Priceline, united airlines Complaint - Stranded on my way to paradise

Review by Goliath1972 on 2009-07-19
My 15yr Anniversary Vacation to Kona, HI
Purchased from Priceline
Flight, United Airlines
Stayed at Royal Kona Resort

Picture the worst cliche of a hotel under a freeway overpass with a view of the railroad tracks and a train that passes every 30-60 min. No this is not my hotel in Hawaii that I was paying for, but a Comfort Inn located in South San Fransisco where United Airlines decided to put my wife and I after hours in the airport trying to get to Kona where I was already paying for lodging. This is the Vacation we had save for two years for. This is a celebration of our 15 year wedding anniversary.

We got on our United Flight from Portland, OR (connecting in San Francisco, CA and than onto Kona, HI) and were taxiing to the runway when they found that one of the lights on the doors was out (not the door just the light). Our flight was running a few minutes late, but we still had lots of time to make out connecting flight (many others on the same flight trying to make connecting departures). I told my wife that someone would finally show up with a replacement part smaller than my thumb which ended up being true. We took off almost 2 hrs late. We tried to be good sports about this and broke out our reading materials. Several other people asked to de-board and try to catch different flights so that they could make their connections, only to be told that we would not be returning to the gate, but sitting on the runway while they looked for the tiny bulb replacement.

United directed us to their Customer service. Because of United’s practice of filling every seat on every flight, the next direct flight to Kona was 3 days away. So they tried putting us on a flight to one of the other islands so that we could “puddle jump” from there to Kona. We sat through two stand by flights, both were again brimming and full. The “drunk on power” girl at counter of one of these stand by flights decided not to accept the volunteers who were willing to give up their seats for a later flight. We continued to sit in the airport patiently. We stood through the United Customer Service desk three times before they finally sent us to the horrid hotel in the paragraph above. We were given food vouchers and told that they were good for the hotel restaurant. The South San Francisco Comfort Inn has no restaurant. These were only good back at the food court of the airport (inside the security zone) where we had just come on a 20 min shuttle ride. The hotel room is cramped and could use a wash. I was very glad that I stopped and bought clean T-shirts at the airport gift shop. Yes, they had already sent our luggage on ahead of us. We ate at the Hungry Hunter Resteraunt on the shuttle line, waited again for the shuttle to return and crashed after a very long first day.

The next day we had several hours to kill before our confirmed seats on an afternoon United flight witch would take us to Maui so that we could catch a flight to Honolulu where we could get the last flight out to Kona (still trying to make the best of it I teased my wife that not only do I take her to the best places but also to all of the Islands). Please keep in mind we are still paying for hotel in Hawaii. We walked over and down the freeway overpass to get to South San Francisco; walked around and took some photos in the park behind the city hall building. Again we got to the airport early so that we could pass through security with time to spare. Ate lunch in the food court on our dinner vouchers from the night before. We checked with a United Supervisor, David Niven (wore a suit) to make sure our tickets were in order. We checked again with customer service who assured us that we had everything we needed to make our multiple jumps to our final destination. This flight was full, but the flight attendants were very friendly. We landed in Maui, only to be told that one of the ticket components we were supposed to have had not been printed by United. We had boarding passes for our last leg from Honolulu to Kona, but Customer Service had not printed the actual ticket portion for a flight on their partner Hawaiian Airline. We were told to the United ticketing desk outside the security area. This is a sea of people that we have less than a hour to traverse and then make it through this airports security. The United desk reprints our stack of tickets and tells us to go catch out flight, but back up at the Hawaiian Counter they tell us that United had printed exactly what we just had, and that we were still missing this crucial component to our ticketing. They were going to try to send us back through the same ticketing and security circus again. We pleaded, and reminded them that this was our only flight option that wouldn’t leave us stranded another night. With 15min left before our flight they finally find enough compassion to call down to United and try to help us (we had to provide the United phone # to Hawaiian Air because they flat out refused to look it up). Hawaiian finally hand wrote a note for the next leg of our trip and put us on the flight. Honolulu was determined to strand us but my wife had come armed with the card and phone # of the note writer in Maui who reluctantly vouched for us. We got to Kona on the last flight into the airport right as our rental car was closing and our luggage which had come ahead of us was locked securely in United Air’s lost luggage citadel. The Avis Car Rental place pulled out of site as we exited the gate and their employees, anxious to finish closing hung up on us three times when called. We managed to flag down the only cab still in the Airport (the only anyone left there). Fifty dollar cab ride later we made it to our destination the Royal Kona Resort. Things had been tough and I had read horror story reviews about the old (unrenovated portion of the hotel). Sure enough these unimproved units was where Priceline had put us...I paid $270 for a room upgrade to stave off any further unpleasantness. Still wearing the same unmentionables as we left Portland, OR in...we got to our less than truly improved room and crashed again...Just too tired to care about the very dirty carpet, water spitting air condition unit, black mold tub fixtures and stained ceiling.

Day three we still have no luggage and Avis Rental Car refuses to deliver their car. So after a way overpriced breakfast on the Kona strip where a guy goes table to table selling time share activities. We stop at an ABC store for new clean shirts and sun screen (also packed in my check on that they charge $40 for now). Same underwear still. We pay another fifty bucks to get back to the airport, where United opens their lost luggage claim half an hour late. We finally check our car into the hotel registery (yes, they charge for parking) and by late the third day of our trip we are finally on vacation. We had a good time. We argued a bit the first couple days out of exhaustion, but it was Hawaii...can’t really have a bad time. We had spent close to half of our spending money trying to get to it and on the upgrade which I was dubious about. My lovely wife, who worked months of overtime in prep for this get away, made it in the water less than five minutes before stepping on a sea urchin (requires a tetanus shot). Still nothing could bother us after the gauntlet of getting there. We went to the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens which was so gorgeous. We went Geo-caching, ate roadside BBQ, toured a coffee plantation, and saw Painted Church.

We head home! Kinda glad to be going back. Then I find that with extra seats added onto the plane (a full to the brim flight again), the seat in front of me now comes less than 3 inches from my face when the person in front of me reclines. I decided to ignore the encore in-flight presentation of Pink Panther 2. The adult kid behind my wife’s seat never got comfortable and spent the entire flight shuffling and kicking. No one slept on the Priceline imposed overnight flight ($1500 extra to pick my own flight times).

After all of the troubles that we had with the friendly skies of United, we were promised to get some sort of recompense from the airline. I returned home to find an email with a voucher for a whole $250 dollars off my next flight with them. This made me so excited! It was right up there with my last stimulus check which was supposed to solve all of our financial troubles. $250 dollars for the lost hotel and vacation time. $250 dollars to cover the extra taxi trips to the airport, four clean shirts and extra meals. Now I see why the travel industry is trying to convince us to embrace the poor economy and take a vacation at home this year. Never thought I’d say it, but a week in an RV doesn’t sound so bad. We are normal people; work regular jobs. I work customer service and pride myself in solving my customer’s problems and exceeding their needs. I didn’t receive this treatment. From any of your companies representatives (it took 3 hour long phone calls with Priceline, just to book this trip, because your computers kept losing their locks on the pricing). Finally if you think that I am being unnecessarily negative or sour grapes; trust me I have left things out just for the sake of space. Thanks for the trip of a lifetime Priceline, United Airlines Hawaiian Airlines and Royal Kona Resort.

Nolan K
Comments:1 Replies - Latest reply on 2009-07-19
Posted by Ben There on 2009-07-19:
Your trip could have ended up like this no matter how you booked... A couple tips:

1. All airlines have mechanicals because all machines break at some point. While having the shortest possible connection seems nice when you book, there is nothing keeping you from padding your flights with a couple extra hours... At the end of the day a 4 or 6 hour connection in San Fran is nothing compared to the stuff you ended up dealing with. I keep short connections on short domestic trips, but anytime I am taking a long haul flight I will add some hours in the connection city.

2. Coach seats are small, but United has about the same legroom as anyone else. For a little extra they have premium economy which has more room, or you can pay a lot more and fly first class. Check out seatguru.com for your airline and planes next time.

3. All airlines want to sell every seat on every plane. It is how they make money. It does not always happen, but during the summer to vacation destinations I notice they will be much more full.

4. Assume if you are booking the cheapest hotel room you won't get the nicest room. You can always pay more as you did to get the nicer rooms - lots of hotels have the cheapest rooms on the bottom floors, with executive or club rooms on the top with extra perks. Pay more, get more. Go cheap, get cheap.

5. Car rental companies close on time, especially if you have not called them to let them know you are on your way. While it would have been super customer service for them to pay overtime to employees to wait for you or to deliver a car without the benefit of getting your credit card and doing the paperwork at the airport computers, they didn't and that is understandable. Most other car rental companies wouldn't either because they don't make enough off of rentals to pay the extra staff to do all that for everyone. It was not thier fault you arrived late.

These are all just things people face when they travel these days. Getting somewhere is not fun, especially when you are in coach because honestly the airlines don't make enough money off of anyone to do much more. The RV idea might work best for you, because you can control a lot more.

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