United: Terrible Customer Service >> How United Airlines Lost a Customer for Life

Post Summary:

  • The Situation: Setup
  • How Customer Service Handled my Situation
  • A Second Chance
  • The Policy
  • Contrast: An example of Google’s amazing customer service

The Setup

On Monday, Jan 7, 2019, I bought a round-trip ticket on united.com, as I’d done over a hundred times. It was a round-trip ticket from SNA-SFO for Thursday Jan 10, 2019 (first flight out in the morning, last flight back at night >> Reservation number DT5S2B).

I had a morning meeting in SF at 9:30am. The flight was scheduled to land at 8:23, but it usually lands earlier (as I mentioned, I’ve flown this flight many, many times).

This was a particularly important meeting, however. On Wed evening, I started to get concerned. Everything would have to be absolutely perfect for me to get to this meeting on time. I did not want to be late.

I explored what a car rental would cost to pick up at SNA and drop off at SFO. I could drive up Wed night and then just fly back Thurs. Car rental was only $35! I decided to do that to keep my mind at ease.

The meeting goes well and I carry on with my day. Again, I’ve flown this flight back many times as well and I’m Pre-Check, so I plan my arrival at SFO at 8:00pm; plenty of time.

Except, hmm, “My reservation can’t be found”.

How Customer Service Handled my Situation

I talk to a United agent. Apparently, since I skipped my morning flight, United cancelled my entire reservation. I had no flight back home! If I wanted to get on the flight, I’d have to buy a new ticket!

I skipped the morning flight. I did not ask for a refund. Don’t you guys, as a policy, oversell flights? Free money for you.

I’m calmly ask: “Your policy is to cancel my flight back without any notice to me?”

“That’s our policy, sir”, I’m told.

“Then, please refund me for the 2nd leg – that you cancelled without notifying me – and you can use those funds to buy the new ticket.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to call to book a new reservation. And you’ll have to request a refund through our website”

By this time, it’s about 8:10pm. The flight is boarding…

What I Did

It’s 8:30pm. There were no other flights out that night on other airlines. So, I did what I did the previous night. I rented a car to drive back home.

Having slept very little the previous night (from driving up) and enduring a long day, I was exhausted. But what choice did I have? I wanted to get home to my family.

I rented a car and started the drive down. It was dark and foggy a lot of the way. A lot of the time, I couldn’t see more than 20 ft in front of me. I had to stop several times to take cat naps.

I managed to get home safely at ~5:00am. What would normally be a 5.5 hr drive, it took me 8 hrs because of my breaks to sleep. Ugh.

Customer Service – 2nd Chance

On the drive home, I called United Customer Service. I asked to speak with a supervisor. I wanted to give them an opportunity to make good. My expectation was an apology and a refund.

Instead, all I received was a terse, “It is clearly stated in the policy”.

“Do you actually read the terms and services on websites”.

“Yes, I do sir”.

“So you’re saying that there is nothing you can do. I had to rent a car and drive in the middle of the night. I am never going to fly United again. You are losing a customer for life. You’re okay with this?”

“There’s nothing I can do”.

“Bye Bye, United”.

I then turned to Twitter and vented, tagging @United. They actually responded. Through private messaging though, they couldn’t call me. And they simply pointed me to the refund page on the website.

About an hour or two later, I called United back. I asked for a Supervisor. But got directed to the same one as earlier.

So frustrating. I’m done with United.

I will do everything I can to never fly United again.

The Policy

Firstly, it’s an absurdly dumb policy!

Secondly, how am I supposed to know that they’d cancel?

This totally ruined my night. But I could imagine grander scenarios where this really really screwed someone else.

I went on United.com and started to book a flight. I had to see where this policy is stated.

Reviewing the booking process on United.com

The Terms and Conditions at the bottom are trivial.

There is a link for “fare rules and restrictions”, but look at this gobbly-goop. I mean, c’mon! A. Who’s going to click on this link? B. How is one supposed to decipher this?

So, I called United again. I wanted to find out where this policy existed.

I shared my story with the call center agent. I was very calm and apologetic to her, but I was adamant that she find me where this policy is stated.

I walked her through the booking process. We couldn’t find it.

She put me on hold.

“It’s stated on your receipt, in your email confirmation”.

I find the email: “It is? Okay, I have the email. Show me where. Show me where it states that if I don’t show-up, you cancel my whole itinerary”.

“Uh, please hold on again”

Several minutes later, she comes back: “It’s stated in Contract of Carriage”.

“Where’s that?”

“Hold please”

She comes back again: “It’s on the website on the link at the bottom of the site”.

And yes, there it is. A link at the bottom of the page to the Contract of Carriage.

A couple clicks through and you do see that Rule 5C:

So, yes, technically it’s there.

It’s still an absurd rule!

But really, CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

HOW THE FUDGE AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THIS?!!!

Do they really expect people to follow this labyrinth to understand all these little policies, rules, and/or regulations?!

Let me share a recent experience with Google…

Customer Service Done Right

I bought a pair of Google Pixel Buds last April.

In December, I accidentally left them in a pocket and they wound up in the washing machine and dryer. Argh! Totally my fault.

I called Google Support.

I explained what happened and just asked, “What does my warranty cover? Is there anything you can do?”

My expectation was that this was NOT covered under warranty. Honestly, I was just hoping for a discount code to buy a replacement pair.

Google’s answer (paraphrased): “Sir, unfortunately, this situation is not covered under warranty. But, here’s what I’m going to do for you. As a one-time courtesy, I’m going to send you a new one, but you have to send me yours back. I will charge you, but once we receive your returned (broken) ones, I will refund the charge”.

“Oh WOW!!! Thank you Thank you Thank you!”

Know what I bought myself for Christmas?

…A pair of wired Pixel Buds, a Google Hub, and a couple Google Minis.

Google empathized with me and demonstrated that they value me, as a consumer. I’m grateful for it and am more than happy to continue to be a Google customer and use their products and services.

The Wrap

I have a family of five. I travel somewhat frequently for work.

United, you lost me by your horrible business practices.

I (and we) will no longer be United passengers or consumers.

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