Monday, August 24, 2009

Nightmares in Travel: United Airlines, Get some New Planes...

It's a Monday morning after a long weekend for me. I had a good time in Las Vegas but it's hard not to have one, especially when you get to see Green Day in concert and they were, as always, fantastic.

Yet, naturally, no trip is perfect and, given my previous grievances against the airlines and my previous travel issues , I guess it was too much to hope that I'd have a smooth trip back, isn't it?

When I booked my trip to Las Vegas, I paid a much, much higher price than I wanted to because there weren't many options. I did end up paying more so that I could leave early in the morning and get home mid-afternoon so that I could have a restful Sunday before I returned to work today.

I should have known better.

On Saturday night, my friend and I decided that there really wasn't too much point in going to bed as I had to be at the airport by 4 a.m. at which point, she could go to the hotel to sleep and I could get on the plane and sleep. So, we unwisely decided to just enjoy the ridiculous lights of Vegas and have fun. We did. By the time I got to the airport, I was tired and ready to sleep on the plane.

When I went to one of the computer check-in stations, I was informed that it would not provide my boarding pass. I had to go to the gate to get it. I wasn't sure why, considering I had booked and paid a lot for my ticket. I do understand when you do one of the super-cheap ticket-buying methods that the airline basically waits to assign a seat when it finds out what's available and this can happen after you've checked in. Yet it shouldn't be the case with regular ticket-buying methods.

Naturally, not having a boarding pass made security a little difficult considering they want to see the boarding pass. I ended up having to dig out my printed itinerary and show them my next flight's ticket- the Chicago to Dayton one. When I showed the TCA man this ticket, he gave me a funny look and said, "You're at the wrong airport" even though I had clearly shown him my itinerary. Finally, he said: "Ok, I'll let you go but you need a boarding pass." Yes, Mr. TCA, thank you for that enlightening piece of information. I tried to smile politely and not be rude because, after all, how was he to know this wasn't my first flight and that I might not know I need a boarding pass to get on a plane?

When I got to the gate, I had to wait for a ticket agent to appear. I waited a while. Finally, one came and I got up to retrieve my boarding pass. She asked my name, glanced at a piece of paper, and literally sniffed at me. "Sit down," she said. "I'll call you in a minute." She immediately turned to her co-ticket-desk-helper and started chatting. I did what I was told. Finally, after about 20 minutes, I was given a boarding pass.

Boarding actually was easy. I got on my plane. I dozed off immediately. I woke up a little while later to realize we weren't moving. We weren't flying. We were just sitting. We sat for a long time more before the pilot drove us back to the gate. We sat there a while. The plane was, apparently, having some kind of technical problem and they had to wait for a part. We waited. Finally, they made us get off the plane.

I was still tired. Yet, like so many other people, I was also a little concerned about my connecting flight and we were all directed to talk to the ticket agent. So, like a good passenger, I got in line even though I really wanted to go to the toilet and I was thirsty. Also, I was only semi-functional, due to sleep deprivation. I waited in line for almost an hour. Literally, as I got to the desk, they announced we were going to re-board again. Yay. So I asked the ticket counter lady where I'd been rebooked so I knew how much time I had once I got to Chicago before my next plane took off. Here's how the conversation went.

Captain Monkeypants: I know we're ready to board but I've been waiting in line. Can you at least tell me when my new connecting flight leaves.
United Airlines Lady: We're ready to board.
Captain Monkeypants: I know but I just waited in this line and I'd like to know.
United Airlines Lady: Sorry, but we're going to board you know.
Captain Monkeypants: So how do we know what's going on in Chicago?

At which point she promptly turned away from me and picked up the microphone thingy and made an announcement that the Chicago United Ticket Desk would help us. There was some irritated stirrings at that. It was quite obvious that this Las Vegas crew was done with us and they were passing the buck and basically telling us to get on the plane and shut up. When I asked again, she announced: "You can look at the monitors in Chicago or talk to a ticket agent to find out when your new connection leaves."

Congratulations, United. That has to be the laziest, most unenthusiastic way of helping your customers I've ever seen. Well done, Las Vegas staff. It's nice to know when things get rough, you pass the responsibility along and ignore us.

Meanwhile, I had to run to the bathroom and sprint back so I could get back on the plane because I'd spent my entire furlough in the airport waiting in a line for no reason.

When we got on the plane again, I was a little less exhausted than before and so I noticed things. When I had attempted to print my boarding pass, I had been asked if I wanted to upgrade to "Economy Plus" with more leg room. I didn't bother because it would have cost me an additional $49. I had fallen asleep the first time I boarded and woken up stiff. When I sat in my seat this time, I realized that in order to shove my backpack under the seat, I literally had to press my head against the seat in front of me because I seriously had just over a foot between me and that seat and that was the only way to get things out from under the seat and put them back again. It seems that United has decided to take away the normal amount of leg room and make it smaller to force people to upgrade if the space is too cramped.

I say this is crap. It's not fair. For the cost of the tickets, the baggage fees, the in-flight food, you'd think you'd at least get a seat where you could stretch your legs without your knees bumping the tray table. But nope. It had to be the most uncomfortable seat I ever had. The thing that worries me is now that they're charging you to be semi-comfortable, are they going to start charging to make it comfortable at all? I mean, what's next, they charge you for the cushions on the seats? Or is it going to be that you have to pay extra to sit at all- otherwise you have to stand up, get strapped to the sides and hold on for dear life. Of course, there's always the option of building planes that have seats like the flight-attendants use for landing/take-off, those hard plastic ones that lower and raise like a tray-table. I bet those are next.

We finally did take off. I discovered when I got to Chicago that I had been rebooked but I wasn't going to get home at the nice 2:30 p.m. time I had intended and scheduled. Instead, i was going to land about 6 p.m. I wasn't happy but it wasn't too late and I could deal with that.

Of course, that's before I sat down at my supposed gate only to find out they'd moved me. I trundled across the airport to sit at the new gate. I was on the phone to Mummy-Monkeypants when I heard the pilot come down from the loading bridge and mumble to the Ticket Desk Man. I heard the word "Maintenance" and my heart sank. I predicted a delay to Mummy-Monkeypants who was a saint throughout the day by listening to my United Airlines targeted rants.

Sure enough, we didn't board when we supposed to. This time, the ticket agent was actually nice about it though, perhaps, a little too cheerful. He had this huge grin the entire time. I'm glad he was happy. Apparently, our plane was broken and needed a new part. My first thought: "Um, United Airlines? What the hell is wrong with you that your planes are all broken?" We were told to hold tight.

This began Ticket Agent Man's first disappearance down the loading ramp where he disappeared. Meanwhile, a line had formed at the desk, awaiting his return. Twenty minutes later, he resurfaced. No news. We waited. And waited. Ticket Agent Man finally put an official delay on the screen. Meanwhile, he called a specific passenger to the desk and told him that his connection was getting tight. I thought this was really nice of them. At first. Ticket Agent Man decided to put this passenger on a direct flight to his final destination instead of him having to connect in Dayton with the rest of us cattle. That was nice. Except this marked disappearance number two of Ticket Agent Man. He had to figure out how to get this passenger's bags from our plane to his new one. It took him almost 20 minutes again to resurface. Meanwhile, we'd had no updates, we had no idea what was going on.

Finally, he reemerged and dealt with the passenger whose flight needed to be rebooked. This took an additional 15 minutes. While I think it's nice that he was so helpful to this passenger, the rest of us were getting frustrated because Ticket Agent Man was our only contact and he was ignoring the rest of us. The rebooked passenger left. Ticket Agent Man disappeared. Again.

He reemerged afted 10 minutes. It turned out they'd found the part for the plane! Hurrah! Except...they didn't know where the mechanic was. Which essentially told us nothing other than the fact that we still weren't going anywhere. While an update was necessary, methinks that Ticket Agent Man telling us that they were clueless as to what was really happening does NOT look good for United Airlines.

Finally, the part and the mechanic arrived. We knew this because Ticket Agent Man disappeared to go check. He came back 10 minutes later, still smiling. It would take ten minutes to fix! We'd board in about six minutes!

Twenty minutes later, we began to board. I landed at 7:40 p.m. I got home at almost 9 p.m.

Needless to say, I am still irked about the whole trip. It just seems that it's impossible to get from point A to point B anymore without this constant kind of problems. We, as passengers, have no say in what happens, we are left at the mercy of the airlines. They treat us rudely, as though it's our fault the plane is broken and refuse to help us. They take no responsibility. They expect people to have flexible time frames that will allow for delays and cancellations.

I understand that things happen, things out of the airlines' control. Yet it seems to be happening more and more. We're letting the airlines walk all over us. They're raising their prices, charging for EVERYTHING and treating us worse and worse.

I think we need Consumer Advocates on every flight. Someone designated to stand up for the economy passengers, the ones who don't get treated like royalty because we don't travel for business. We need someone to put the airlines to task, to make them answer for the fact that they cannot do their jobs properly. It's never anyone's fault, it seems. It's just the nature of airline travel.

But why is it the nature? Why do we get jerked around with little say while the airlines still make money? Why do their planes break just as you're about to take off. Shouldn't they, you know, CHECK THAT BEFORE WE GET ON THE PLANE??? Call me crazy but, really, shouldn't they check that before they have a gateload of passengers ready to board? I know they 'can't help it' but why is it that so many planes are experiencing mechanical failure? I know the economy sucks and airlines are fighting to make a profit but I can't help but think they might not be using their budgets wisely. I know they have to pay a lot more for fuel these days but so do we drivers. We manage. We budget for that. We also know to get our cars serviced when we can so they don't have mechanical 'failure' on a regular basis.

Here's a tip, United. Your planes seem prone to 'mechanical problems, so it seems like you should be used to getting them fixed. How's about you keep parts AT THE AIRPORTS instead of having them brought in from, I don't know, DOWNTOWN CHICAGO????

Sorry, I'm ranting now. I'm just fed up with airlines and the power they hold over us. They know we need them and they're exploiting us, slowly taking away our dignity and freedom so we're trapped in the little metal capsules, our knees up to our ears, debating on if we should pay $4 for a cookie because our stomach was growling and we didn't get time to eat because our connection was so tight we had to sprint.

Something needs to change. I'm not going to be flying for a while. I need a break. I shall be complaining to United. I expect nothing in return but it'll make me feel better. In the meantime, as passengers, we need to stand up and fight for our dignity. I intend to find a way to do it. I urge you to do it too. I may be just a little voice on a little blog but everything starts somewhere.

Happy Monday.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Wow...that really, really sucks. Sorry you had to go through that.