Last week, I decided to take a spontaneous trip. Nothing too shocking, right? Cabo san Lucas, Mexico is a short 2-hour flight from Los Angeles and is likely the most popular international destination for So-Cal locals. Flights are cheap and the margaritas can’t be beat. When my friend asked if I wanted to join her on a quick two-night girls trip to Cabo…
I didn’t need much convincing.
What was (in theory) one of the easiest international trips I could have possibly taken turned into the worst airline experience I’ve had to date. With over 35 countries and countless flights under my belt, that’s saying something.
My two girlfriends and I arrived at LAX over two hours prior to our flight to Cabo. We were flying with… United Airlines. Some of you reading this probably just shuddered when you read that. Why did we even take a chance? I can explain. We booked the night before and it was literally the only flight to Cabo the following day.
WILL TAKE CHANCES FOR TEQUILA
We checked in at the digital kiosk and realized we didn’t have seat assignments. I thought to myself, “That’s weird.” An attendant reassured us that the oddity was nothing to be worried about and that an attendant at our boarding gate would assign us our seats. Hmm. Ok. Still weird.
Upon arriving at the gate, we realized our flight was then delayed an hour. An hour of sunshine missed on a 48 hour trip is seriously upsetting, but we accepted the annoyance and waited for United staff to come to the gate.
After nearly TWO HOURS of waiting at the gate, an attendant finally arrived.
Said attendant was quite a “peach” for lack of a better term. We addressed the seat situation and the attendant, who I shall refer to as Slick Sally, responded with a forced Pleasantville smile, “If you could just have a seat until boarding. We’ll be right with you.”
Another “that’s weird” moment.
Shortly after returning to our seats, Slick Sally called for priority passenger boarding. Then Group 1, Group 2 and so on. After every other passenger was standing in the boarding line, another attendant, who I shall refer to as Dick (short for Richard of course), joined Slick Sally and asked for three volunteers to take the next flight to Cabo in exchange for a $300 United flight voucher. I looked to my two girlfriends and counted 1, 2, 3. No… it can’t be. I started to panic. WTF is going on?!
I marched up to Dick and Slick Sally demanding an explanation. Dick greeted me with the same forced smile. Before I could even get a word out he responded, “If you could just have a seat. We’ll be right with you.” Holy ROBOT. My stomach dropped. I couldn’t believe what was happening! The staff was completely rehearsed on “not” dealing with their customers.
The speakers came on again, “We are looking for three volunteers… blah blah blah.”
Nobody was stepping out of line. I read right through the situation. United overbooked the flight to Cabo. Mind you, we were flying out on a Wednesday morning with Friday being Valentine’s Day and Monday being a national holiday. Nobody was going to give up their seat for a $300 flight voucher.
I accepted our fate well before United admitted their fault.
I refused to return to my seat and waited at the desk for Dick and Slick Sally to acknowledge me and explain what was really going on. They wouldn’t even look at me and continued boarding each and every other passenger. Dick and Slick Sally were then joined by Silent Stan who also failed to acknowledge my existence.
Once every passenger had boarded the plane, and the empty boarding gate was completely void of a pulse (with exception to us three ladies), we were gifted eye contact and three forced smiles. Dick confidently rehearsed his script, “I have some good news and some bad news. Good news is we are going to get you on the next flight out of LA to Cabo. Bad news is you’ll have to wait another 4 hours until your flight to Houston where you’ll stay the night and then fly to Cabo tomorrow morning.”
Oh. Is that all?
We were now looking at a 28-hour travel day (instead of a 2-hour direct flight) to then spend less than 24 hours in Cabo. Could you point out the good news again, Dick? Thanks.
To “ease us” of our burdens we were offered a flight voucher, a hotel for the night in Houston and a $7 meal voucher. I laughed out loud. (Yes. I really LOL’d.) “Thanks for covering my coffee, Dick.” I was clearly annoyed and felt that United had no interest in truly making up for what a huge inconvenience they had created. Sure, our accommodation was taken care of, but what if we had a non-refundable hotel room in Cabo that night? United wouldn’t have reimbursed us.
Despite the serious compromise we were making on getting to Cabo, the girls and I agreed we would be willing to still go, be redirected to Houston, spend the night, etc., etc.
WILL DO DESPERATE THINGS FOR TEQUILA
Before agreeing, I had further requests. I confidently stated, “We need to be upgraded to first-class on all the flights and be given lounge access on our layovers.” Dick then LOL’d. “We can’t go handing out lounge access to just anyone. If we did that for everyone who complained, well, it just wouldn’t be exclusive anymore. Now would it?” Oh how silly a peasant am I to request something so beyond my petty flight class… on my FOUR HOUR LAYOVER that you just put me on.
Excuse me while I fume…
My friend, in an attempt to cool down the situation, jokingly responded, “This will be fine. Just throw in a Xanax for each of us and we’ll take the next flight.” I’ll admit she got a chuckle out of me. Then something happened that I still cannot fully comprehend. Dick reaches into his pocket, pulls out a large prescription pill and says, “I’ll split it with ya” and follows his remark with a creepy wink.
I nearly fainted.
Did that really just happen?!
I wish the story ended there. With Dick’s supervisor (whom witnessed the entire incident with wide eyes and mouth agape) confiscating the pill and reprimanding him. Instead, she said nothing. Did nothing. And we were left to wait four hours for our flight to Houston.
The fun didn’t stop there either. We were awarded another delayed flight to Houston and a 1-star (which is a stretch) hotel stay. And guess what?! Our flight home from Cabo?! Also delayed. United, I’m not even mad. I’m impressed. You officially are the WORST airline I have ever flown with. Congratulations!
You make Ryanair look like first-class on Emirates.
While I realize this article is emotionally charged, all of the statements I have made are entirely true. I left out employee names because, at the end of the day, I’m not trying to get anyone fired. Customer Service is a difficult job and, for all I know, Dick could be a nice guy and could have been offering me a Women’s One-a-Day multi-vitamin.
The fault falls not on Dick nor Slick Sally, but United.
I actually tweeted to United while we waited on our layover at LAX, whom responded,
Would you be surprised knowing that I never heard back?
I hope this article gets their attention. United Airlines, get it together. This is not how you treat paying customers.
For the 2-3 people who read this and think, “I’ve always had great experiences flying United.” I also realize that not every United flight gets overbooked and that you can’t judge an entire company, airline or country off a single travel experience. I’m a firm believer in second chances in travel. But, I can confidently say that I have never received such horrible customer service nor so many delays by any other airline in all my travels.
Still don’t believe me?
“United had the highest rate among its peers of involuntarily bumping ticketed passengers from flights.”-The Wall Street Journal, 2013
“United Airlines ranked #1 Worst Airline of 2013 in America” –U.S. News Travel, 2013
“Here’s Why United Was Just Named America’s Worst Airline” –DailyFinance, 2013