Wednesday, January 02, 2008

United? USAirways? Yeahhh...NO!

Gerald R. Ford International Airport in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan is the busiest airport in America... not served by a low-cost carrier. So when I fly to ol' GR, my options are limited. I usually fly Northwest, but when I tried to book a holiday-season flight back in October, their fares had jumped from the usual $500+ to a jaw-dropping $900+. And that "cheap" only if you were willing to fly on Newton's Birthday. I'm perfectly willing to "defy gravity" in honor of the great Sir Isaac, but I'm not keen to lay out nearly a grand for the privilege.

So I spun over to Orbitz (note continuation of Newton theme) who found a decent rate by booking United Airlines flights through USAirways. Picking the seats involved alchemy and faith, but it seemed to work.

Fast forward to the return flight. The flight is scheduled for the evening of January 2. At 7:00am of January 1, my cell phone mambos and shakes. I answer to a recorded message that one leg of the flight has been affected by a. Cancellation. Please call United to rebook." (Go back and linger on the thought of a 7am call on January 1.)

I call United to rebook. The kindly Bangalorean at the other end assures me that I need to call USAirways to rebook and promises me that USAirways will not force me to call United again in a mobius airline loop.

So I call USAirways. The Bangalorean "customer service" rep informs my that I was safely rebooked on a flight one half hour later than the original. By 8am on New Year's Day, I am back to sleep.

But when I check in at the United self-serve kiosk a day and a half later, I am told that the cancelled flight is still cancelled and I am not rebooked on anything traveling to Sacramento.

The counter staffer feigns helpfulness as he tries in vain to rebook me on another airline. I venture about how much easier and more effective this process would have been had it ensued the morning of the previous day. He assures me such speculation is fruitless. I tell him that he might try to get me on a Southwest flight to Sacramento (via Detroit). He refuses to try, because it would cost United some money.

He offers to plant me in San Francisco or Oakland. Hey, it's California! I remind him that California is a large state and no just a couple hundred of miles of surfing beach.

The best he can do is a set of flights the next day. The next day! Wow. Now that's service.

I call USAirways in hopes of an education. Clearly, I erred in my flight management process. I turned once again to Bangalor for assistance. What should I have done differently? Should I have known the information of my rebooking was a lie? What's the best way to know when an off-shore customer service rep is lying to me? I am but the student here; I seek instruction.

I got nothing. When given the chance to enlighten me as to why I should give USAirways or United another chance to disappoint me, "Christine" fell silent.

UPDATE: I called USAIrways "Customer Relations" department and had a lengthy discussion with an on-shore rep. He was dumbfounded as to why I would be calling since I had already been rebooked on a flight the next day. What could I possibly be upset about and what was he supposed to do about it? All I wanted from him were answers to two simple questions: What did I do wrong and why would I ever do business with them again? He had answers for neither, but opined that his employer was an excellent carrier. After awarding me the title of the calmest angry customer he'd ever dealt with, he granted my a $250 travel voucher that was longer on restrictions than it was on promises. All I have to do now is develop a travel plan in which I have a two-day window on both departure and return flights.

No doubt United and USAIr can blame each other for the snafus of this journey. If both airlines go out of business before I travel again, I will not shed a tear.

1 comment:

Dean Baird said...

The rebooked flight from Chicago to Sacramento did not go well, either. For reasons unknown, the 3:00 flight wasn't "wheels up" until 4:35. I was beginning to worry if we would fall behind the 5:00 ORD-SMF in the takeoff runway queue.