X-mas travel PAIN.

What we learned this Christmas vacation about airline travel:

  1. Never travel multiple airlines in a single trip (at least in the continental US where you can avoid it)
  2. keep everything they give you. boarding passes, luggage info, etc. even if someone tells you that you don’t need it anymore.
  3. If someone from one Airline X tells you to “take this to a Airline Y counter”, don’t go anywhere. That person can call the other airline’s counter/desk directly and do it over the phone.
  4. The airline that caused you to be late / miss a flight is responsible for helping you. If your Airline X flight was late, causing you to miss a Airline Y flight, Airline Y can’t do anything for you, they didn’t do anything wrong (yet!).
  5. Travel protection insurance during the winter for midwest travel is probably worth the $100 extra (or whatever it costs for your trip)

For more details about our xmas travel fiasco, follow the jump. Its a looooooong story.

Our trip started more complicated than it needed to be. We waited pretty long to buy tickets, because the ticket prices usually come back down just around thanksgiving, but this year they didn’t. So we took a longer route to bring the price back to normal (450 each vs. 1000+ each). Our original itinerary had us going SEA to Vegas, Vegas to O’hare, and O’hare to Appleton. It also meant that the first flight was via America West, and the subsequent flights were on United.

When we checked in, the woman at the counter said our bags were checked all the way to appleton, but we’d have to pick up boarding passes from united when we landed in Vegas, as she couldn’t print them. We figured that was odd, but no big deal. Until we got to Vegas. McCarren airport in Vegas is divided into 2 sections. One side has the A & B gates, the other has the C & D gates. America West is on one side, United operates out of the other side. So once we got to vegas, we had to go out of security. And since we had no boarding passes, we couldn’t get back into security, so we had to go back to ticketing and wait in line again. Then we got to go back through the security line again. That process took over an hour total, so it was a good thing we had a 4 hour layover.

We could be home in time for the packer game? Awesome.

So that was a cakewalk compared to the trip home. First flight out of appleton at 8:20am, back to seattle by 4:15, should be home in time for the Packer game at 5:15 PST. Aweseome. Our going home itinerary was similar to the way out, except phoenix instead of vegas, and only our first flight, Appleton to O’hare, was via united. We arrived in plenty of time to have a leisurely stroll through checkin (where united couldn’t print our America West boarding passes) and security. I’ve been in O’hare a ton, so i wasn’t worried about going back out through security, since you can get to all the gates without going back out through security. The plane was even boarded and the door closed and ready to go early. Then you get that phrase you never want to hear on an airplane: “This is your captain speaking. It looks like we’re going to be here another 45 minutes before we can take off.” — fine, we have an hour and ten minute layover, we could squeak into our gate. An hour later, the captain comes back on: “We still haven’t gotten an update, we’re expecting to hear from the tower about 9:30”. Yeah, we were supposed to land in chicago at 9:18. That’s not good at all. Well, hopefully since our flight was delayed, hopefully our phoenix flight was too.

Where do we go now??

When we landed, we had 2 problems. One, we were already late. We landed at 10:28, our next flight is supposed to be wheels up at 10:30. Our second problem: O’hare is like 90% united gates. Do you know where to find America West? You can’t just look at a flight board when you land, because those are only showing United flights. so we had to find a map, and figure out where America West (part of us airways) hangs out. So we find a US Airways gate. He tells us that America West is part of the E concourse, so we go there, and at 10:40, stumble upon the gate where our flight had just left.

The gate agent tells us that all of the remaining flights to Phoenix are oversold, the best she can get us is a 2:30 (delayed to 4pm) standby flight to Vegas. Fine, if we have to be trapped somewhere on new year’s eve, Vegas is the place to do it. She asks us why we were late for our flight, and we explained that our United flight left almost 90 minutes late. She explained that since we hadn’t flown America West yet, they hadn’t done anything wrong, so they weren’t really obligated to help us (yet). But since United blew it, they are responsible for fixing it, so we should go to their customer service desk and see if they can help us. Fine, we have around 6 hours to kill before we’ll even know if we’ll even get out of Chicago.

Can I take my break now?

The United customer service desk is at the end of the F and G concourses, right at that corner where McDonalds is. And the line for customer service snaked through the area, and out into the hallway. 3 women were manning the desk. Slowly. Oh god so slowly. The line moved about one person every 10 minutes. Before we even got into the actual snake part of the line, one of the women went on break. Down to 2 people working slowly. We watched the woman on break stand in line at McDonalds and get her food and walk away. We still haven’t moved. Another woman comes to man the desk. Back to 3. Another goes on break. Back to 2. We’ve finally gotten into the real line, no longer standing in the concourse. And we’ve now been standing in line for more than an hour. A guy comes to work at the desk. He’s being friendly, helpful, and damn if he wasn’t efficient. Every person who gets to him is happily gone in 5 minutes or less. He is not only helping his people, but both women at the desk are asking him questions, so he’s answering them, and continuing to help people in line. On woman has been trying to help a guy get to munich for at least a half hour. He’s getting more and more frustrated. As we move through line, we pray that we get that guy, not anyone else. Thankfully, we do. If I remember right, his name was Tony. Tony is upbeat, and tries to be helpful. He can’t get us to Seattle, everything is full. He asks cheerfully, “Where else would you like to go?”. We tell him that if he can get us to portland (oregon, not maine!), we could drive home. Laura had already looked at the boards, she knew there were 3 flights to portland, and 2 more flights to seattle yet that day. He booked us onto a 5:15 flight to portland. He handed us our standby tickets to vegas, and 2 tickets to portland and told us, “you need to take this to an america west gate and have them exchange these vegas tickets for these portland tickets and you’re all set”.

So we walk back to the gate where our phoenix flight left. Nobody there. We walk the entire E concourse. Nobody at ANY america west gates. One has a note on the board that says the flight here is now leaving from F10, so we walk all the way to the end of the F concourse, and find an unoccupied gate agent at F8 from america west. We give him all of our stuff, and explain the situation. “I’m sorry, i can’t do that”

Uh, what!?

He explains that he can’t exchange them, that if he does that, united will charge us for the flight, yadda yadda. I was shocked enough that frankly, i don’t remember everything he told us. He tells us that since united made us late, they should help us, we should go back to united. We tell him that we just stood in line for 2+ hours, we’re not going back to that line. He tells us not to wait in line, go to the person who gave us the tickets and they should finish their job, he can’t do anything for us. Fine. Disgusted, we walk back to United customer service. The line is just as long, and of course, Tony is no longer at the desk. great. we’re going to have to explain this again. to one of the slow ladies. We give up and stand at mcdonalds trying to figure out what to have for lunch. While in line, we see tony, and hear him tell the people near the end of the line that there are 3 people working at gate F12, to go there instead of waiting in line. So we get out of the McD’s line and book it back down to the end of the F concourse, where we had just been. At F12, the united guy explains to us that he can’t do anything. we already have tickets for our portland flight, that all Americ West has to do is “release control” of the tickets so that United can give us seats on the flight. We ask him, “what exactly do we say, word for word to the America West gate agent at F8″, “Tell him that you already have tickets, and that America West needs to release control of the tickets so we can give you seats”. We tell him that we’ll be back, and walk back to F8.

At F8, they now have 2 “position closed” tags up where the 2 America West people are working at the desk. We walk up anyway. We tell him exactly what F12 told us to say. “Ohhh, you just need me to release control? That’s a totally different thing than ‘exchanging’ tickets”… like we care. He types for a couple minutes, then tells us he’s done, that he’s given up control of those tickets to United. So we go back to F12, but our guy is busy. So we get a different women. We explain to her. She’s confused. She types, and tells us “it doesn’t look like America West gave up control of these tickets”. We tell her that we were just at F8, and he did that. We tell her that we were just talking to the other guy at F12, so she goes over by him. When he’s done helping the person he’s helping, she explains it to him. He types for a while, and she walks away. After a few “hmm” and “huh”s from him, he asks us “is an exit row okay?”, we say of course it is. He hands us 2 tickets for our 5:15 flight to portland. Leaving from Gate C26 at 5:15. It is now after 1pm. Its taken us almost 3 hours, just to get a compromise flight to Portland. We’ve given up any hope of anyone getting us to seattle, we’ll just bite it and rent a car.

Oh, you wanted your bags too?…

Our 5:15 flight doesn’t leave until around 5:45, but we make up most of the time in the air. We land almost on time, about 7:40. When we land, we stop at the agent at that gate and ask about our luggage. She tells us they appear to still be in chicago, but the baggage service people know more about that system then she does. So we go to the united luggage service to see what ever happened to our bags. She tells us the same, and we have to go through the hoop of describing all of our bags. Our address, phone #’s, types of bags: Green 22, Grey 22, Black smaller 22 with rainbow electrical tape on the handles. She gives us a copy of the form, and keeps the original luggage info. We go to hertz, pick up a car. We hit the road.

We arrive at our friend Mark’s house (just a few miles from our house) for a new years party at 11:45, just in time for the west coast repeat of the ball dropping. Only about 7 hours later than we expected to be home.

Happy New Year!

About 9 am Jan 1st, we get a call about our luggage. they have 2 bags, we should expect them between noon and 6 pm.
At around 5:15pm, i check the united baggage claim website and realize that they have our address partly wrong, SW instead of SE. Nice. So i call the 1800 number. Its one of those stupid “why don’t you just tell me what you want” computer systems. god i hate those things. I go through all of the prompts, and it takes 10 minutes just for the robot on the other end to find my info, then tell me “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that. I’ll have to transfer you to a customer service representative”, then a couple touch tones, then he comes back on, “All of our customer service representatives are busy. Please call back later.”, then a dial tone. Fan-fcking-tastic! We’re even getting screwed by robots now. I try for another 5 minutes by just pressing 0 until i get on hold. I wait on hold. I sit on hold for 15 minutes of hold music, punctuated every 90 seconds or so by a voice telling me some random information. Every time the voice comes on, i think someone has picked up, but no. I like the systems that play music and talk once, then tell you something to the effect of “this will be the last voice message before your call is answered”, so you know next time you hear someone it is a real person. Anyway, a nice lady with an Indian acccent answers, and apologizes just about every 10 seconds. I explain about the address, she says she updated it, and she’s trying to get ahold of the driver with our bags. So i go back on hold for about 5 minutes. She comes back on and apologizes that she can’t get ahold of them, but left them a message with the correct address and our cell numbers.

6pm comes and goes. No calls. We give up on our bags for the day.

Happy New Year+1day?

At 10am Jan 2nd, I check the website, and it says that our bags are still due between noon and 6 on Jan 1st, and our address is STILL wrong. Nice. So i try the automated robot phone guy again. Instead of the voice prompted system, i simply get the “All of our customer service representatives are busy. Please call back later.” hangup message. About noon i get email from Laura that United called her and that 2 of our bags are in seattle and they are arranging for delivery. Still no trace of “small black 22” yet. They give her an approximate time of between 6 and 7 pm.

7pm comes and goes. No calls. We give up on our bags for the day. They arrive at 10:30pm. Its a good thing i was up and writing this post. They still haven’t found our 3rd bag.

Update: Small Black 22

Sometime in the afternoon Jan 3rd, United called Laura and told her they’d found our third bag, and it was on our way. It was left at our front door (by our request) this afternoon.

Now that the saga is “over”, I’m in the process of finding exactly who at United Airlines to forward this to in writing as an official complaint. Another friend who also had a horrible time with United over the holidays this year (related to the snow situation in Denver) sent me this information:

See http://library.corporate-ir.net/library/83/836/83680/items/224251/2006InvestorDayPresentation.pdf

I particularly like the quote on page 5: “We will be recognized as the world’s leading airline for customers, employees, and investors”. As soon as all the other airlines go away.

When i find the info i use to mail this out, i’ll be sure to let him know too!

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3 comments on “X-mas travel PAIN.
  1. John Gardner says:

    Updated 1/4/07 to add luggage, JB quote.

  2. John Gardner says:

    Contact United Customer Relations with:
    Praise or compliments (as if!)
    Comments or feedback
    Questions regarding past date travel

    Available 8 a.m.-7 p.m. CST Mon-Fri

    On other matters, we in Customer Relations can serve you best when you fill in the information below.


    That page has a huge page of fields to fill in, then a 22 column, 7 row text area to type your “message” in. Yeah right. This post is like 2500+ words. The comment field here is even bigger than that!

    Anyway, according to

    The contact info for United Airlines is:
    Ms. Pamela Coslet
    General Manager, Customer Relations
    P.O. Box 66100
    Chicago, IL 60666
    (877) 228-1327

  3. JB says:

    If you’re in the mood, you may want to cc: any or all of:

    Judith A. Bishop
    Vice President – Customer Contact Center

    Graham W. Atkinson
    Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer
    (both are United Airlines, not UAL Corporation)

    Glenn Tilton
    Chief Executive Officer
    UAL Corporation

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