Recently my 17-year-old daughter Laura was flying home from Atlanta, where she was attending People to People, Global Youth Forum. She was flying United Airlines, and the schedule had her landing in Denver for a connecting flight home to San Francisco. The United flight from Atlanta to Denver was late, and although it was 15 minutes before take-off when she arrived at the gate, she and a number of other people in the same predicament were not allowed to board the aircraft.
That’s where the fun really started. It was nighttime in Denver and there was no United representative at the gate to offer any assistance. In fact, there was no United representative to be seen anywhere in the terminal. Laura was told that there was no flight until the next day, at which point she wisely called her parents. After endless waits on hold, in which we were informed our conversation might be recorded for quality control (note to United: the quality stank), we explained the situation to the United “customer service” representatives. We asked what the airline would do for our daughter, who was stranded in increasingly empty terminal 1.500 miles away from us. Our attempts to have her accommodated for the night in a safe place were greeted with a response of, in essence, “tough luck for your daughter.”
Of course they said this in various other, slightly more polite, but no more helpful ways. Mostly they didn’t have any idea what she should do, although one of them suggested she should get a hotel. How a 17-year-old would get a hotel room—it is my understanding that minors are not allowed to rent rooms on their own—and more importantly, how she would get back in the airport without a valid ticket the next day, was not explained. Perhaps there are good answers to these questions—the United people just weren’t interested in helping us or our daughter work them out. In fact, the United people made it very clear that they wanted us to go away and stop bothering them with our pesky problem. They repeatedly tried to get us off the telephone. And this wasn’t the case with just one representative; we spoke to a number, including a couple supervisors, all of whom made it clear that this was our problem, and some of whom implied that we were negligent parents. And perhaps we were; had we known how irresponsible United could be about their passengers’ well-being, we certainly would have thought twice about allowing our daughter to fly with them.
Eventually, the sheer determination of Laura’s mom Pat resulted in someone at United contacting the supervisor at Denver airport, who met Laura at the gate, told her she was scheduled to be on an early flight the next morning, gave her two blankets and a pillow, and walked away. Had we not persevered, Laura wouldn’t have gotten this much guidance or comfort for her evening sleeping on the floor in the deserted Denver terminal.
Fortunately, Laura is now home safe and sound. Our faith in United, though, is severely damaged. And there’s another thing United has managed to damage: “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin, United’s theme song. Being forced to listen to this great piece on endless holds in-between unhelpful, and at times even rude customer servant agents who don’t give a damn about their customers’ welfare should be illegal. I love that music, and now I associate with a bunch of jerks.
Thanks for everything, United “It’s time to fly” Airlines. Why don’t y’all to take a flying . . .