Last week I flew to Chicago to attend a professional conference. I was sent along at the last-minute, and didn’t have a lot of time to work out the details of the conference, so I’d just planned to take the last flight home Wednesday evening.
It was raining in Chicago last Wednesday, so it will be no surprise that nearly every flight was delayed. My flight was scheduled to depart at 7:32PM CDT and arrive in Tampa at 11:14PM EDT. The conference was over right around noon, so our sales person in Chicago gave me a ride to the airport, and we stopped and had lunch along the way.
I arrived at O’Hare around 1:30. Although I’d checked in on-line, I checked in again at a kiosk. In the past, during that kind of on-site check-in, it would automatically put you on standby for earlier available flights. There was a flight scheduled to leave about 2:30PM, but it was already delayed to around 4:00PM. The kiosk didn’t present me with the standby option.It did however, notify me that my flight was potentially over-booked, and asked me if I’d be willing to volunteer for a later flight (meaning the next morning), for a $200 voucher. I declined.
I went through security, and just headed to the posted gate. Of course, no one from United was at the gate, and actually there wasn’t much of anyone at any of the nearby gates.
I headed back up the concourse to the customer service counter. It didn’t seem the line was very long, but was I in for a surprise. There were a series of kiosks there as well, and you were supposed to check in on those, and you got a ticket telling you when to come back to actually get waited on by a person. My wait-time for that privilege was 2 hours and 3 minutes. Lest you think I’m kidding, the actual ticket is below.
That would obviously be cutting it close to get on the earlier flight. I had a day pass for the United Club, so decided to use it. Either way, I was going to be there for a while. When I got through the line for customer service in the club, the very kind woman informed me there were indeed seats available on that earlier flight, and she’d be glad to put me in one for $75. I said “no,” and figured it was just because it was so far ahead of the flight time. I explained I just wanted to be on standby. She said she couldn’t do that.
At a few minutes before boarding time for this earlier flight, now pushed out to around 5:00, I made my way to gate hoping that at the gate, near departure time, they would put me on standby. Well, indeed there were still seats, but it was still going to cost me $75 to get one. Apparently, United no longer does “standby.” If you want to be an earlier flight, you’re going to pay a fee.
In the end, my original flight finally left about 11PM getting me home at 3AM Thursday morning. Around 9PM I asked to speak with a Supervisor. A never nice woman came out to speak to me. She was very apologetic. I explained I wasn’t going to yell at her because I knew she didn’t set the policy, but that unfortunately she was United Airlines to me right there, and I knew their executives thought themselves above actually dealing with passengers.
Funny thing, she asked me how long I’d been in the club. When I told her, she asked if I’d noticed a group of people in a conference room in the club. I told her I had, and she said she wished I’d asked for her sooner, as that was a group of executives. She said she might have suggested I just stick my head in the door. I told her she would have picked the person who would be fine doing just that.
Anyway, as I explained to her, the airline was willing to pay me $200 to take a later flight in my flight was over-booked, but wouldn’t put me on an earlier flight, which had seats available, unless I paid them $75. I told her, given the delays, it sounded like a bait and switch. Basically, they got me to the airport, and then wanted to charge me an extra $75 just to get me home at about my scheduled arrival time.
She said they were operating under abnormal operations (I think that’s the phrase), and should have put me on the earlier flight, but obviously someone wasn’t reading their emails. I explained that apparently no one read their emails, as I’d tried to get on through several people. But I also pointed out that no one should not be aware of they were operating under abnormal operations, since every flight on the departure board was blinking delayed.
I finally just told her that I had given up expecting to ever have a pleasant flight. I would just settle for something in the range of bearable, but that I felt they had a group of executives with the literal job description of thinking up ways to make the experience as bad as possible.