Customer Service (and its lack)

We just got home today from one of the worst travel experiences in my life. We flew through Denver on United, connecting to Colorado Springs in order to visit my brother’s family in Pueblo and attend my niece’s wedding. It was less expensive than flying directly into the Springs or into Pueblo, and we’ve done it many times before with no problems or at worst delays. Going to the Springs on Thursday, we were delayed an extra two hours in Denver, but made it to Springs tired but happy to get in and see family, and enjoyed a wonderful weekend staying at the Pueblo Marriott, with a really good experience there, and visiting with family I hadn’t seen in twenty years in some cases. It was a great trip.

Until we tried to come home. There were several hours between our Springs flight and our Denver connection, so we didn’t anticipate problems. We got out of Springs late with about a half hour to connect. Then the troubles began. We ended up having to run sixty gates to try and make our flight. The airline knew we had just come in, and the gate attendant when we arrived assured us they would hold the flight. United’s policy is to close the doors ten minutes before a flight, but we were told the zone manager has the option to hold the flight for connections.

We got to the gate just as the doors had closed, running as hard as we could. Twelve people were standing there waiting, and United would not let us on the flight. I suppose they had already given our seats to other stranded passengers. And now we were the stranded, for not being able to run sixty gates in ten minutes. Our luggage was on the plane and going to San Diego. But we couldn’t get on the plane, since they had closed the doors.

I understand people miss connections, and airlines have to do what they can. But knowing customers have just come in a flight, and then leaving them stranded at the gate, is pretty inexcusable. Refusing to do anything for them when this happens is the totally unacceptable part. They wouldn’t book us a room, give us a voucher for a meal or anything. And were telling hundreds of other people in the airport the same thing, using the excuses that their United-Continental merger wasn’t complete, so they weren’t responsible for a Continental connection, or that it was our fault for not running sixty gates fast enough. We were all stuck, in dirty underwear in many cases and with no toiletries. But they didn’t care.

So we called Marriott, who booked us a room at the Residence Inn (using the United corporate rate code, which we found amusing.) We had a nice dinner at Applebees, who fed us efficiently and treated us well. We got breakfast the next day at Residence Inn, included with our room, deodorant, at a minimal cost, and free shuttle service to the airport. We got outstanding service — from everyone except the company that created the problem.

We traveled home today with many of the stranded — the mother with a young baby, who they had done nothing for. We had dinner at the Applebee’s the night before next to the man they had stranded from Grand Junction, who had now canceled his San Diego trip for business and now only wanted to go home. They couldn’t get him home that night either. The waitress told us that they heard these stories about United every. single. day.

And now, for want of a nail, the shoe has come off. We will never fly United again. We will never connect through Denver on a trip again. We are looking for a charity to donate our United miles to — all 70,000 of them. We will not use this company again.

I don’t blame the employees. The rules are set by the company, and the employees have little leeway. No wonder they stop caring after a while, and just do the job as best they can. I blame the management, the millionaires and maybe billionaires who run this company, set its policies, and every day, strand hundreds or even thousands of people. And don’t care. Not at all. Not even enough to hand out a package with some underwear, deodorant and a toothbrush, and eat the cost of a hotel room. Would that really be so difficult? Really?

I don’t give this airline long to survive. Others can do better — and do. Or at least care if they don’t.


5 Responses

  1. As a former airline employee this story is not that surprising, Donna, and you are correct it saying it is all upper management’s fault. It is just a frustrating for the employees on the line. I am so sorry this happened to you.

    (I would have commented sooner but I somehow missed this post until tonight.)

  2. I had a similar experience in Denver on United…my flight out of Orlando was late and missed the connection completely. It was on my birthday, no less. This was several years ago, before the merger, and United actually was quite accommodating…they could have put me on an early flight back to Honolulu, or I could stay the night in that Marriott, which I did, at their expense. What I HAD determined through years of flying is that generally, if you accept the consequences, things work out. There was no point in yelling at the attendant..better to throw yourself on their mercy.

    But things have gotten merciless. Last year, I had to stay an extra night because my redeye from Maui to Honolulu was cancelled…because there were not enough people. (There were 12, and they needed 15 or something…insane.) Didn’t cause me too much trouble, I just went back to my friend’s house, but there were tourists who had no alternative. The anger that was swirling around that gate was palpable. And it was just a small plane, a 20-minute flight! Needless to say, I will not fly that airline (Go!) any more. I wrote about that myself last year:

    Once I was on a flight from HNL to Hong Kong through Taipei…the flight out of HNL was HOURS late leaving, so the Taipei connection was impossible…China Airlines actually put on an extra 747 for 30 people to get to HK. (I had a whole section to myself!) I can’t imagine UA/Continental being so accommodating.

  3. Im surprised that you blame only the owners and not the workers

    I think UAL has the worst workers of any airline in the country. On any given day , the workers at AMR an DAL are so much better

  4. Owners influence worker’s attitudes and practices. Closing the door means the airline flight is “on time”. Even if the plane sits at the gate another 25 minutes. It’s stupid, but that’s why they do it. And owners are the ones who prioritize on time departure over customer satisfaction.

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