Don’t Fly United Airlines

UselessAs an American citizen living in Korea and teaching English, I’ve had a good share of international and domestic travel experience. Since my first trip to study abroad in Shanghai in 2004, I’ve traveled to China twice, Hong Kong once, Japan three times, Korea five times, and returned home to visit my family five or six times. Therefore, I have a very good working knowledge of what is required for all portions of a successful journey: from buying tickets, to arranging documents, to finding my way around crowded airports, to security checks, boarding planes, and customs at the other end. I’ve developed my own habits and patterns for doing things that make my international travel much better, safer, faster, and more efficient (including always using carry-on bags). After countless successful experiences with airplane travel, I had begun to take my success for granted – I had a perfect record of travel. But a recent experience in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with United Airlines sent me spinning.

Since I have so much travel experience to different countries, I’ve also had lots of experience with different airlines. By far the best of the best always happen to be Asian airlines. Korean Air was always my favorite, Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong is also wonderful, I’ve heard Singapore Airlines gives first class service even in economy class, and I recently experienced Asiana Airlines first class service in economy as well. The US airlines however, leave something to be desired. Delta is not bad, but nothing like their SkyTeam partner Korean Air (first class service). Northwest is the cheapest and it’s really true that you get what you pay for, service is just average. United Airlines, or perhaps Los Angeles International airport (LAX), or perhaps a combination of the two however is by far the worst airline I’ve ever dealt with. It’s not the flight itself that stinks, but the customer service stinks and as Dave Carroll sings it’s often a case of “pass the buck” and “don’t ask me.” Here is the story of my recent experience with them, in an email complaint I sent to the company.

The Complaint

This is the flight information for the e-ticket my travel agent has on file for me that should have been used on 04AUG09 (0163106967460 and 0163106967461). However, when I went to the airport on 04AUG09, I had a different confirmation number (Booking reference: UA-V78MNQ) because there seems to have been a bit of a mix-up with the e-tickets he sent. When I scanned my passport at the EasyCheckIn for United, it asked me if I was going to Tokyo,Narita. That was incorrect, my final destination was Seoul,Korea(ICN), so I canceled that and waited for a United representative to speak with. The representative took our (my girlfriend and I) passports and the e-ticket I’d printed (UA-V78MNQ) and went off somewhere to check it out. She returned and told us that my travel agent had canceled our tickets on June 4.

I was dumbfounded. That was only 3 days after he’d confirmed our flight which seems was incorrect. Looking at the e-ticket he sent for 0163106967460 and 0163106967461, it seems he booked those tickets for us on June 26, 2009. Perhaps he did cancel the first UA-V78MNQ and rebooked the 0163106967460-461 tickets, but I can’t understand how the United representatives couldn’t determine even by using our passports that we couldn’t fly that day. Surely our passports kept some record of the flights we were booked for, but the United representatives informed us that all our flights had been canceled and that we would have to purchase new tickets of which Business Class were the only available tickets.

I left Line 7 in LAX Terminal 7 (United – Ticket Problems line) and spoke with my girlfriend about our options. We agreed to ask about the price of the Business Class tickets and try to purchase those to return to Korea on time. However, when I returned to Line 7 to inquire about the price, the attendant who was there left and a new one came. The previous attendant went down to a different line to do Check-ins and the new attendant also started to ask for only Check-ins. I stood at the front of Line 7 for 25 minutes waiting to only ask the price of the Business Class tickets I needed to purchase to arrive in Korea on schedule, but no one helped me at all. I raised my hand, waved at them, pointed to our line number, and did anything else I could short of yelling to get their attention, but they basically just ignored me. There were also people behind me, bound for Italy via the same San Francisco stop-over flight I’d been supposed to be on, but no one helped any of us.

I got frustrated, and realized with the time it took to get any service and the time each “help” session took, I would miss the flight even if I purchased those tickets. So, I stood in LAX with no tickets and needed to return to Korea ASAP.

My friend in LA helped me to book a new flight on Travelocity, one-way, since the airport, or United, or someone messed up my original round-trip return ticket. (I still don’t know how I was able to travel TO the US if my tickets were canceled. How could I use only half of a round-trip ticket? Why would my agent cancel only my return flight ticket? I can only think that in Korea, they checked my passport information and gave me the correct tickets even if my printed e-ticket was wrong, while in the US, LAX, they didn’t bother to double check my passport information to give me the correct UNcanceled flight).

So, with new tickets from Travelocity, we returned to the airport the next day, to United who was the carrier for the first leg of my trip to San Francisco where I would then transfer to Singapore airlines. Reference code for that flight was MRVW9Q and cost me an additional $1120.20. However, when we arrived at the airport, they informed us that my girlfriend’s name didn’t match her passport (it seems someone made her last name first, and first name last, although we typed it correctly on Travelocity). One agent told us it would be a relatively simple fix, and sent us to Line 7 again for ticket problems.

At Line 7, Terminal 7 for United in LAX, we waited 25 minutes for the one couple in front of us to fix their problem, and then we waited for 30 minutes as the agent there attempted to fix our problem. She said that our flight was through Singapore Air, not United, so they would have to change the name. But how could that be, when United was the first carrier for our trip I thought. She called Singapore Air, or someone, actually I’m not sure who she called as she didn’t inform us of anything except “I’m sorry, they won’t change it.”

Incredibly frustrated, I called Travelocity who also said they couldn’t change the name since the flight was less than 4 hours away, so they said they’d have to cancel that flight and book me another flight. We finally booked a flight on Asiana, non-stop to ICN booking reference: CKC5YN and cost an additional $1372.00 but it actually worked. We went to the Asiana counter in Tom Bradley terminal and the Korean agent there addressed us with respect, informed us of everything she was doing to our tickets, asked us where we would prefer to sit, and even gave us free meal vouchers because our flight was delayed 1.5 hours.

Service between United in Terminal 7 and Asiana was like night and day, hell and heaven. The Asiana agent listened to us, treated us with respect, and addressed all our issues and problems herself, she didn’t send us all over the terminal in a confusing manner to agents who didn’t care. United on the other hand in Terminal 7 treated us like we were incompetent. They sent us all over the terminal to different agents, they didn’t listen to us, they didn’t tell us what they were doing or how they were trying to help us, in fact they didn’t help us, they didn’t pay attention to our passports which should have had the correct information on them, they didn’t send us to Tom Bradley international terminal (I still don’t know if they should have, our final destination was international, but we were taking a domestic flight to transfer in San Francisco first, as far as I knew), and they basically ignored us and treated us as an inconvenience to themselves, often sighing at “another problem.”

I want to know how I can get my money back. The ticket I purchased from my agent in Korea was not canceled, as United agents told me it was. The Issue Date and Place on the UNcanceled e-ticket are 26 JUN 2009 / ZENITH TRAVEL SVC / 99999992. I should have been able to use those tickets (0163106967460, and 0163106967461) to return to Korea, but because of the confusion in United, I was forced to purchase an additional set of one-way tickets. This is ridiculous service.

My bank account has not yet been depleted of these funds as the charges are “pending” but I don’t want to be forced to pay over $1000 extra for someone else’s mistake. Please contact me as soon as possible and let me know how this matter can be rectified. Rest assured, I may not be flying United again, and I definitely will not fly United and will inform everyone I know of this mess if it is not fixed properly. I don’t want to cause a big stink, but I will not pay for someone else’s mistake. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

The contact information I listed above is my US information for my Mileage Plus card and parent’s home. I currently live and work in Korea. If you want to call me here, please use this phone number: (Korea +82)-10-XXXX-XXXX

Aaron Snowberger

Don’t fly United.

Don’t fly LAX.

Employees there treated me like an inconvenience to themselves. They moved and spoke slowly (when they spoke, they didn’t often articulate what they were doing to “help” me), and they often directed me to other representatives in different lines – basically forcing me to waste extra precious time waiting in a new line for a new rep who didn’t know about my problem to tell me to move to a different line where they could “better serve me.”

Asiana Airlines, Korean Air, and Korean service far outshine that stuff. They provide first class service at an economy price. The reps at these airlines speak clearly, articulate well, move and work with focus and purpose, and generally do their best to make our lives more comfortable – they asked if we would like a window seat and provided free meal tickets for the airport restaurants when our flight was delayed. What a difference!

And you?

Anyone else have any airline problems? Let me know your story.

One Response to “Don’t Fly United Airlines”

  1. Airlines Work From Home Garland • Home Business Ideas Says:

    […] Don’t Fly United Airlines | Aaron Snowberger’s Home Abroad – Aug 10, 2009 · As an American citizen living in Korea and teaching English, I’ve had a good share of international and domestic travel experience. Since my first trip …… […]

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