----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: An Open Letter to United

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Open Letter to United

Dear United Airlines,

I understand that you, like most other airlines, are fighting for survival. I understand the soaring fuel costs have caused you to wring every single penny possible from your customers. But what I don't understand is why you think you are exempt from treating your paying customers with respect. After all, without us, you will go out of business.

My dad is a 1K member, and my husband is a Premier member. I don't fly as much as they do, but I have been a lifetime member of Mileage Plus, and a fairly loyal United flier. Okay, I do take Southwest sometimes, but only because when I fly between the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California, their fares are almost always a lot cheaper. I would like to fly United all the time, really, I would. But I can't afford to pay $200 more per ticket. I still feel guilty about flying Southwest, though. I'd much rather be in my preassigned United seat, rather than jockeying in line with other Southwest passengers.

But I digress. The point is that I like you, United, and I have stuck by you through good times and bad. In fact, if you still had Shuttle by United, I'd be flying that instead of Southwest. However, my last experience with you was terribly disappointing.

I made use of your "EasyCheckIn" to print my own boarding pass. Before I left, I checked to make sure my flight was on time. I was taking a shuttle bus from the Napa Valley to SFO, so I had to get on a 2:30 bus in order to make it to the airport by 4:00 to check my bag on time for my 5:17 flight (yes, yes, I could have carried on, but not with two bottles of wine in my suitcase). Everything was going so smoothly until the bus pulled up outside the United terminal and my cell phone started ringing. It was an automated message from United, letting me know that my flight had been canceled and I had been rebooked on the next flight.

Here's the problem: the next flight wasn't until 8:35, so I was faced with the prospect of cooling my heels in the airport for the next four-and-a-half hours. Now, maybe you like airports, United, since you do so much business in them. Me, not so much. And to make matters worse, no one from United would give me the time of day. All I got was a curt hand wave and an instruction to stand in line with 75 other people. The line wasn't moving, partly because only one staff member was working at the counter. I hate lines. And I really, really hate lines in airports. I already stood in line to find out if I could check in for my new flight. I didn't want to stand in another line, especially when I knew I still had to go through the security line. This so-called "customer service line" was barely controlled chaos.

I was considering cashing in my ticket and walking over to the Southwest terminal to get on their next flight. Then I remembered that Southwest would only get me from SFO to LAX, and my car was at the John Wayne airport in Orange County. Instead, I called my father, the frequent flier, to see what he would do. He told me that I should go to the Premier Executive/ 1K line and ask for some sort of compensation for my troubles.

When I walked over to the business class/first class/premier/premier executive/1K section of the terminal, it was like a whole different world. Transactions were completed in hushed tones, and the quiet was such a relief after the maddening din of the other part of the terminal. Also, transactions were completed quickly, probably because there were four agents there, and no line at all. Now, United, I understand why your high rollers get special treatment, but does it really make sense to have four agents for no line and just one for an out-of-control line? Why are you paying agents to stand around and wait for customers? Why not press them into service where they are most needed? Oh, right. They probably don't want to deal with the hoi polloi any more than I do.

The "security guard" at the special area asked if I was first class or business class. Premier Executive, I told her, and those were the magic words. She didn't even ask for any sort of identification. The agent who helped me was very nice, especially because he spoke in posh British tones. He told me that my flight had been canceled because of mechanical reasons. Now, if it were weather-related, I could understand that United couldn't help me. Mechanical is within your control, though, United. I thought that if the airline was at fault, I could at least get a meal voucher or a travel certificate or something, because I was stuck at the airport, he said "no." It's just another way that United is cutting costs, he said. Basically, he told me, in United's eyes, I was still getting to my destination in a timely fashion. "After all," he said, "people aren't going to go back to taking the stagecoach from the West Coast to the East Coast."

I was still frustrated, but at least this agent checked my bag for me. He did not, however, let me go through the special security line for premier members. Instead, I had to dive back into the scrum and wait in line with people who apparently have never traveled before. (Huh? Why can't I take liquids on the plane? What do you mean, I have to take my shoes off? Why can't I carry on my chainsaw? Oh, wait, that last thing happened in Greece on Aegean Airlines--sorry, United.)

So there I was, stuck at the airport. I didn't even get a measly drink ticket for a free drink on my flight. Finally, I was able to board the plane. But here's the weird thing, United: How did all the people from my flight fit on the plane with all the people from the existing flight, along with twelve additional passengers who cleared the standby list? Even then, United, the plane wasn't full. Don't insult my intelligence by lying to me. If you canceled my flight because you didn't have enough passengers, at least tell the truth. Oh, but wait, there are probably some FCC regulations about just canceling flights willy nilly, aren't there?

I know it wasn't like I was out stuck on the tarmac with no food or water or working lavatories, and it's not like I had to spend night after night in the airport after my flight was canceled because of an act of God, or anything like that. And maybe a four-hour delay isn't really that long in the grand scheme of things. But what really galls me is that I suspect you lied to me about the "mechanical" and that you weren't even willing to throw me a tiny little piece of compensation to assuage my hurt feelings.

Well, United, I have learned two valuable lessons from this experience. First of all, I now know I can't trust you not to cancel flights at the last minute. And second of all, I know now that I have to fly a lot more and rack up a lot more miles to even get a customer service agent to speak to me. But the thing is, United, when you treat me like this, why would I want to?

Very truly yours,
Another Disgruntled Traveler.


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