Cobblestone Flight Review: A trip not going well – LAN-ORD-CPH on United / SAS (was the idea)

18-09-2015 23-25-05Right now, I am on my way home in seat 22G on UA944, which is not on the route in the headline above. Because that was not to be. Yesterday early evening, we were three colleagues sitting at Meat BBQ in Lansing having some build-your-own burgers (sans lettuce – go see their menu for an explanation of that…) when three text messages ticked in. Credit where credit’s due – my TripIt Pro was slightly faster that the other guys’ services.

But the messages were equally bad. Flight from LAN to ORD at 8pm was cancelled. Bad weather in Chicago.

So we got our bill settled in a hurry while checking the United phone line – a 20 min wait on that one (after going through the three-four layered phone menu). So the airport’d be better, we thought.

Not by much. A sort of equal wait – and the staff there apparently did not have a United computer system that allowed them to do anything so they had to call the 800-number. On one of our – foreign, as in expensive rates – phones as their own apparently was down. And while, at the end of that charade, we had a rerouting via ORD and FRA for Friday at 1pm, getting us home Saturday morning rather than Friday afternoon, virtually all other questions went unanswered. And, this being the United States, where company finances apparently is more important than customer satisfaction, that was the extent of the help.

We managed to find accomodation for the night and Avis without issues let us keep the car for another day.

Ok, today we were at Capital City Airport 1½ hour before departure. Everything went largely on time – though the United system and people utterly failed in issuing seating and boarding passes beyond the LAN-ORD leg. Without any explanation that made sense, either. Just “we can’t do that”. Hrmpf.

In Chicago, right upon arrival, we asked the gate agent there for advice. She knew her stuff – and we learned from her answers to another passenger and to us that the reason was that there were no available Economy seats and the Economy Plus seats (usually available for a steap 180 USD) are only unlocked an hour before departure. In other words, the United system does not empower a gate agent to work on her stranded passengers’ behalf and get them seats that actually are there, albeit at a slight loss of revenue and seemingly does not train its staff enough to allow them to explain the situation well to passengers in a tough spot. Not getting United any points in my book – of bloody course she should be able to do all that from the terminal right in front of her. Least they can do when their cancellation causes issues.

19-09-2015 00-40-13And when I make a more than usual fuss out of that, it is because plenty of United planes successfully flew out of ORD around the time when our plane was cancelled, leading to the return that we should have been on to cancel as well.

Some of them delayed, bien sur – but we had two hours in ORD, so even an hours delay or maybe an hour and a half would still have gotten us there (remember: hand luggage only!). So I’m rather miffed.

OK, we got to ORD – and the first thing that happened was that we were idling on the runway a good twenty minutes before getting to a gate. Likely more an airport issue than United’s – but not what you want when you have about an hour’s time between flights and need to get boarding passes. We actually weren’t sure if we’d have to change to Terminal 5 (main international terminal at ORD) – and thus go landside and back airside with all the hassle of security and whatnot – so stress hormone levels were a tad high. Turned out that we were on United metal flying out, which the dear people in Lansing even had no clarity over, bless them – so we could make do with a forced march from concourse F to C.

And faced a rather long queue of people making all sorts of inquiries at the podium at the gate, some merited, some not. But eventually, we did get boarding passes for the rest of the trip home and one colleague who had to give up going home before his next trip, to Sofia, apparently also got sorted out.

So it is now dark o’clock in some undefined time zone and I am en route to FRA in a – some of the time elusive – Economy Plus seat. And while I do acknowledge that my knees do not touch the seat in front of me, I honestly cannot see a $180 value in it. Service is the same as regular economy.

So, dear United – I cannot rate you very high on this. Nowhere did you make us feel that our trouble, getting stuck in the US due to weather – whether that was the full and true reason or a convenient way of cancelling a not too busy flight – was any of your true concern. The lack of rules to care for stranded passengers – in the EU, even if a cancellation is due to weather, airlines have to take care of overnight stays if that is the consequence, to mention one thing – probably makes it easier for you to bow out. And, in any case, the United systems and training suck, not allowing the gate agents – who are the face and voice of United to us, the passengers – to do their work well. When the only employee of United who give stellar service is a random gate agent, tasked with a completely different flight, you should be glad to have her – and start working on bringing all the other to her level. And give them the systems to do it – as well as the empowerment to make decisions.

You do get two cobblestones – which is one more than I feel like handing out – and that is only because our travel agency’s best bid was a full 24-hour delay and you after all got us home with “only” an 18-hour delay. But still a wrecked plan for a family Saturday.

Gee, I can only look forward to my next travel. On Monday to Lithuania…


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