United Airlines Complaint - United Airlines Travel Nightmare
At approximately 7:15 am on April 20th, my traveling companion and I arrived in Washington DC after a night flight from Phoenix Arizona, expecting to get on a plane to Syracuse NY at 8:20 am. We arrived at the gate well in advance with a boarding pass AND a previously assigned seat. Before that plane started boarding, an announcement was made that the plane was overbooked and those people with seat assignments would be let on first. The man taking the boarding passes told everyone without assigned seats to step aside. When we handed him the passes he looked up our names on a print out and said, “This is one of the lowest price fares. I am not going to let you use this ticket.” He rudely told us to step aside and proceeded to take the tickets from other customers who were behind us in line.
In spite of my continued protests that I had an assigned seat, the United agent continued to ignore me. At this point, I became aware of the fact that we were part of a group of 14 people headed to Syracuse that were involuntarily bumped and were stranded in Washington. The overbooking was even more outrageous in light of the fact that the plane only held 50 people and this occurred at one of the busiest times of the year – spring break.
After wasting over a half hour standing to the side of the boarding area, we were told to go to customer service. At this point there were about 50 people waiting in a line that did not appear to be moving at all with one “customer service” representative at the desk. As the crowd of people became more and more agitated another customer service rep from United arrived on the scene, directing people to a bank of phones and promising to get a supervisor on the scene. As far as I could see, the supervisor never arrived. I walked over to the phone and followed the directions on the screen. My call was sent to someone in India who proceeded to tell me that I could call the toll free reservation number but that I would have to “go to a phone booth” to do so. This proved to be another act of futility that simply wasted more time.
After another hour and a half of waiting in line, I finally got to see a customer service representative. I was never given a written statement describing my rights and the airlines policy on involuntary bumping, as required by federal DOT regulations. I was informed that the next flight to “anywhere’ in New York state’ with open seats was on Wednesday. I explained that I work as a teacher in a school with an item in our contract that specifies that no personal time can be used before or after a vacation and that I would lose my pay for those days. It was clear that the United airline personnel couldn’t care less even if such a delay led to my death. Throughout this process I was in communication with the other bumped passengers going to Syracuse. They were all told the same thing and when a request was made for bus transportation to Syracuse for the group it was repeatedly denied.
We also told the agents that we would be willing to share a rental car or van and requested a voucher to do so. This request was also denied although one of the agents said that we could send in the receipt for compensation. In short, the response by United Airlines to our plight can best be described by the attitude – “It is not our problem. Don’t expect us to do anything about it.” When I requested a full refund for the ticket I was informed that they would only refund the part of the trip from Washington to Syracuse (a” small amount” to quote the agent) At this point I decide to save the ticket for a future attempt to receive just compensation, hopefully from someone who was more reasonable and customer friendly than the crew working at Washington/ Dulles. The airline did give us what will most likely prove to be useless vouchers for a future roundtrip flight.
All of the Syracuse passengers, having been given the same lack of service and most being desperate to get back home, decided to rent cars to drive out of Washington. My friend and I shared a car with 3 other people. We rented a Hertz full sized vehicle, one way for a cost of $320 with taxes and a tank of gas. Our share of the car was $128 plus and additional $10 each in gas. We also had to stop for lunch and dinner where we incurred another additional expense of approximately $60 for the two of us. The trip home was emotionally and physically draining. During the first two hundred miles of the trip we drove thorough blinding rain storms in extremely heavy traffic. We also got stuck in two one hour long traffic jams on Route 81.All of this was undertaken by drivers who had little to no sleep on the plane the previous evening. In light of the evidence that driving while tired is as bad as driving while intoxicated, this was a potentially dangerous situation. I did not arrive home to Boonville, NY until well after midnight. I went into work the next day after having had only 4 hours sleep in a 48 hour period.
On April 20th after about an hour of “wild goose chases” on the phone, (being kept on hold and repeatedly transferred among a multitude of recordings and people) I finally spoke to a woman in headquarters about yesterday's nightmare. She confirmed that there were indeed no flights out until Wednesday and that it is the policy of United NOT to provide any ground transportation regardless of the circumstances. These agents at the Washington/ Dulles were merely following company policy I asked for a refund for the full price of the ticket, compensation for the portion of the rental car and the expenses of meals on the way back. She called me at home later and stated that United would give me $87 for the last leg of the trip, and payment for my portion of the rental car - $74. If I chose to return the voucher, I would get another $87.
This in no way compensated me for the situation described above.
Upon further reflection of this situation I asked myself several questions:
1. What if I were very elderly, disabled or incapable of driving over 400 miles in horrendous traffic to get home? Would I still be sitting in Washington DC?
2. Why are the airlines allowed to engage in the deliberately fraudulent practice of selling more tickets
than there are seats, leaving passengers stranded for days? If any other business regularly engaged in such practices they would be sued and/or fined.
3. Why is the federal government continuing with the laissez-faire policy towards airlines in spite of the overwhelming evidence that such an approach is detrimental to the well-being of the American people?