Every year I take my children to Nantucket, Massachusetts from Denver, Colorado to visit my mother. She has a charming little cottage on the island where I spent my youth in the summers.
This year I had five children with me from the ages of 7-14. Three of the children are my boys, the other two my neices.
In Denver our flight, UA 4850, Confirmation numbers #BVYDJD and #JV3BDH, was delayed for two hours due to inclement weather in Newark, NJ. Thankfully, they let us deplane after sitting on the runway for an hour. The children were all thirsty and, as children do, needed to run around.
Customer Service at United Airlines
When back at the gate, I communicated with the agent, expressing my concern. Having lived in NYC for three years, I knew fully well that we would be far better off spending the night in Denver and flying the next day rather than getting stuck in Newark, where nearby tornadoes and severe thunder storms brewed. The agent informed me that our flight to Nantucket had also been delayed and that we should have no problem meeting our final destination that evening.
I am well aware that the goal of the airlines is to get people as close to their destination as possible, but when the weather is so severe it is a given that smaller planes will not be flying. Customer service should begin with that knowledge, especially when a woman is flying solo with five children. I explained to the agent that being that my In-laws lived in Denver, it would be far cheaper and beneficial for both the airlines and for us if she could find us an alternative flight for the following day. She didn’t even look but instead assured us that all would be fine. I was being sent to experience my own personal hell and the agent had not a care in the world for our fate that she and United were about to deliver.
9:30pm – Arriving in Newark, to no surprise of mine, all National and International connecting flights had been cancelled. As we waited in the endless line, surrounded by other travelers whose expressions had morphed from anger into pain, we could hear expletives being projected from nearby gates. I was certain that mobs were being formed and were gathering together in one huge retaliatory effort to stop the madness and feel cared for. Customers, for that is indeed what we all were lest we forget, were not getting any plausible answers or service regarding their plight. In a situation like this, the atmosphere becomes morose and there is a terrible sense of hopelessness and despair. You feel as though you are completely on your own with nobody to help you or to offer personal care.
Flying, a supposed luxury and travel convenience, quickly becomes a nightmarish journey when flights are delayed or cancelled, at least when it comes to United. There is a complete breakdown in customer service. People need to know that they are in control and United eliminates this option. All elements of humanity vanish. I truly wonder what the attrition rate is with United/Continental employees.
The children and I filed into an ominous line spilling down the hallway, ending in the tumultuous vortex called the customer service desk. We waited. The children slumped into one another, a sweet pile of love and exhaustion. At least we still had each other.
11:30pm We arrived at the desk and were told by an “agent” that the next flight all the way to our destination was not for another five days and that not only were there no more hotel or meal vouchers being doled out but that there were no hotel rooms to be had, neither in Newark, NYC nor in any of the surrounding areas. This was verified when I had my fidgety 12 year old call every hotel listed on the service phone as I called the rental car agencies.
In the meanwhile, my cell phone was dying and the phone wait with United was a reported 15 minutes, so my mother got on her phone from her house and worked for two and a half hours, from 10:00pm-12:30am. Her contact, a United agent in Bombay, worked hard to find us a flight to get rebooked on and eventually found us a flight on US Air that was to leave for Boston the next day, not our final destination but at that point I knew I had to take what we could get. The agent on our end, who had never mentioned that this flight was available, said she would book it and so my mother hung up. Then the agent declared that she could only issue us a receipt for the flights.
My mother, afraid of what the next day held in store for us and knowing what becomes of children without sleep, made the decision to reserve the first rooms she could come across which ended up being an hour North at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, NY, Hotels won’t allow 6 people in one room.
12:00am – Having been told to get our bags at the baggage claim we descended down to retrieve them. The bags were not there. Waiting yet again in another line, we were told that we were misinformed and that the bags were being shipped all the way to our final destination.
12:30am – Thinking that we could get a taxi van to take us to the hotel we waited in line again outside at the taxi area. Somehow, the taxi facilitator did not realize that taxis are not allowed to take a group of more than 5. Unfortunately, we did not find this out until waiting a half an hour in line. We were informed that we would have to take two taxis for a one hour drive to our hotel. I was not going to put children alone in a taxi nor was I going to pay two fares.
1:00am – We had to take a train to the car rental area, where we waited in line again.
1:30am – I picked up the rental van and nervously drove through tolls and over bridges, in unfamiliar territory, to Tarrytown, NY. Close to the hotel I saw a sign for Sleepy Hollow and was grateful that by then the children were fast asleep and did not see that the hotel was located nearby Washington Irving’s ghost story of the Headless Horseman.
2:30am – We slid our bodies into clean sheets and slept for four hours.
6:30am – I drove an hour to Laguardia to catch a 10:00am flight, US #2124 Confirmation #FDWQGV/US.
7:30am – Tried to check in, it was early enough that there was no line but the US Air Rep could not find our reservation. It had never been booked. I stood at that check in desk for TWO AND A HALF HOURS while the US Air rep stayed on hold with a United rep to find our reservation and book it, complaining all the while that she was wasting her morning by being on hold and informing me and her co-workers that she was taking her break at 10:15, regardless of the progression on my ticket (our flight had already departed by then). I didn’t dare mention that it was I who, at the bottom of my rope, was about to have a complete and utter melt-down
10:15am – tickets are still not booked. The US Air rep hands me the phone, as I stood on the other side of her desk, and tells me to finish the conversation, she was leaving. I begged her to stay and finish what she had started. She left. Finally, the United rep came back on the phone and I summoned another US Air rep to take the phone and print out the six boarding passes from Laguardia to Boston. We were scheduled on the next flight leaving for Boston at 11am.
10:30am – The Security Check-in Line was spilling out of the gates and so I approached a representative making the best appeal I could to let her know that if we waited in the line we would be bound to miss the flight that we had taken so long to get on. She led us to the front of the line.
12pm – We arrived in Boston and waited for the Plymouth/Brockton bus to take us to Hyannis. Here I will say that the man taking the tickets on the bus was the friendliest, most wonderful person we had met thus far in our travels. He was sympathetic, caring and thoughtful.
3:00pm – We arrived in Hyannis and ran to catch the 3:15 ferry, making it by the skin of our teeth. Had we had our bags there would have been no possible way to make it. The crew for the ferry were also all charming and cheered us on.
Two days later, filthy, exhausted and out of pocket $1,000 dollars, we made it to my mother.
I am trying to wrap my head around how things could have been made better for us, other than the obvious. I cannot understand where all of the money goes to and why there is not a larger budget for customer service, which is one of the most necessary elements for traveling passengers. It should begin with agents answering the phones immediately. After that there should be a fleet of representatives walking the lines to hand out vouchers and to rebook passengers, especially for seniors and families with children, thus making the line move faster so that when passengers reach the desk, all that needs to be done is to have e-tickets printed, leaving room for more smiles and levity. It seems that with todays technology this should be a viable mode of operation. It begins with customer service but it should end with a comfortable flight and comforting food. Don’t you think? What are your stories?
Writing a Letter for Reimbursement to United Airlines:
This story is true and shall be released to all social media outlets as well as newspapers throughout the country in a hopeful attempt to improve our travel and customer care.