D. J. Bernstein
United Airlines sucks (part 40)
I'm a United 1K member;
this means that last year I flew more than 100000 miles on United.
On 8 June 2007 I flew from Dulles to Amsterdam with my girlfriend, also a 1K member.
At Schiphol we were quite unhappy to discover that our checked bag,
a nice expandable hard-side suitcase,
had suffered serious damage in transit,
rendering it practically unusable.
There is one service desk facing the luggage belts in Schiphol's international section;
we immediately brought the bag there to file a damage report.
There was nobody at the service desk,
but there was an airport employee inspecting bags a short distance away.
We managed to convince him to stop what he was doing and come over to the desk.
He said that he was working for the company responsible for United bags,
and in fact was the right person to talk to,
but he repeatedly refused to let us file a damage report.
He said that he had the right forms, but he refused to give them to us.
He said that he knew a phone number for United employees at Schiphol,
but he refused to give us that number or to call the number himself.
After making clear that he was not going to do anything at all for us,
he told us to contact United to file a report.
He said that we had five days to do this.
Upon arriving home,
we checked the Internet and discovered that United does accept damage reports by phone
but requires them to be filed within 24 hours, not five days.
If we had trusted the airport employee's (quite confident-sounding but wrong) five-day claim,
we would have missed United's deadline and apparently had no recourse at all.
We managed to find time to call United that day.
Over the phone, United offered us $150 in flight certificates
(split into a $50 discount and a $100 discount) as compensation.
United said that the certificates
I specifically asked for confirmation of each of these points.
We decided that this was acceptable compensation, and said yes.
- would be delivered to us immediately by email,
- would be usable for any of our United flights booked online, and
- would be valid for a year.
United violated every specific promise that it made to us in that phone call:
Let me summarize.
United damaged our bag,
refused (through a contractor) to accept our damage report at the airport,
and then over the phone blatantly misrepresented what it was offering as compensation.
If United had been telling the truth then we would
have received the $150 compensation that United owes us.
Instead we seem to be receiving nothing at all.
United did not immediately send the flight certificates by email.
It sent them a week later by postal mail to my Chicago address.
The envelope says "MAILED @ 605 6/16/07,"
and I suppose we might have received the envelope on the 18th or 19th of June
if we had been in Chicago;
but we were in Europe at the time,
and started a Star Alliance round-the-world trip the week after.
We ended up finally receiving the certificates on 23 July,
three days after purchasing several United flights
(for example, $1599.40 for ORD-SAN and SBA-LAX-JFK).
Upon inspecting the certificates,
we discovered that they were not valid for the advertised year,
or for anything close to a year.
Both certificates say "Booking period: January 1 2007 - January 31, 2008" and
"Travel period: January 1, 2007 - January 31, 2008."
I've carefully checked my calendar,
and it clearly shows January 2007 as being several months before June 2007:
- January 2007: start of validity of these certificates
- February 2007
- March 2007
- April 2007
- May 2007
- June 2007: when these certificates were generated and mailed
- July 2007: when these certificates were received
- August 2007
- September 2007
- October 2007
- November 2007
- December 2007
- January 2008: expiration of these certificates
We also discovered that the certificates are limited
to travel "within the 50 United states, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands or Canada"
with "Maximum number of passengers per itinerary: 1."
I usually travel with my girlfriend,
and a large part of our United travel is to and from Europe.
It seems more than a little bit stupid that,
as part of compensation for damage to a bag accompanying 2 people flying to Europe,
United would issue certificates valid only for 1 person not flying to Europe.
We discovered that the certificates are not
the promised discounts for any United flight booked online.
The fine print says that the certificates are discounts only for "eligible" fares,
that the certificates are only for "flights that qualify for the discount,"
and that these discounted fares are sometimes more expensive
than United's regular discounted fares!
Since we don't have any upcoming United flights
(aside from the ones we purchased three days before receiving the certificates),
we haven't had a chance to see how restrictive these conditions are,
but it seems entirely possible that these "discounts"
are valid in so few situations as to be practically useless.
I spoke with United agents by phone on several occasions
and received a neverending series of run-arounds.
I sent detailed email messages
to email@example.com on 24 July 2007
(after a United agent recommended this address),
to firstname.lastname@example.org on 24 July 2007
(after an auto-reply saying that Bannister was out of the office),
and to email@example.com on 3 August 2007
(after another recommendation).
There was never any response.