17th, 2010at 2:13 pm(#)

    Vouchers?!?! BWAHAHAAHAHA! Those are for suckers.

  2. Nathan says:

    December 17th, 2010at 2:25 pm(#)

    Cash value, no blackout dates. Good enough to get us (almost) to Colorado and back. I’m happy enough.

  3. Shawn Carpenter says:

    December 19th, 2010at 8:21 am(#)

    Buahahahahaha! Isn’t United’s customer service phone queue a total nightmare? I figured you would have found http://untied.com/ by now.

    There’s no mention of airport security scanner or pat-down craziness in your previous post, so I’m assuming that was fairly routine. I won’t fly with my girls until TSA coughs up some solid radiation dose numbers (and relevant peer-reviewed studies) for their hybrid backscatter x-ray / “millimeter wave technology” porno scanners. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for security, but Jen’s past research used backscatter x-rays to ferret out buried land mines, and both of us have an extensive background in health physics. Additionally, I nearly got thrown out of the airport at Dulles this year after getting into a shouting match with one of the TSA employees who demanded to separately x-ray Mr. Moo, a cow hand puppet constructed entirely of felt. If this would have been the only issue, it would have been fine. However, our experience started with Columbo barking rude orders to Jen to “put the kids down, now” as she was preparing to walk through the metal detector. It just went downhill from there.

    Primed for battle, I mistakenly thought the worst of our trip was over. Despite having reached the pinnacle (not) of “Premiere Executive” on United by flying all over creation that year, having twin one-year old traveling companions automatically reduces you to “Tinfoil” status. There was no way they were going to let us pre-board for our flight to Minneapolis, despite the obvious benefits to both the airline and us. After most of the plane had boarded, we tried to roll in our girls at the end of the ramp. A total jackass flight attendant made us wake up our then sleeping girls and remove them from their car seats that were strapped to our rolling carry on luggage at the threshold of the plane. After a pointless argument regarding “FAA certification” of the seats (she wanted us to check them, and I said “absolutely not”), we proceeded to board.

    With the bitchy flight attendant yelling at us to “hurry up and get to your seats… we would like to depart on time”, I attempted to navigate the first class cabin with two car seats, a tranquilized rat terrier slung over my shoulder, two diaper bags, and a carry on bag. Max (the aforementioned sedated canine), bounced off of peoples heads like a pinball as I struggled to drag everything through the dollar-store-like aisle. My progress was also complicated by the fact that every time the attendant shouted something at us, I couldn’t resist turning around and shouting something back. We had become “those people.”

    The final straw was when one of the very unhelpful flight attendants further down the aisle told Jen to “give her one of the kids.” Jen had forged ahead to get the girls seated, while I attempted to bring most of our logistical supplies behind her. My wife yelled at her to “get the hell out of my way. The last thing I would do is give one of my children to you idiots.” The unfolding scene quickly met the stringent requirements of a fiasco when our tranquilized, but still semi-conscious and nervous rat terrier started honking like a Canada Goose — something he does in lieu of a bark when he is overly excited.

    While no less than three flight attendants (including Jackass) stood around with their arms crossed, almost simultaneously, four first class passengers stood up to help. The air of privilege that typically hangs over this part of the aircraft had been sucked away, and these were humans now being driven by primal instincts to help fellow humans in need.

    With their assistance, I was able to make my way to our assigned seats, which had been changed without informing us, of course. Despite having reserved the seats with Mileage Plus points half a year in advance, our currently assigned seats were now sprinkled around the rear of the aircraft. While I was verbally sparring with Jackass, Jen had been busy pleading her case with other passengers to get four seats together. One passenger, a lone holdout who refused to give up his window seat, looked surprised when a furious Jen heaved a child seat into next to him and started strapping Lucy in. He finally capitulated after realizing who he was dealing with.

    The whole plane was eerily silent when I finally was able to sit down. This was the last time we brought our girls on United, and it will be the last. If we have to drive to Minneapolis to avoid United, that’s what we’ll do.

    P.S. Vouchers are for suckas!

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