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Old Feb 29, 2008, 11:30 PM
ntboy7756 ntboy7756 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 3
Thumbs down United Airlines Bag and Personnel Problems - oh yeah, Dulles United Airlines people

I am a very seasoned flyer. I have been a USAirways Chairman’s member since they started their frequent traveler program. Last year, I flew 177 flight segments. However, on Wednesday, February 20, 2008, flying on United Airlines, I had my worst flying experience ever.

Johnstown, PA is the closest airport to my home. USAirways dropped Johnstown, PA as a destination at the end of January 2008. United Airlines picked up Johnstown, and now, there are 4 flights per day between Johnstown and Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, I have no other flight options other than to drive 115 miles one way to the Pittsburgh, PA airport.

On Wednesday, February 20, I was scheduled to fly from Johnstown to Dulles on United Flight # 6935 (2:23 PM – 3:13 PM scheduled) then United Flight # 7431 (4:50 PM – 6:25 PM scheduled). Due to late arrival on the in-bound flight, the need to de-ice the plane and normal winter delays, we never left Johnstown airport until approximately 3:45. Knowing I was at risk to miss my connection in Dulles, Denny Banfield, (an outstanding employee at the Johnstown airport) backed me up on a flight from Dulles back to Pittsburgh, and then Pittsburgh to Charlotte.

We landed at Dulles at approximately 4:45 and I had a glimmer of hope to make my connection. However, we sat on the tarmac for an additional 10 minutes because they could not get anyone to lead us into our gate. As an aside, I have now flown United three times from Johnstown to Dulles, and EVERYTIME, I have had to sit on the tarmac because there are no employees at our gate. Yet, I see out the window that 14 employees are unloading another plane. They take one suit case per person, walk it 10 feet, another employee takes that one bag, walks it another 10 feet, etc. Unbelievable! United has a severe problem with your employees at Dulles airport.

Now I get off the plane, and I had to wait an additional 10 minutes while the 14 employees moved to my plane to move luggage, one at a time, to where we were standing. I grabbed the bag that I had gate checked and went inside, frantically asking the first United employee I saw to please check on my flight to Charlotte, NC to see if it was still there? Well, she checked and in broken English, she sent me to Gate A4. When I arrived at the gate, not only was the door already closed, but she sent me to the wrong gate, instead of Charlotte, NC, it was Charleston, SC. I spun around, found a departure board and discovered the Charlotte flight I needed, United # 7431 was “boarding”. However, I was in the A terminal, and this flight was in B. I literally sprinted to the transport “pod” and while riding to the B terminal, I phoned Mr. Banfield at the Johnstown airport to ensure that he successfully backed me up just in case. He told me he had. I got to the Charlotte, NC flight gate; however, they had already closed the door, and refused to let me on the plane. Your gate agent was horrible. I was standing in front of her profusely sweating (I am an overweight 51 year old who had just run 200 yards dragging a roll bag and a heavy brief case while wearing a sport coat and an over coat.). I stood there first begging her to see if the door could be reopened and if not reopened, could she find another flight to Charlotte. To my amazement, she ignored me and continued to listen to another employee’s story and laughed while I panicked about missing my flight and still tried to figure out how to get to Charlotte for important business meetings and a dinner with fellow IBM employees that evening. After a couple of agonizing minutes, I finally got her full attention. She rudely addressed me, told me that obviously I missed this flight and there was nothing she could do about it. I understand the rules, and accepted that. Perhaps had she not wasted so much time, I may have had a chance? Opportunity lost, I begged her to check on another flight to Charlotte. Her response was that the first available flight left at 10:10 PM. Not only was I aware that there was actually a 5:30 flight on United to Raleigh, and a 7:40 USAirways (code share) flight from Raleigh to Charlotte that would allow me to catch the end of our team dinner. I knew of this flight combination thanks to Mr. Banfield in Johnstown who took it upon himself to change my reservation to this combination of flights. However, this gate agent (I’m so mad that I did not capture names during my panic stricken efforts to complete my trip) 1) refused to print out the new flights that Mr. Banfield had arranged or 2) to tell me what gate the RDU flight was departing from and 3) refused to call that gate to tell them I was sprinting there to try and get on the plane that had plenty of empty seats.

Again, I sprinted literally a mile with minutes to spare, all the way to Gate D16. Now, totally soaked in sweat and exhausted, I get a gate agent who, with less than 3 minutes before they will close the door on the flight, refuses to speak with Mr. Banfield who I have on my cell phone at the time, even though he 1) initially could not find the reservation that Mr. Banfield had made for me the 2) once he found the flights, because of the changes and because (apparently I was connecting to a non-United, USAirways flight) he claims that now “I needed a paper ticket” for some reason. This gate agent, despite my pleas to “please just talk to the man in Johnstown who set up the flights”, refused to “use someone’s cell phone”. I even asked him to call directly, and he refused to do so. As the seconds ticked down, and even though Mr. Banfield could have explained what he had done, and how he set up my new flights, this gate agent was obnoxious and totally non chalant in trying to get me on the plane. He finally cursed, printed something out for me, but told me that once I got to Charlotte, the boarding pass he printed out for me to go from RDU to Charlotte, on USAirways flight #1182 would probably not work because there was “no paper ticket portion”. I was just relieved to get on this flight and through the terminal door.

So, here’s where the real nightmare begins. Now, the United employee who just closed the jet door as I watched him and pleaded “please don’t close the door” (I am so upset I did not get his name – dark hair, facial hair, short). He closed the door and told me I was too late, even though he saw me pleading with his co-worker just a minute earlier. I was nearly in tears after all I had been through at this point. Miraculously, one of the flight attendants saw and heard the brief exchange I had with that United gate agent, and she opened the door to the plane. I was relieved as she asked me to “come on board sir”. I was sooooo happy, I can’t even explain. However, the gate agent refused to allow me to take my rolling bag with my clothes, my important medicines, my shoes, work out clothes, etc on the plane with me. In fact he tried to take my briefcase as well. I absolutely could not part with my laptop computer, other important items in that case. I was able to board with my briefcase. (I very quickly discovered that there was plenty of overhead space available, I could have stored my bag and probably another dozen or so). As the agent once again closed the door, the flight attendant asked me if I had the claim check for the bag. In all this last second confusion, I did not even think to ask for a claim check. Well, she stopped him from closing the door, as I stood at the plane entrance, and she went out and got the copy of my claim check. She got back on the plane, handed me the claim check and asked if RDU was my final stop (thank God she asked me that, or I would have gone on to Charlotte and my bag would have ended up in Raleigh). Once again, she stopped the door from closing, went back out to the agent who was now acting very angry and even got belligerent with her, as she attempted to get him to change my baggage tag to Charlotte from Raleigh. In fact, at that point, hearing the commotion, the Pilot actually got out of his seat and went out to address the gate agent and insist on his cooperation. Finally, I got the bag tag back with “RDU 240” faintly crossed out and “Charlotte 1882” written in pen. I was concerned by the “attitude” that the gate agent now had. He was mad at me, mad at the flight attendant, and now, probably mad at the plane’s Pilot who came out to talk with him. I got to a seat, sunk into the seat, still perspiring like a race horse after the Kentucky Derby. Another flight attendant came by with a glass of water, took my jackets and put them in the overhead, and made sure I was OK. The flight attendants on United flight #240 on February 20 are among the best group of flight attendants I have ever experienced. They were awesome and I wish there were some way to recognize them. Again, I did not catch any names, I was just happy to be heading to Charlotte.

NOTE: I travel extensively. I am a savvy enough traveler to know about “packing medications” etc when you are checking a bag. When I 1) gate check plane side and 2) carry on, I keep my medication in my luggage. I take 9 medicines a day for medical conditions. I was not given the opportunity to grab my medication as I was forced to leave my bag and get onto the plane.

If you are familiar with Raleigh (RDU) airport, you know there are 2 terminals, almost ˝ mile apart. There are buses that run every 20 minutes or so between terminals. Other wise, you need to walk through the parking garage in the center of the airport. I landed in the United terminal, had approximately 35 minutes to get to the other where the USAirways gates are, again with heavy brief case, sports coat, heavy winter jacket, now in the 60 degree Raleigh night. Luckily, with my heart racing, there was a short security line. I got through and sprinted the final 350 yards to the USAirways gate. They were boarding, and as I feared, I was told the boarding pass I had in my hand was “not valid” and required a “paper ticket”. Fortunately, Mr. Banfield, as he promised, stayed at the Johnstown airport in case I needed help, and the USAirways gate agent, as the minutes ticked down, kindly phoned the Johnstown United agent and after several minutes, agreed to let me on the flight, even though they did not totally solve the “ticket problem”. I believe that 1) Mr. Banfield’s offer to stay on the phone to work through the problem and 2) my Chairman’s status on the airline probably helped my cause here.

We arrived in Charlotte, and my biggest fear was realized. After waiting at the luggage area for 20 minutes, and watching the final bags leave the belt, I realized that mine was not going to arrive. I then went to the USAirways baggage service office and for the next 45 minutes, I completed the forms, waited as they phoned the United baggage offices in Dulles (they never got an answer to the 5 or 6 phone attempts to the United baggage office at Dulles), the United and USAirways baggage offices in Raleigh. No bag, no bag found at another airport, nothing. Therefore, I was without the important medication I needed that evening, and also needed first thing in the morning. It was now after 9:30 PM, and I had nothing but the clothes on my back, and the “stranded traveler kit” that USAirways provided, including the infamous terrible shaving razor. I was too late to meet my fellow employees, too late to find a store to acquire sleeping clothes, and/or something to get me through the important meetings I had the next day. I headed to my hotel.

I started calling to check on the status of my bags at 11:00 PM, and made the final call at 1:10 AM and tried to sleep. It was an awful night of attempted sleep. No medication that I needed, no sleeping clothes, nothing to provide any type of comfort. And the worst was yet to come.

I had arranged multiple meetings in Charlotte with Time Warner Cable. I was in Charlotte to attempt to “close” two multi-million dollar deals with the client. I had a dinner planned on Thursday evening with an important executive and his wife. On Friday, I was having lunch with an executive that I had not been able to meet with for the previous 3 months. We finally coordinated schedules and were having lunch, or so I thought.

I was up early, and started to call the 800 # to try and track my bag. I called the 800#, the Charlotte USAirways baggage office, I tried the offices at Dulles for United (still no one ever answered the phone). I called my medical insurance company and my pharmacy regarding the important medications I needed, having missed my night time dose, and now my morning medications. The 9 medications that I needed, even if I was able to pick them up at a local pharmacy, would have cost me – out of pocket – over $300 dollars. I also could not reach my Dr’s office to even try to get an approval, as they did not open until 1:00 that day. No one had a clue where my bag was. I still had no clothes, wearing what I had worn the entire day before, I had no medication, and there was no hope in site.

I finally made an executive decision. I called my customers, I cancelled all my meetings, explaining the foul up that had occurred with the airline; I contacted IBM’s emergency travel office, and they worked diligently to get me the first flights home, so I could get to my medication, get clean clothes and take care of myself. As I type this letter to you it is now late day Friday, and none of my deals have closed, I lost opportunity to meet face to face with 7 separate customers I was scheduled to meet with; I did not get to “bond” with the executives I worked so hard to schedule time with over the previous months. What a nightmare this all has been.

I went to the airport to take a 2:00 United flight back to Dulles, and would then have to wait until 5:20 to catch a United flight to Johnstown, PA. My body was hurting and I was lethargic due to no medication. I was weak and actually was very concerned about my 40 minute drive home.

I turned in my rental car, went to the United ticket line at Charlotte, to check in and get my boarding passes. I was a little early, so I decided to go back down to the USAirways baggage office to see if they knew any additional information. During an earlier call to them, I also advised that they needed to now ship the bag, if it was ever found, back to my home in Ligonier, PA. With all the mistakes and errors that had occurred during the process, I wanted to make it crystal clear that the bag should not be sent to my Charlotte hotel, but instead to my home. There was no one else in the office, and I was fortunate enough to gain the attention of a very nice agent, and for the last 40 minutes, her manager, as they made calls, pounded their computer keys, made more calls, and yet – nothing. No bag, no hints, no clues. Finally, less than 40 minutes until my flight was scheduled to board for Dulles, I thanked them and started for the door. As I was opening the door, I heard my name. Here, a different baggage agent was on the telephone near me, calling my cell phone (which was stored already in my bag as I was heading to security), he started to leave a message and mentioned my name. I walked back over to where he was standing, and here, my bag was at his feet, and he was calling my cell phone to tell me it had finally arrived. Grace be God. They tried, but could not explain how the bag arrived. However, it had a completely different “bag tag” on it. Actually had a different tracking # - so their efforts to track the bag were totally ineffective (and actually, that morning, they said that they had found a bag, that had been delivered a full month earlier in San Diego, but they explained that the bag tag numbers often get recycled).

Well, by now, I was committed to travel back to Pennsylvania. I had cancelled my Thursday night stay at my hotel; I had cancelled all my meetings, I had turned in my rental car, and I had changed my fights back home, and was already at the airport. I sprinted to the nearest men’s room to catch up on my dosage of medication. I sprinted up to the security line, and then I sprinted to my gate for the flight to Dulles. Making sure my medication was moved to my carry on bag.

I have been flying on business and pleasure for the last 31 years. I thought I had experienced it all – cancelled flights, sleeping on the airport floor, even lost baggage, until this unbelievable, negative, horrible experience.

I made it home, hugged my wife, pet the dog, and tried to make sense of it all.

I will tell you sir, you have 1) an attitude problem at Dulles airport 2) a breed of employees, unlike Mr. Banfield in Johnstown, PA or the flight attendants on the Dulles to Raleigh flight that do NOT put the customer first 3) a labor issue at Dulles airport, perhaps union imposed, but I have watched 14 or 15 people unload a plane, while I have sat on the tarmac for between 5 and 20 minutes just waiting for someone to guide us to our gate. Since United took over and started flying from Johnstown to Dulles, I have waited every single time to get to the gate, regardless of whether we landed early or late. There is some type of huge problem that I hope you will look at and attempt to address. The 115 mile drive to the Pittsburgh airport is starting to look better and better for me as an option versus risking missing connections and being stranded at that awful Dulles airport.

I am sorry for the long letter; there was no other way to tell the complete story. I hope you will have taken the time to read it, just as a small pay back for the inconvenience, hassle and unfortunate near medical emergency I could have experienced. I regret not having names to share, I truly wish I did. I was treated so poorly by numerous United gate agents, that it would have been a pleasure to have shared their names with you.

I will continue to try the Johnstown United connections, but I can only take so much more. Travel stinks in today’s day and age anyway what with the hassles we experience with security, delays, expense, etc. But one more experience like I had will send me urgently back to USAirways, despite the long drive to Pittsburgh airport.

PS – I have been attempting for over an hour to connect with Mr. Atkinson at UAL Corporate Offices. I have been treated incredibly poorly during this process. I have been hung up on twice – once by “Julie Martinez” and once by “Jenna”. They were rude, arrogant, un-helpful, very rude and un-professional. If this is how United Airlines trains your employees to treat valuable customers, than it’s no wonder that the airline is in the condition it is in. Unbelievable!
Old Mar 2, 2008, 4:54 PM
Silent Bob Silent Bob is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: NY NY
Posts: 510

The thing about writing lengthy letters is, no one will take it serious, mainly because people tend to overkill it and in doing so contradict themselves. case in point (Taking examples straight from your own letter)

"I grabbed the bag that I had gate checked and went inside,"

Ok was this the same bag that you had all your medication, clothes, etc? The same bag that you did not want them to gate check prior to boarding your later flight? Why do you say you were forced to gate check it when just prior you had no qualms with gate checking it?

You're a seasoned traveler, 31 years, and yet you spend your time trying to get a gate agent to check on your flight? First you already had someone set it up, so that should have relieved any panic you had after you landed and were delayed from your first leg. It would have been much easier to call reservation, let them find, confirm, and fix any problems with your ticket. Heck because of their delay and your missed connection, they would/ should have rebooked you with no problem. (I commend United for this. I'm sorry I love flying United, they do a great job taking care of me and I will always frequent them with my business, my choosing).

Then there is the medication, which you are more than aware of, but then you are upset that they made you gate check your bag that you had already done so once (you even state they changed the previous tag with pen)

If you've been through this before, then this misconnect should have been easy to go through, avoiding all the agent hassle. People if you feel your gonna be stuck on a tarmac and might miss a connection, if you have a fully charged cellphone, call reservations to check on your connection and insure there is a backup.

and always keep meds in a carry on luggage. never in a bag that will be checked at the counter or gate.
Old Mar 11, 2008, 2:22 PM
ntboy7756 ntboy7756 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 3
Default Dear Silent Bob - obviously Mr. Know It All - read the attached

Thank you for contacting us. I am responding to your communication addressed to Mr. Glenn Tilton. Please accept my apology on behalf of United and Mr. Tilton for the dissatisfaction you have expressed.

I’m sorry to learn of the many difficulties and obstacles you were made to endure on February 20 traveling from Johnstown to Charlotte, N.C. Starting with United 6935 being delayed, which resulted in a domino effect of unfortunate circumstances to follow. We work hard to minimize travel problems with safety being our number one priority. Unfortunately in our industry many things can and do affect our daily operations and some delays and cancellations are unavoidable.

Your report and description of what followed is of concern. Our employees should provide professional service at all times. Your experience "To my amazement, she ignored me" did not reflect United's commitment to provide each customer with an enjoyable travel experience. Please accept my apology. Your comments trouble me because, as a company, all United employees have a commitment to a customer satisfaction philosophy that emphasizes the importance in responding to the needs of each customer efficiently and courteously. As you pointed out, though, we didn’t measure up to your expectations, or ours, and we appreciate your letting us know how we might better serve you. It is our intent to employ persons that have the qualities to provide excellent customer service, even when under stress or time pressure. I am sorry for all that happened to you.

Additionally, I understand that your baggage was mishandled on US Airways Flight 1882. You and your belongings should be on the same flight. Our baggage services team who physically handle bags each day continually works to enhance baggage service, and particularly to better manage operational problems that occur. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and stress that you were caused especially regarding your packed medicine.

Given the circumstances you have described, your complimentary comments about Mr. Denny Banfield and the flight crew of UA 240 from Washington Dulles to Raleigh are especially appreciated. I will make sure their managers are aware of their efforts. Thank you so much for recognizing their service to you.

Mr. X, as a US Airways Chairman and XYZ Corporate customer, your good will and satisfaction are important to United. Please know that we appreciate your constructive comments, which I have sent in reports to the appropriate management departments, Washington Dulles Station manager and United’s Central Baggage Services for their review. Your feedback helps United to focus on areas that require improvement in order to be your airline of choice. As a more tangible expression of our concern, I am mailing you under separate cover a $300.00 travel certificate. This will arrive at the address you have provided in 7-10 business days. Your patience is appreciated.

We look forward to the opportunity to provide you the service you expect and deserve in the near future.
Old Mar 12, 2008, 12:37 AM
Silent Bob Silent Bob is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: NY NY
Posts: 510

Dude this means nothing (and thank you for calling me mr know it all, I know its sarcasm, but i will accept it as a compliment). Kudos you have resolve, like I said in my previous reply I commend United on their customer service skills and will always frequent them. They are a great company, better than most and I've never really had too many problems with them. Now your addressing this to me.... why exactly?
Old Mar 14, 2008, 7:39 PM
ntboy7756 ntboy7756 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 3

Dear S.B. - read your note to me. Made me sound like some kind of an idiot - like I don't know how to pack, travel, etc. You weren't there to see how they herded me onto the plane with NO option to grab my meds, etc from the bag I typically will carry on to a larger plane/jet. No, I don't respect your opinion, and I am tickled that I got $300 from United for upcoming vacation travel. Guess they didn't like the long letter huh? Adios BS, I mean SB
Old May 9, 2008, 5:18 AM
complaintventures complaintventures is offline
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 4

Ntboy7756, glad your letter worked. I think there's some definite magic to writing complaint letters. They get hundreds of emails and phone calls every day. A letter stands out. Here's a letter that my boss Bruce once wrote.

Not overly lengthy, but it worked as well. It went to JetBlue and was quite humorous. And it worked.

Mr. David Neeleman
Founder and CEO
JetBlue Airways

A HEAVY Disappointment Report

Dear Mr. Neeleman:

I suspect that I’m like a lot of your customers: I had heard all sorts of good things about JetBlue, and had it in my head to “give it a try one of these days.”

My opportunity finally came last week when I found myself needing to make a quick trip to New York. I checked fares on AA, DL and UA, didn’t like what I saw, then checked your fares and schedule from Long Beach, liked what I saw, and booked the trip. (16 Oct; Flight 22; Long Beach/JFK.)

And when I got on the plane, I thought I’d really like it. Big bins. Nice leather seats. Televisions. I was even in an exit row, with extra leg room…

Then my seatmate arrived.

He was easily 400 pounds.

In fact, he was so big that he couldn’t fit into his aisle seat at all unless the arm rest stayed up. Which meant that in addition to his own seat, he took up a significant portion of my middle seat… with me in it! He took up so much space that I couldn’t use my tray table. Believe it or not, to change TV channels, I had to ask the people in the row behind me to push the buttons on the upright arm rest!

It was sort of like a scene from an old Marx Brothers movie: the very very huge man in the aisle seat… me, squished in the middle… the guy by the window who knew there was no way he was going to be able to go to the bathroom until we got to JFK… the nice lady in row 13 serving as human TV remote control.

But it wasn’t funny; it was painful. The big guy was just too big for one seat.

I felt cheated. I paid for a seat, but only got to sit in half of it. For more than five hours.

I know that it’s very difficult to accommodate situations like this one, particularly on a full flight. I think that at least a few airlines are either denying seating to “extra large” people if they can’t find an empty seat for them to sit next to, or making them buy two seats; I don’t know if JetBlue has a policy on this issue.

But as an airline that clearly wants to differentiate itself by providing a perceptively better comfort experience, you need a policy. It’s fundamentally unfair to squish your passengers. (That’s Southwest’s job!)

I do believe that some sort of compensation for my pain would be appropriate.

Old May 10, 2008, 7:11 PM
ChrisH ChrisH is offline
Former Airline Employee (NOT OFFICIAL REP)
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 214
Send a message via AIM to ChrisH

An important thing to remember, and I think it has A LOT to do with why you got a response ... always be polite. You were able to tell your experience, but do it politely, all the while complimenting the agents who were helpful. This usually always gets a response, compared to the vast majority of complaints, that are filled with hate, poor language, etc. I hope that United's response to your complaint was to your liking, and that you give United another chance to offer better service.

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