Monday, May 14, 2007

Dear United Airlines Customer Service Representative

Hi! How’s your day going? I imagine it’s not so great, I picture your job as 8 hours of listening to people whine about crap like not receiving a second bag of pretzels despite asking FIVE TIMES or yelling at you for the thunder storm that ruined their monthly trip to Cabo. I also imagine that United doesn’t pay you enough to deal with this crap – they don’t pay me enough at my job either, if they did I would own a private jet and could thus have avoided the weekend of woe that United has subjected me to.

It all started on the evening of Thursday May 10th, I boarded my flight (United 0509) from New York’s La Guardia Airport bound for Denver at 5:00pm. The skies were clear and we pulled away from the gate on time so all seemed to be going well. While in the terminal I had heard rumblings of canceled flights to the Midwest due to thunder storms but I figured this was someone else’s bad karma coming to call and would not affect me in my travels to Las Vegas. As I’m sure you’ve already anticipated – I was wrong. We spent 3 hours sitting on the runway waiting for the ok to take off – the pilot didn’t give us much information but I was later told that the main cause of this delay was an air traffic control problem. I don’t really know what that means but I suspect that it’s airline lingo for “Screw you.” I’m sure the 3 extra hours of time spent in an airplane seat was no picnic for anybody on the flight but my time on the runway was made especially memorable by my neighbor, Judy. Judy was very chatty. She’s from Portland and works as a consultant and seemed very interested in impressing me with how important she is at her job. She is also one of those people determined not to take any crap. As a result she felt obligated to bitch endlessly about the injustice of our current situation. This made it very difficult for me to maintain the Zen-like patience that I was hoping would prevent me from giving myself a stress headache.

The 3 hours with Judy on the LGA tarmac caused me to miss my connecting flight in Denver. I was still working the sunny attitude when a robot voice informed me (via a voice message) that I had been booked on a 7:30am flight to Las Vegas. This was obviously bad news. I deplaned and looked around hoping to find a United representative to help me figure out what to do with my evening in Denver. Unfortunately the gate attendant was already busy boarding Denver passengers onto my old plane and had no intention of talking to me. It was after 10:00pm and, despite how the city is represented on The Real World, Denver must not be much of a party town because the airport was dead. There were no United representatives at any of the near-by gates (and no drunken 22 year olds being filmed while prancing around in tube tops, cargo shorts and indignant pouts) so I decided to look for the customer service center while Judy busied herself screaming at other passengers, the janitor, and the soda machine.

My quest for help did not go well. I couldn’t find an information booth with anyone manning it and the United ticket counter was a ghost town. I decided to call United but the only number I had was for reservations where a nice Indian lady told me that she could not help me with anything other than booking future travel with United. Since I couldn’t imagine willingly purchasing another United flight anytime soon and since sleeping on the cold tile of the airport baggage claim area was fast seeming a likely scenario I asked to speak to her supervisor who offered to transfer me to customer service. I agreed to this and was greeted with a message informing me that United lets their customer service reps go home at 7:00pm (much like all of their American employees it would seem – I imagine you too were snug in bed or out at some late night haunt drinking away your troubles). I’m a latte drinking east coast liberal so I’m all for workers rights including letting everyone go home in time to spend an hour pondering how Ian Zeiring turned into such a hunk-a-roony while watching Dancing with the Stars (seriously, Luke Perry can eat it, I’m signing up for a hearty dose of Steve Sanders booty.) so I tried to suppress my anger, but by this point even a heavy dose of Paxil wouldn’t have put me into a mellow mood. I decided that I was defeated and had no choice but to go to a hotel and return to the airport in the morning. I located the bank of hotel phones and started dialing… 3 calls in I found out that a huge convention was in town and all hotel rooms were occupied. This is when the last vestige of my optimism jumped ship. Because I am, perhaps, a bit stunted in my emotional development, or because I am just lucky enough to have been born with awesomely supportive parents who totally want me to call them when shit like this happens I decided to call my mom. In retrospect this may have been a bad decision. I think I would have been able to resist bawling in the middle of the deserted baggage claim area if I had not had my mom on the line telling me how angry and worried she was for me. Once I got off the phone and stopped my crying I was able to locate one lonely late night United employee in the lost baggage department. She gave me a voucher for a discounted hotel stay and pointed me to the courtesy phone where I found out that the only hotel with an opening was in some town called Parker 30+ miles away and did not have an airport shuttle. Despite the sign above the courtesy phone claiming rates as low as “$37/night” I would be paying $89+tax.

I found the taxi line and began my long journey to Parker Colorado with my Kenyan cabbie friend who did not speak much English but was able to inform me that there were no cabs in Parker so come morning I was going to be screwed (again). Luckily he offered to come back at 5:45am. After about 45mins on the road we arrived at the hotel where I shelled out my first monetary payment for United’s travel fuck up.

CASH LOST SO FAR: $75

This was, of course, quickly followed by paying for the hotel room – unsurprisingly “discount” in United speak means “still very expensive.”

CASH LOST SO FAR: $175

I slept for 5 hours before the cabbie arrived 30mins early and called me. I was annoyed but I tried to be nice since he was kind enough to drive back out to the middle nowhere to get me to the airport. So back we went and again I paid an insane amount because United is incapable of providing me with the services that I paid for.

CASH LOST SO FAR: $250

I did finally make it to Vegas and was rewarded with some good times. Lest you think that I am a dirty dirty sinner bound for Vegas to further bring down the moral fiber of America let me assure you that I was headed there to visit family, not to gamble, drink and paw at strippers. The picture on the left should serve as proof of this claim – I’m on the right wearing my bathing suit. I look pretty hot but can hardly compete with the insane cuteness of 21 month old Delanie. After my very bumpy transportation experience the trip was a success. My dad fed money into poker machines for me and I managed to win $50, I tried Ben and Jerry’s Wavy Gravy ice cream for the first time and declared it too busy but still ate the entire scoop (for it is a great sin to waste ice cream), my cousin Miquela successfully graduated from UNLV and I successfully completed two crossword puzzled while marveling over the speed at which the sign language translators had to move their fingers while signing the names of over 1000 graduates. All too soon I was back at the Las Vegas airport waiting for my flight home.

The May 13th morning flight from Las Vegas to Denver passed in a fog; I fell asleep on the runway and didn’t wake up until the captain announced our decent into Denver. I deplaned and went in search of sustenance in the form of a Wolfgang Puck spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola pizza. I called a friend in New York and arranged to visit her new home after landing. All was well. I had a good hour and a half to kill so I headed to my gate with the intention of catching up on some work. As soon as I arrived the gate attendant announced that our plane was still stuck in Portland due to mechanical problems and that United was looking for a replacement plane, in the meantime passengers should sit tight. Twenty minutes later the flight (United 0894) was canceled. Off I went to customer service where I stood in a 40 minute line only to find out that there were no seats on any flights until the next day.

I sometimes worry that as I’ve grown older I have less and less control over my tear ducts. As a teenager I used to laugh at my mother for crying over burnt dinner, cute babies and Kleenex commercials but lately I suspect I might be able to beat her in a sob off. I tried to be tough when talking to the customer service rep, I tried to look angry and mean and important as I demanded compensation for my being stuck in Denver TWICE IN ONE WEEKEND. My bravado was quickly squashed by the onslaught of tears welling from my uncooperative eyes. The customer service representative probably chuckled to herself as I walked away with a hotel voucher, $16 in food coupons which could only be used in the airport (where I would not be), and a ticket for a flight the following afternoon.

I had hoped that my overnight stay would at least allow me the pleasure of getting to know Denver, a city I always wanted to visit. Alas my hotel was marooned deep in the suburbs, and I, without a car, had only the onsite bar and the nearby Walmart shopping center to entertain me. For want of any better option I hiked over to Walmart in search of a few snack items to support my stomach while working from the hotel desk the following day – which reminds me, this hotel charges for internet access which I had to have since United was making it impossible for me to go into the office.

CASH LOST SO FAR: $260

You would think that a Super Walmart would have something worth snacking on. Some cut up fruit perhaps? A salad bar? sushi? Nope, nope and hahahahaha. I was also hoping that Sam Walton would provide me with access to some booze, unfortunately Colorado, like New York, is a blue law state and Walmart was only allowed to sell cheap beer in quantities of 24 cans at a time. I did manage to pick up some Mike’s Hard Limeade (because when it comes to drinking I’m a 17 year old girl who just snuck into her first frat party) and I took a picture of the most awesome product known to man, "Ol' Glory: America's Best Energy Drink". Yes, that is the pledge of allegiance printed on the back of the can, reminding us that GOD loves America so much that he gave to us the sweet elixirs of corn syrup and caffeine. (You should seriously go visit their website for it is hilarious) In addition to the malt liquor I purchased an apple, some baby bella cheese discs, a can of tuna with crackers, and a bag of extra spicy cheetos. I just started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen and am currently mired in the section about the evils of surplus corn so I felt obligated to pay special attention to the corn I was consuming. The cheetos (a not spicy enough caloric luxury I only allow myself in times of extreme stress) were of course almost 100% corn. I’d like to think that the apple was corn free but it was suspiciously shiny which I suspect might have been the result of a thin coating of corn based wax. Armed with these embarrassingly unhealthy provisions and a take out menu from a local “Asian” restaurant (actual Asian country unspecified – I should probably be thankful that the word “Oriental” was not used) I returned to my hotel room.

CASH LOST SO FAR: $273

At the hotel I learned a lot about the evils of Paris Hilton from CNN and Nancy Grace who were devoting an entire hour of programming to talking about how ridiculous it is that the media devotes so much time to talking about Paris Hilton. After a couple of much too sweet alcoholic limeades I decided it was time for some Asian dinner. The restaurant would only deliver orders of $12 or more so I was forced to get an appetizer (steamed pork dumplings) and an entrée (kung pao chicken) both of which were uniformly awful –I do not recommend unspecific ethnic food purchased from strip mall restaurants in the middle of the country. I do however, recommend the gin and tonics available at the Red Roof Inn in Stapleton CO which are only $4.50 and which are served by a sweet and funny bar tender who is more than willing to slip a girl a few extra limes. I noticed that my United sponsored food coupons exclude the purchase of alcohol and I’d like to recommend that you change this policy, the only time during the last 4 days that no part of me wanted to march into a United office and throw a tantrum was during the consumption of these drinks. If you were to offer a round of free alcoholic beverages to all stranded passengers I bet you could seriously lower your customer service costs.

CASH LOST SO FAR: $286
(In the spirit of good will I’ve excluded the gin and tonics from this tally)

It’s Monday evening now and after a day of working from the desk in my hotel room (the tuna was surprisingly edible) I’m finally on a plane bound for New York City. Assuming we don’t crash or get diverted back to Denver or fall into a worm hole I should be home by 10:00pm. As you can see, it’s been a pretty miserable trip. Unlike Judy and (I assume) most of the people who call or write to you I have a hard time getting too indignant about little injustices like this. As soon as I start thinking “This is AWFUL! My life SUCKS!” my (perhaps too big) heart reminds me that lots of people (the majority of the world) have it much worse. I eventually arrived safely at both of my final destinations; I could afford the taxi fare and hotel fee so I got to avoid sleeping in the airport; I’m lucky enough to have the kind of job that can be done from a hotel room desk. But when I look back at my experiences over the last 4 days I have to believe that the service that I received is much below the level that United strives to provide. Between work and pleasure I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair bit of traveling in my 29 years and this is by far the worst experience I’ve ever had. I could end this letter with much cursing and threatening to never fly United again but, as you’ve probably gathered, that’s not really my style. I do however, think I am entitled to a free flight to compensate for the monetary and personal suffering that United has caused me. I will also be posting this letter on my blog where I can assure you that it will be read by at least 10 (if not as many as 20) other people all of whom will most defiantly be on my side, maybe one or two will even curse at you for me.

17 comments:

Lisa said...

1. this entire entry was hilarious
2. I totally empathize, I was in the Buffalo airport for only 4 extra hours today and it was 5 hours too many.
3. I too drink Mikes hard and the like at far too high a ratio compared to other drinks. Sometimes I wish my drink choices were cooler and more mature... but... they aren't. We can have a slumber party and giggle about Chad Michael Murray together okay? (And drink cran-raspberry Smirnoff or something)

amy said...

At least you can find solace in the fact that your bad luck often ends in humor (perhaps due to your kick-ass story telling style). Next time I see you I will ply you with booze and if time warner cable cooperates, at least 4 hours of Lost.

alia said...

ask for the homemade limoncello at Amici Amore (now momento) on newtown ave. a frothy wonder of sweet sweet alcohol. no calorie dies in vain in that place...

mm...

me

Anonymous said...

Who needs to work. Not when I can laugh my ass off reading things Bri wrote;) But seriously How dare thay. United has been kind to me but then I only fly them on the west coast. Showed up for my late night flight to PDX it was over booked I volunteered my seat. I get a hotel room for the night, $15 in food vouvhers and a free flight any where I want to go in the US. But hell if Mother nature gets involved they give you nada. Sorry Kelly

kajal said...

I love this post. I sort of like it when you face disasters b/c then I get to hear/read about it in your always humerous and sarcastic way. This post reminds me of my 5+ years travelling...and I don't miss it a bit. If only I'd had a blog then to share tales of sleeping on the airport floor...

kajal said...

I also forgot to say I think steve sanders is hot too

themikestand said...

I have to disagree with kajal about Steve Sanders... But then again, I don't watch Dancing with the Stars, so clearly I'm not up to date on his hunkaroony-ness.

On the lighter side, though, this was an excellent, chipper, humourous recount of what was clearly an awful weekend. I didn't keep track of how much work you missed while you were retelling the story, but I hope you didn't wind up too far behind.

And hey, at least United didn't mail you a voucher for the motel in Parker, CO. Small blessings.

Brett said...

Brianna,

I enjoyed reading this post even more than I enjoyed reading about your old huge boobs (old as in ex not as in old and wrinkled). And yes you did look hot by the pool in Vegas...how you doin?

Brett

Always Thinkin said...

Having lived in Denver and having spent a night on an airport bench two weeks ago, I can utterly sympathize with you. Except for the part about the guy on Dancing with the Stars. - Luke

Sarah said...

While of course your experience is not at all laughable, this entry really entertained me. Thumbs up for being so cool despite the poor treatment by United. I don't think I would have been able to hold it together and look on the bright side. Also - I've noticed I cry more than I ever used to, and had this happened to me, I probably would have cried too.

Brianna said...

Brett: I do it all for you, the horrible airline experiences, the weightloss, the revealing pictures. don't tell Kajal.

Always thinking/Luke: Don't sell Ian short until you see how Luke Perry is fairing.. the dude looks about 85.

sarah: yeah, i blame the hormones -- damn mother nature. Thanks for the kudos!

Ken said...

Great blog! I suspected I was not the only one that seemed to have 'bad luck' with United, but I never had it this bad. You are a very patient person - I would have done snapped three times over.

If this ever happens again (and I sincerly hope it does not) you are welcome to crash at my house for no charge (I live 15 minutes away). :)

Good luck in the rest of your travels!

Anonymous said...

God bless you Brianna. If I ever fly United and have problems, I'll give them hell in your honor. No crying, I promise.

Bill

rocky mountain high said...

I'm not sure if this is proper etiquette when commenting on a blog, but as a thanks for your humorous story, I thought I'd share my experience with United.

During my 56 hour trip from San Francisco to Sioux Falls, South Dakota (which was supposed to be done in less than 7 hours, including the layover) I too was lucky enough to spend the night in a hotel in one of Denver's finest suburbs. Fellow stranded United passengers and I saw the sites of Denver as we passed by during our $70 taxi ride to the hotel.

While trying to be cordial and not too demanding, I too cried while in the customer service line, but I think it's because I waited in line for 3 hours and was loopy from dehydration by the time I got to the counter. We didn't get our miniature bottled water because there was too much turbulence on the flight to Denver.

Fortunately my extended stay in Denver allowed me plenty of time to use my $8 food voucher. Next time you're in Denver for an extended period of time and need some dinner, I suggest TCBY's version of an Oreo blizzard. While you're there why not pick up one of their stale blueberry bagels for breakfast since you can only use your the food voucher in one location.


HOTEL: $54.68
TAXI: $38
TIME WITH FAMILY LOST: 49 hours
A $75 VOUCHER FOR A FUTURE TICKET WITH UNITED AIRLINES: PRICELESS

Anonymous said...

I just went through a situation in Germany with United where they extorted two hundred dollars from me. I empathize with your situation. I enjoyed your writing. I remember sprinting through the Frankfurt Airport determined to get on my connecting only to be greeted by stone cold United employees. The positive on this situation is that I found Lufthansa and had a wonderful experience with them. Kudo's to you ! United be damned !

fransmomma said...

you are a fantastic storyteller. i happened onto your blog because i googled sandra lee (whom i dont care for either, for the record), and upon reading you sandra lee cake story decided to dig deeper and read another. i'm not sorry. this was hilarious...in an "i feel so bad for you" way. :)

Anonymous said...

Finally someone is getting revenge on United. See the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo