Friday, July 20, 2012

The New United Airlines: Lies, Incompetence, Or Just Bad Weather?

We're still sitting in IAD but now we're awaiting a flight to La Guardia that leaves at 10:00 p.m. In the meantime, strange events have transpired.

We received several text messages and one e-mail indicating a variety of potential departure delays, but a consistent arrival time of 9:22 p.m., indicating that our 5:15 p.m. flight would have departed at 8:00 p.m.

After dropping by the very pleasant LH Senator Lounge in Terminal A, we sat at the gate as the somewhat indifferent agent offered a variety of excuses for the delays over a period of 30-40 minutes. First it was "air traffic control," along with the "incoming aircraft is delayed."

She then added "we're waiting for crew, and once they arrive we'll start boarding."

You don't have to be an expert to realize that those excuses don't quite fit together, do they?

Finally, after one last phone conversation, she announced matter-of-factly that the flight had been canceled and directed customers to an already long line at "Customer Service."

We were impressed that she didn't waste our time with any kind of explanation, much less sloppy teary-eyed apologies. In fact, we thought we detected a hint of a smile as she watched the desperate customers scurry toward the queue.

We called the 1K Line and an agent told us there were seats on the 10:00 p.m. flight but for some reason he couldn't assign seats. He said he would talk to a supervisor. The next thing we knew, we were directed toward another phone number. The agent who answered seemed surprised and told us this was an internal help line for employees but offered to help.

He called us back and arranged seats. He said we were both on the upgrade list. Brian perhaps didn't get across that we were entitled to upgrades for this flight, and Kathy, who printed out boarding passes at a nearby kiosk saw that Brian had been upgraded and she hadn't.

She called the 1K Line back and a female agent told her that there were no more seats available in F. We took the train back to Terminal C, from where our flight departs, and Brian asked a concierge to look into it. After several minutes of typing, she printed out new boarding passes. We are now both in F seated next to each other.

United Airlines has adopted the SHARES computer system formerly used by Continental Airlines. Most employees will quietly agree that it is an inferior system to the one that United used in the past.

Maybe we should add "inadequate computer system" as a third alternative to lies or incompetence.

We realize we're far better off than the poor folks who may still be standing in line, but the last few hours haven't revealed United Airlines at its best.

On the other hand, as we were finishing writing this, we've gotten one more text message. This one tells us that our new flight will now be departing one hour and 27 minutes late.

It's going to be a long evening.

Update: We did speak to another United Club employee. In the process of printing us out meal vouchers she said there have been a lot of weather problems the past few days. We can understand that bad weather in one location has a ripple effect on plane and crew availability elsewhere, but the fact remains that the "rolling delay," especially when followed by a cancellation, is the bane of fliers.

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