Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dear Mr. Risinger

I really don't know what possessed me, Mr Risinger. 

I don't know what was going through my head. 

The last time we spoke I told you I was proceeding with small claims action against United Airlines after my family's fiasco at Christmas. My instincts told me to NEVER FLY UNITED. But then I chickened out. Or maybe I should say cheaped out. Or I just got lazy. And as much as it shames me to admit, I took the $150 voucher you offered and flew to Austin for my spring break.

"Really," I told my husband. "What happened to us on our return from Panama must have just been bad luck. Let's use the vouchers. What are the odds they will screw up again?" He agreed. It just wouldn't happen again. And besides, we left ourselves several hours of wiggle room if there was another delayed flight. Really, what were the odds? Well Mr. Risinger, as it turns out, the odds were good. Pretty damn good. In fact I'd venture the odds were about 100%.

Our flight was scheduled to leave Edmonton at 6:20 a.m. on April 6. On the day before the flight, we took the dogs to the kennel, checked in online, checked the flight status at least five times, and went to bed. 

At 1:14 a.m. I received a text. 

Your flight on Apr. 6 (UA3488) from Denver to Edmonton has been canceled due to flight crew availability. 

Well Mr. Risinger, although I hadn't learned my lesson after the massive Panama City-Costa Rica-Newark-Phoenix-Edmonton cock-up, I did learn something-"Don't go to the airport and expect United to help you." So I booked an alternate flight via San Francisco online. It added three hours to the trip, and as I flew over the Golden Gate Bridge I thought of the new slogan for United that my son had dreamed up. "United:Taking you places you never dreamed you'd go!"

In fact I had a little chuckle to myself as I updated my Facebook status with those very words. And then I breathed a little sigh of relief. Yes, United had messed up once again. What were the odds of it happening again on that very flight? Well Mr. Risinger, as it turns out, the odds were pretty damn good. In fact I'd venture to put the odds at about 100%.

So. We spent an enjoyable few days at our Airbnb in Travis Heights, took in some great live music, ate some good food, saw some sights and enjoyed the sun. The day before our flight was to leave, we checked in online and checked the flight status over and over again. United's website assured us there was no record of delays or cancellations for this flight. But once again, just a few hours before our flight was scheduled to leave, I received another text:

Your flight on Apr.10 (UA3530) from Denver to Edmonton has been canceled due to flight crew availability.

Now this time I wasn't quite so casual with my re-booking. We absolutely HAD to be in Edmonton by 1:30 the next day for our daughter's university graduation. I looked at the United website. There were no flights that would get us to Edmonton that day. Panicked, I phoned and got cut off twice. We headed for the airport with my husband on the phone. He told the agent that we would travel across the country and back but please just get us to Edmonton. 

Meanwhile I started checking Expedia for any possible route, including travelling to Phoenix or Las Vegas or Vancouver or departing out of Houston. Basically any route I could find. All the while cursing myself for not following own advice, freely offered to anyone who would listen, my advice to NEVER FLY UNITED. Finally my husband was told the only route was to overnight in Denver and fly to Seattle and then Edmonton the next morning, arriving at 12:39. Impossible to get to downtown Edmonton from the airport in time for my daughter's ceremony.

My husband was then asked if he wanted a hotel booked. He said yes, and much to our amazement- well, it really shouldn't have been amazing considering United's track record- we were told we would be charged for our hotel stay, despite the fact the delay was 100% the fault of United. We were also told United has a discount for the hotel so we were getting a deal. That, as I soon discovered, was a flat out lie as the hotel's own website quoted the identical rate we paid.

YEG via Seattle
overnight at the Denver Hyatt House Airport hotel, on to Alaska Air (a lovely airline by the way) via Seattle and then to Edmonton where we arrived on schedule, paid the extra day of parking, and were in our car heading for the grad ceremony by 1:14 with my husband driving the 30 kilometers of busy Saturday traffic like a maniac. He parked illegally and we ran flat out into the conference centre, still dressed in our casual clothes. Thank GOD the mechanical engineers had messed up about something or other and the ceremony was delayed by 20 minutes. Sheer luck.

When I got home, I checked United's website for the flight record for our two cancelled flights. More lies. The "See on-time performance for this flight" link for BOTH cancelled flights states that there is no record of recent delays or cancellations. Maybe that means your airline doesn't keep records? Or recent means yesterday? Is there even a YEG-DEN flight? Or do you just cancel them whenever they aren't full and tell your passengers whatever excuse you can dream up?
Flight was cancelled April 6.

Flight was cancelled April 10.

My experience leads me to believe that December's Panama City fiasco was not just some weird aberration on the part of United Airlines. It's standard operating procedure. Departure times are vague estimates, flight routes are suggestions, and delays and cancellations are the rule rather than the exception. The information on your website is just plain wrong as is the information provided by your telephone agents. 

I can't help but wonder how the world would work if everyone managed their affairs like United. What would happen if parents received a text at 1:14 a.m. telling them school was cancelled because teachers hadn't shown up for work? Time after time after time? Or if we repeatedly shut down hospitals and electricity and telephones and ambulance services and banks and the myriad of services people rely on? 

Anyway. We suffered a great deal of stress from your airline's incompetence. We're out of pocket by $250 bucks. I know we won't get it back. Maybe I will put in a claim. Maybe not.

I just wanted you to know that your airline sucks. 

If you haven't figured that out already.

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