An Open Letter to United Airlines

Oh, United. I know you’re the airline that loses unaccompanied minors
(United Airlines Lost My Friend’s 10 Year Old Daughter And Didn’t Care), and I know you’re the airline that breaks guitars (United Breaks Guitars)), but I flew with you anyway. I’m sorry. I regret my decision. Please, allow me to explain.
I was booked on a 9:35 am flight from Washington, DC to San Francisco. Now, I didn’t check my email at 5:30 in the morning, and that’s on me, but the flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems and I didn’t find out about that until I got to the airport at about 7:30 in the morning. OK, that happens. It might not have been your fault. But the rest of the day (except for the weather), that’s on you.
I tried to check my luggage at the curb and that wasn’t happening. The skycap told me I had to go inside. OK, I went inside. I went to an agent and told her what the skycap told me. She preceded to ignore me, and then tried the same thing the skycap tried. Oh, she insisted, you can’t check your luggage more than 12 hours ahead of time.
“I’m not!” Then I explained, several times, that, while I was traveling to Hong Kong on the following day, today I was traveling to San Francisco. Only. At first she tried to insist that it wasn’t working because I had made the travel arrangements as one trip and it was trying to send my bag straight through to Hong Kong. Seriously? You’ve never had a passenger make multiple stops before? And clearly this is my fault. After about five minutes, someone figured out that my flight was cancelled. I needed to go around to number 10. Fine. The woman took me around back to number 10.
At number 10 I waited in line and chatted briefly with the man behind me – he was on my cancelled flight as well. When I got to the desk, the man said that the next flight that had an available seat was at 4:40 pm. I could try to fly standby on the earlier flights, but he’d definitely booked me on the 4:40. Definitely. With a window seat and everything. If I couldn’t get on an earlier flight as standby (and no, he couldn’t put me on the standby list) all I had to do was show up at the gate with my boarding pass. I was all set. Oh and he did give me a voucher for $7.00 worth of food in the airport, since I’d be there all day.
Well, I tried to get on three (THREE) earlier flights – to no avail. At the first gate the agents barely acknowledged my existence.
At the second gate, the agent was sirly. She accused those of us waiting to get on the flight of having missed our earlier flight (and thereby making her life difficult). Yeah – we missed it when you cancelled it.
At the third gate, well that’s where I discovered that you really don’t give a crap about your customers. At the third gate I discovered that the man who was behind me on line – the man who saw the agent afterI did – he was booked (not standby) on this flight. I was told that the first available was at 4:40. Not acceptable.

This was also where I started out second on the standby list but then somehow ended up as number four on the standby list. How did that happen? Oh, right, I forgot. I’m not important. To you.
Ah, but then United, but then. Finally, it was time for my new flight, the one I had an actual boarding pass for.
You do that thing that airlines do now. You board people based on some perceived status that you’ve assigned. I suppose it makes some people feel more important. I’ll get back to that. This is part of how you contribute to the sin and oppression in society. I was in group 3. The agent called my group. I walked up and handed her my boarding pass. She scanned it. That’s when she told me I wasn’t on that flight. You’d just pulled my sear right out from under me. What is you damage? I mean really? In what other business can you sell something to someone, and then just give that thing to someone else?
I had been trying to be polite and patient all day. I know it might not be your fault that there was a mechanical failure. These things sometimes happen. I’d rather fly on a safe plane. But my patience was done at this point. And when I got irritated, the agent, instead of being understanding, gave me crap for having an attitude. I had been at the airport since 7:30 in the morning, it was now after 4:00 in the afternoon, you had just given away my seat, and your agent wanted to school me. Really? When I said that I’d been there since 7:30, she shot back that some people had been there since the night before. How is that my problem? Why haven’t you taken care of those people yet? Oh, I know, they don’t have enough status.
I will tell you that I ran into some of your flight staff (I won’t say at which gate for which flight, even if I could remember) who echoed my sentiment when I said I wouldn’t be flying United again. Your own people think you’re a crappy airline. Wow.
The one bright spot in the day was Marcy. Marcy was a flight attendant on the flight that I eventually got on (oh yes, and of course, then it was rain delayed by two hours). Marcy got the worst of my irritability. I was so angry by the time I got on the plane. Marcy never tried to blame me (as many of your gate agents did). Marcy apologized on behalf of United. She was attentive for the whole flight. She got a blanket for me from first class – oh, and while I’m on that, since when did a blanket become a luxury that is only available in first class? There really is something wrong with you people. Marcy should be running your company.
This is why you are contributing to sin and oppression. You are completely feeding into this American idea that somehow some people are more worthy than others. Look, I get that people who pay more get to have bigger seats and complimentary alcohol. But I’m talking about the Titanic here. I’m starting to get the feeling that if the plane develops trouble, we in steerage will be locked behind a gate while the crew attends to the rescue of the first-class passengers and uber-platinum rewards members. Courtesy doesn’t cost anything.
When you cancel a flight, why can’t you treat your customers as equals? Why is it only the squeaky wheel that gets the grease?
When we start to think that there are times that it’s all right to be dismissive of people, then we start to think that they really are worth less. And worthless. That’s when we oppress.
So, you could try to make this up to me. Sure, you could give me a free flight to somewhere. If you did that I might – I might – fly with you again. But I wouldn’t judge you by how you were treating me. My eyes would be open. I’d be looking to see how you treat ALL my fellow passengers.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Update:  12 April, 2017

Since writing this in 2014, I have not flown United again. However, we know that United has indeed been in the news.  Just the other day, United had local police beat a man and drag him off a plane in Chicago so that they could get their own folks on the flight.  This was AFTER they’d boarded him.  We’ve all seen the video by now.  And now we discover that last week, United forced a customer who had paid FULL FARE for his first-class ticket to move to a middle seat in steerage for his trip Hawaii to Los Angeles. He was threatened with handcuffs if he didn’t vacate his seat for the higher-priority passenger (presumably someone who had chocolate-covered, gold-dipped, extra-platinum status).

So to sum up:  United loses minors and doesn’t give a crap. United breaks guitars and doesn’t give a crap.  United takes people’s money for full-fare first-class seats, moves them to middle seats in coach, and doesn’t give a crap. And United has armed cops come onto planes to drag off passengers who’ve paid fares and who have already been seated on planes to make room for their own employees who weren’t even booked on the flight. And doesn’t give a crap.

How is this airline still even flying? Why do people even buy tickets on this airline?  Stop flying United.


The Mite-y Widow


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