United Airlines – the Friendly Skies?

I’ve already written about how the word “travel” comes from the old English word “travail”…which means to work and suffer.

Our ancestors agreed that sometimes travel could be hellish, but at least they didn’t have to fly United – give me a covered wagon any day over these guys. Sure, all the airlines have issues and anyone that flies on a regular basis knows to expect the unexpected, but somehow United has refined misery down to a fine art.

[WARNING: lots of griping follows]

We arrived at LAX nearly 3 hours early, which should have been plenty of time to get checked in, let TSA relieve us of liquids, and maybe even grab some coffee. Just like in grocery stores, what once was a breathing carbon-based life form helping you has now been replaced by a coldly indifferent kiosk machine. As the 3 of us began going through the check-in screens, a miraculous thing happened – somehow Lyndsey managed to get checked in and the rest of us unsuspecting customers were told that the flight was being canceled.

Canceled?

So apparently Lyndsey was booked onto a canceled flight and the rest of us were told to get in line to sort it out. Interesting….a normal technology failure would make you think that none of us would be allowed to check-in. But hey, this was United.

Grumbling, we left the kiosk and joined the massive line which ended in 3 stone cold, miserable looking human beings. I had a feeling that when I reached the counter, I would be wishing I had a friendly kiosk. We stood in line nearly an hour, watching as the 3 attendants spent most of their time on brown telephones either calling for backup or trying to reach someone with a higher IQ.

Outside, United’s status screen cheerfully showed our flight as “ON TIME” rather than canceled – and no doubt somewhere people were sitting in a gate waiting to get onto a plane that the kiosk thought was canceled. Our plane!

After a small eternity, we were greeted by a woman behind the counter and by then we had swallowed our hostility enough to enter a numb-like happy place which made everything seem like it wasn’t really happening. We explained the predicament and after the usual 3 or 4 phone calls to superiors (or maybe Satan sitting in some back office) she happily announced that our plane was on time – but there was one catch, it was about to board and they had stopped accepting luggage!

We pleaded that we had been in line the entire time, but it fell on deaf ears which had been conditioned to allow people’s complaints to pass through the other side without registering. Just to our left, another family was having an even worse time than us and the flustered woman literally threw her passport at the attendant. My passport is my life, had it been me I would have chosen something less valuable, maybe harder – like a stapler, or suitcase. Still, I applauded the woman’s furious stand against an evil airline’s computer problems. The attendant told her that she was in no condition to fly, that they did not allow angry people on airlines, and that she was being bumped from the flight.

I watched as the traveler slumped away from the counter in defeat, trembling with an astronomical blood pressure. If the woman did not have anger management issues before flying with United, she sure did now.

Wow – I made a mental note to keep my cool until I could get into a bathroom and take my vengeance out on a soap dispenser or something. I conjured up an image of a Japanese Zen garden, equip with Koi pond and bridge.

Our attendant clicked away at her keyboard – and somewhere on the other end of the network cable, a dusty mainframe filled with chimps randomly pulling levers came to life. She had found us another flight, several hours from now, putting us into Sacramento late….but better late than never at this point. I could feel relief seep over my tired body.

Suddenly, there was another problem. Somehow, some 1 had been switched for a 0 inside United’s computer and my ticket was booked for the wrong date. Never mind that all 3 had been booked at the same time, with seats side-by-side, my ticket was for a week prior! Lucky me. Deep inside I could feel a little spark ignite in the dark.

Zen garden. Zen garden.

She made us re-buy a ticket on the spot for nearly $200 dollars, plus a $30 counter booking fee because we had decided to use her useful ticketing services rather than the internet. My breathing became raspy.

Zen….Zen…..

As I checked my backpack for my newly purchased flight she asked for a credit card to cover the $15 bag check-in fee. The first bag is $15, the next $40, and then $115! I had now been charged an additional $45 by this woman all for the pleasure of standing in line nearly an hour and a half. A trickle of sweat began to form on my brow.

In my subconscious the pond was now boiling red and the happy Koi had become vicious, snapping parana. I had to get away from this counter. This place. This airline!

She printed my receipts and boarding passes, then circled a code in red and told me that I would be scrutinized at security, patted down, and have to empty the contents of my carry-on….all because I had stupidly waited to buy my ticket until the last minute. She suggested that in the future, we don’t use Priceline or any of the booking sites and come straight to United.

Arrrrrgggggggg! My Zen garden raged with flames and smoke, peasants’ heads were lopped off by katanas, and my right hand twitched, BEGGED for a belt fed weapon right there on the spot. I started to rip my shirt off, declare martial law, and scanned the room for something I could form into a crude club to start swinging. Trembling, I was lead away from the counter and through my haze, I could hear the attendant clicking away on her blasted keyboard like nothing had every happened.

Wow. Thank you United.

“Next!”

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  1. - Are You Riled Up? - » Blog Archive » Vagabonding Life : United Airlines - a Traveler’s Nightmare - November 6, 2008

    […] I started to rip my shirt off, declare martial law , and scanned the room for something I could form into a crude club to start swinging. Trembling, I was lead away from the counter. through my haze, I could hear the attendant clicking …[Continue Reading] […]

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