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.

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.

I spoke with United agents by phone on several occasions and received a neverending series of run-arounds. I sent detailed email messages to joann.bannister@united.com on 24 July 2007 (after a United agent recommended this address), to web-baggage@united.com on 24 July 2007 (after an auto-reply saying that Bannister was out of the office), and to theresa.fugitt@united.com on 3 August 2007 (after another recommendation). There was never any response.