Please sign in to post.

United a Serious Contender in the Race to the Bottom

We had rt tickets, SFO/BOS. In the weeks leading up to our trip, United changed our flights 3 times. One change would have necessitated a hotel night before the outbound flight; another, the same after our return. Upon checking their website, I discovered that our original outbound flight still existed and had plenty of seats available. The 2 agents I spoke to were puzzled by the change, but got it reversed. The same was true about one of the return trip changes.

At BOS, the plane arrived from its previous flight, and “group 1” was actually lined up to board, when the gate agent announced that a collision with a bird had left the plane unusable. A new one would be needed, causing a 3 hour delay. United “graciously” offered snacks, RiceKrispie Treats, chips, or some sort of gummy candy. The gate agent told me that because we would arrive after public transport stopped running, we would be given a taxi voucher.
We finally got under way for our 6+ hour flight. Though United hadn’t been culpable for the delay, a decent gesture might have been to offer, for free, one of their for sale snack boxes. But no, we got a cookie, bag of pretzels, and a mostly unhealthful drink choice, water being the best option.

Upon arrival I checked with the gate agent who confirmed that we would be offered a taxi voucher or a hotel voucher. We had to hunt down a customer service person, who didn’t contradict what we had been told. However, when she went to her supervisor, he denied us because SF was our final destination. At that point we had wasted around 45 minutes with their run-around and had to find a hotel. Fortunately, I was able to find a moderately priced hotel with a free shuttle service, and we finally tumbled into bed at 11 pm (2am eastern time).
I do get it that covid has caused a great deal if instability in the airline industry, but I feel that United treated us arbitrarily and shabbily throughout this trip.

Posted by
4546 posts

Write to them and describe what you want them to reimburse you for. Send your receipts. Maybe you will get something. Maybe you won’t.

Unfortunately, I am not surprised by your experience and it mimics experiences that I have encountered on multiple airlines. I’ve learned just to be satisfied if I arrive at the right airport on the day I expected to arrive. A 3 hour delay doesn’t sound bad to me anymore (I’ve experienced far worse with no compensation). The only time I have ever been compensated for a delay was on a BA flight where I sat in the airport for 6 hours before my flight ended up being canceled and I was eligible to file for compensation under the EU rule.

Posted by
4368 posts

Were you not able to purchase food and refreshments more to your liking?

Posted by
6616 posts

We have flown First Class recently across country several times with less food than you were given. Flights were not on United.

Posted by
3418 posts

Sympathy seems in short supply today.... It is true that the bird strike was beyond their control and that you had access to food on your own. Still, it doesn't make your experience any less unpleasant and it was clearly frustrating for you. I'm sorry you had this difficult experience.

It does seem as if the airlines are continuing to struggle and I don't think it is just United. I hope that the rest of your trip went well and that enjoyed the other parts of it.

Posted by
3138 posts

Thanks, Carol. To the others who told me the bird strike was not the fault if United, of course I knew that and even said so in my post. It was the messing around with our reservations (twice moving us to undesirable times when our original flights had not been canceled), the awful food offerings, and lack of knowledge on the part of their personnel as to what we could expect that will make United my last choice for future travel. Just how difficult is it for a customer service rep to be knowledgeable about passenger entitlements?
I’ll also observe that some folks seem to be ready to excuse any bad behavior on the part of big businesses. Am I misremembering, or didn’t the airlines receive huge financial support from our government during the covid crisis?

Posted by
1632 posts

I share Carol's surprise at the sympathy scarcity here on our beloved forum - when things don't go as well as we hoped, let alone as well as we can reasonably expect, it's a bummer. Especially when we're the party in the transaction who's paying for the service.
There are points in every unfolding tale where the characters can soften the rough spots and when they don't, that friction gets paid forward no less than when they do. (More flies with honey, etc.)

Let me use this thread as a chance to remind everyone who is a customer of the airlines rather than an owner to check out the consumer advocacy organization Flyers Rights:
https://flyersrights.org

Posted by
2294 posts

The gate agent told me that because we would arrive after public transport stopped running, we would be given a taxi voucher.

Berkeley is a fairly inexpensive BART ride from SFO, but an outrageously expensive taxi ride, IMHO. It was gracious of the gate agents to offer Rosalyn a taxi or hotel voucher, but tacky of the "customer service" supervisor to veto the offer. That would stick in my craw if it happened to me, and I would probably post here, and expect at least some sympathy.

Posted by
919 posts

I've certainly been subjected to a fair number of delayed flights, some causing serious inconvenience and/or extra expense. Anyone who travels likely has. If United had not offered any food, or never mentioned a voucher, most people would not have expected it. This stuff happens. But because what they offered was not good enough or not delivered, extreme dissatisfaction results. You'd think United would understand that overpromising and underdelivering is a far greater sin than never making the offer in the first place.

Posted by
1767 posts

I don’t know if this will work and I didn’t read all the answers but what I have done on other airlines is just submitted the receipt from the hotel with a request for reimbursement. And about most the time I’ve gotten it but I’ve never tried it on United

Usually I use the complaint area because it will let you upload documents but I’m not sure once again about United. They just don’t go where I go so I haven’t flown them in years

Posted by
1650 posts

I have submitted a hotel receipt and gotten reimbursed by United, but it was B.C. (before Covid).

Posted by
651 posts

My Dear Wife is to letting me travel till 2023, earliest. Things in the travel industry might be settled out by then. Might not.

Posted by
3465 posts

Maybe if you would have gone with the updated schedule you might have avoided the delays? That happened to me where my original flight ended up getting rescheduled 4 times which allowed me to still get where I was going only 1 hour late. Sometimes change is good.

Posted by
3526 posts

It's perplexing how both airlines and airports can be so inadequately prepared for the least little kerfuffle. It seems like they expect everything to always go well, even when they know for a fact that it won't.

Something as simple as honoring what another staff member promised even if it wasn't exactly correct would be a step in the right customer service direction.

Even something as easy as giving the passengers the cheap food boxes that are going to go to waste seems to be a decision that's not in anyone's wheelhouse.

Surely there are some people working for airlines or in airports who have the authority and/or the ability to make situational decisions. What do they do when something really bad happens? Do they have to wait for an answer from the executive suite?

Back in the late 1980s I was on a delayed flight where something like that happened. We were kept on the plane at the gate and not allowed off for hours with no explanation of why.

The food on board was supposed to be served shortly after take off and could've been served to us while we waited, but it wasn't. By the time we were finally allowed off the plane, we were told that they couldn't serve it because it was spoiled. Yeah, I guess after several hours, it might be. Oh, and by then no food vendor at the airport was open and everything in the vending machines was gone.

We were not offered any compensation or hotel rooms or anything. We were eventually loaded back on the same plane in the middle of the night. We were supposed to arrive in Seattle at about 10:00 pm that night. Instead we arrived at about 06:00 am the next morning. We were finally able to get a bite to eat at SeaTac.

It sounds like things haven't changed all that much since then.

Posted by
2598 posts

From what I've read, the race to the bottom is being led by the passengers. I consider any flight without punches thrown a good one.

Posted by
2733 posts

I am sorry that you has such an unpleasant experience. I say as a person with premier 1K status at United that it is the worst but really all the domestic airlines are pretty darn bad. A 3-hour domestic delay is not really entitled to anything so that employee in Boston really screwed up. This is why it is always better to under promise and over deliver. United has no obligation to have offered anything to you either on the flight or upon landing at SFO but by an employee saying that United would provide a voucher, an expectation was created that upon that not being met resulted in disappointment. One lesson I learned a while ago is that when a representative of a company promises me something that the company does not usually do, I get their name and identifying company information so that later I can try to hold the company to the promise. Think of this from the perspective of the supervisor at SFO, what you were asking for is completely contrary to company policy and he had no proof that it was even offered to you. Having denied you, he does not have to explain to his boss why he spent $90 getting someone home from the airport. And now for a random question. What was the unhealthful drink choice?

Posted by
2791 posts

I'm sorry this happened to you but there's an Olympic-level competition right now between airlines hoping to occupy that bottom space.

Posted by
3138 posts

Just some minor clarifications. Not one, but two United employees assured us we would be given vouchers, one at BOS and one at SFO. I guess that even at my advanced age I am still naive, but I believed they knew what they were talking about. I did resent the additional delay their misinformation caused us. We’re in our 80’s and practically dead on our feet by that time.
There were four drink choices. In addition to water, I recall Coke, which is really bad for you, and CranApple, just loaded with sugar. An offer of one of the snack boxes for free would have been a gracious gesture from United. I bought one, which wasn’t bad, nuts and dried fruit.
BOS seems particularly poorly provided with food services. We did have a good seafood lunch at the one appealing restaurant, but most of the others were closed. The kiosks, apparently all owned by the same company, had little but junk food. Contrast that with two airports we frequent, SFO and PDX, where you can get yogurt, dried fruit, nuts, boxed salads, etc., even throughout the pandemic. (Before anyone jumps on me, I know this is not the fault of United.)
And btw, for those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, getting to Berkeley from SFO by taxi involves a half hour or more, including crossing the Bay Bridge. Taxis, ubers, etc. are understandably reluctant to accept passengers with that destination because, late at night, they likely won’t be able to find a return fare. If they accept, they may want the passenger to pay for their return to SFO.
At any rate, it was the totality of our experience, starting with the arbitrary flight changes, that left me so negative about United.

Posted by
875 posts

Rosalyn,

I have had similar experiences as this while flying, with a few less bothersome and a few more bothersome. It is true that reporting frustrations like this on this forum are often met with stern replies. As others mentioned, the worst issue here is that you were told you would be receiving a compensation by more than one agent and then that promise was not kept.

Otherwise, I think that we as consumers need to better prepared for things like this to happen. This isn't just a big business issue, this is a societal choice. Over and over again, American consumers have voted with their wallets. When offered a higher quality service at a higher price, we have as a group chosen a lower quality service at a lower price. Yes, that lower price still seems high, so that we expect a better service, but it isn't. In order for the airline industry to be able to offer extra food or other services when things get behind schedule, they would need to charge more for your ticket. Most Americans don't want that. I typically pay more to travel closer to the front of the plane. As a reward for paying more, I get better services. It makes sense. I also am very happy that the airline industry was supported by the government, because I want the airline industry to survive so that I can fly where I want to fly. Gone is the day when businesses happily compensate us for inconveniences. It is all about the bottom line. Hopefully, the agents that told you about the vouchers are properly educated and don't do that again. Hopefully you don't have another delay like this again while you are traveling.

Posted by
4546 posts

Sympathy seems in short supply today...

I am not sure why suggesting someone write to United and request reimbursement is seen as unsympathetic. I do sympathize with the OP. It is just that I am not surprised by her experience. She should have gotten better service and the airline should have provided the voucher they promised. I think many of us have been frustrated by similar situations.

Posted by
3418 posts

Laura, you are thinking that post was a response to one particular statement by one particular poster? It was not.

Posted by
919 posts

I don't think it's lack of sympathy, at least not on my part. I sympathize with anyone who suffers through long flight delays, but I'm also a realist. Many of us are frequent fliers and, as such, have come to expect very little from any airline. At least then if things go well, we're pleasantly surprised. Expectations managed. Never count on anything until you hold it in your hand. Even those "front of the plane" tickets are not a guarantee.

Posted by
81 posts

I am sorry the OP had to go through this. For the cost of a Hotel one would think there would be Uber/Lyft. I am avoiding United for many reasons including the one the OP listed. Yes it could have happened on another airline. In the future I would have asked the name of the agent who promised the Taxi Voucher and ask them to please document my PNR of this voucher along with the Voucher#.

There are two ways to Berkeley from SFO . 1 is the Bay Bridge and the 2nd one is Highway 92 to Highway 880 to 80. Also I believe there may be a rental car company open at that time. As I recall San Jose, Oakland and SFO are all co terminals and there would not be an extra fee to return your car there.

Another option would have been to see if you could have been flown to OAK even with an overnight .

I am not sure where the disconnect occurred but inthe 45 minutes I would have wasted with the agent I could have been in an Uber on my way home. I would have written into United Customer Service the next day not expecting to get reimbursed but would have the receipt ready to go just in case.

Posted by
7485 posts

It is unfortunate that what the BOS UAL employee promised was not honored at SFO.

What is sad is that OP has no friend or family to call to get picked up, but is dependent on public transit or expensive taxi to get to/from the airport

How early does transit shutdown in the Bay area?

Posted by
3138 posts

@ joe 32f
We actually have a daughter who lives in SF, whose husband would have picked us up and put us up at their house for the night. However, they had traveled east for the same event, and were not yet home. I don’t know if you are familiar with Bay Area geography, but I would never ask a friend to make the journey from Berkeley to SFO and back, late at night. I, myself, have gotten to the point where I won’t drive it at any time of day.

Posted by
3188 posts

Recently have flown a fair bit, 12 segments since June. 3 were connecting flights on United, 2 went flawlessly the other was a cock up, plane to O'Hare outbound kept getting delayed for mechanical issue, when it hit 2-1/2 hour delay I knew our connection was toast so accepted a Houston connection (I hate it when the connecting airport is farther from the destination than the origin airport) and then a broken plane on the second flight from there, left 2 hours late so arrived Norfolk 6-1/2 hours late from the original itinerary, hotel at 1 am. 2 broken planes on the same itinerary is not impressive.

Posted by
1424 posts

United clearly handled this situation very poorly. But I don't think this one situation necessarily makes them a contender in the race to the bottom. I've had a similarly bad experience on American, and I'm sure there are a ton of anecdotes about bad experiences on other airlines.

I think every business--airlines, hotels, tour companies, as well as businesses outside the travel industry--has both satisfied and dissatisfied customers. Even Rick Steves has some dissatisfied customers.

If we made travel decisions based on the bad reviews, well, I think we'd all end up staying home. It's good to get this kind of first-hand report (thanks for sharing, Rosalyn), but if we're deciding on which airline to fly, it's probably wiser to do research by checking customer satisfaction surveys like these:

Posted by
12387 posts

United is no longer racing to the bottom. They won that race. My only way to an international airport is United. Years ago I gave up on them and now I would rather make the 3.5 hour drive.

Posted by
221 posts

I booked a United domestic flight yesterday afternoon for next April. United set a new record for me this morning with notice the flight is no longer in existence and the new flight has an unacceptable 35 minute connection. I expected the usual reschedule at some point, but done in 15 hours after booking was a surprise. ( I will contact them for better option.)

Posted by
12387 posts

I hate to admit this but I flew United on Friday.

No choice.

Had to.

My 45 minute flight left 20 minutes late, arrived 10 minutes late.

Sold out too.