As some of you may remember, I had pretty good bump luck earlier this week on United. My first bump was on Sunday night, where both my mom and I got bumped, though as I mentioned, the experience was less than stellar. The next evening I got bumped again, this time a very pleasant experience, including a stay at the InterContinental O’Hare. Anyway, this post is about the first, less pleasant, experience on Sunday night.
We got to the gate (D21) over an hour before departure since the flight was looking quite full and I wanted to get on the bump list. When I got to the gate, with well over an hour to go, there was one seat remaining and 26 passengers confirmed awaiting seats. What does that mean? Well, it means 26 people are booked on the flight but don’t have a seat assignment, mostly due to the fact that the flight is over by about that much.
As soon as a gate agent arrived I approached him and asked if they might need volunteers. He said probably not, but he’d add us to the list anyway. About ten minutes later another gate agent showed up, and they really started soliciting volunteers. They made at least a handful of announcements asking for volunteers, offering a hotel and $400 in travel credits. Conveniently she left out when passengers would be rebooked, since the next available nonstop flight to Tampa was two nights later. Nonetheless I was using ExpertFlyer to look up availability, and found a pair of seats through Chicago the following evening, which I figured was better than nothing. She gladly “protected” us on those, just in case they needed us. I have to say, both of the gate agents were phenomenal. They were all smiles, incredibly professional, and handled a very stressful situation (an overbooking, combined with a late inbound aircraft, combined with trying to gate check bags) gracefully. I couldn’t help but laugh as the gate agent laughed at my more complex routing through Chicago, exclaiming that some customers intentionally book longer routings in order to earn extra miles. Who would’ve thought?!? 😉
With about 30 minutes to go till scheduled departure, the gate agent paged us and explained they’d need our seats. She said since they were busy, we should go to the customer service desk at C20, where they could process our bump, getting us our hotel voucher and travel credits.
We walked over to the customer service desk, which is quite a distance from D21. My mom was exhausted and had a seat, while I got in line. The line was insanely long, so it took probably close to 30 minutes before I was being helped. There were only three agents working the desk, and for the most part they were helping IDBs (passengers that were involuntarily denied boarding).
When it was my turn, I went up to the agent and explained the situation to her. She was by no means friendly, but not rude either. She took a few minutes without saying much, and then told me I needed to go to the gate to process the VDB, since she couldn’t see anything in my record indicating we were to be bumped. I explained the gate agent sent me here, and I had been waiting in line for over half an hour. All the while she was having a conversation with the agent sitting next to her, joking around and laughing as if there wasn’t a care in the world – “man, that last passenger was an asshole. He called me fat. Talk about attitude.”
She decides to call the gate to check what she’s supposed to do. And when I say calls the gates, I means picks up the phone, yells at them, and then hangs up. She insisted I need to go back to the gate. Now that’s a long haul, and I was specifically told to come here, so I explained that to her. She then said “I don’t have time for you, I have to take care of my own customers.” Excuse me?!? This is the customer service counter. As a 1K am I not one of “your” customers?” I explain the issue once again – I volunteered to give up my seat (essentially doing United a favor), was told to come to this desk, and am being told I need to wait for well over an hour, and even then you’re not sure you’ll be able to solve my problem. Her response? “Not my problem, I wasn’t working the flight.”
She tells me to just take a seat and get back in line in 30 minutes. At this point the line is maybe 40 people deep. I asked why, and she explained maybe our status as being bumped would show up in the system with a bit of a lag, which is why I should get back in line. You’re kidding me, right? Just sit down for half an hour, and then probably wait in line for another hour? I asked for a supervisor, and she says “the lady over there is a supervisor.” Now that lady was a service director, and there’s a huge difference. Supervisors wear suits and work for management, while service directors are usually the gate agents with the worst attitude (and wear a normal uniform).
As I leave the desk a flight attendant cuts the whole line at the customer service counter and starts to have a conversation with one of the three agents working the customer service desk, with a 40 or so person line. They have a conversation for about five minutes, completely ignoring customers. Seriously?
At this point I approach the service director standing at the gate across from the customer service desk. Before I can get up to her, she says “what do you want?” I explain the situation, and she says “can’t you see I’m busy?” I explained I was sent over to her and what the issue was, and she responds with “JESUS CHRIST (screaming), what do you think I can do to help you?” I’d like to point out she wasn’t even working a flight. I’m sure she was busy, but there was no plane at the gate, and the inbound plane she claimed to be waiting for hadn’t even left the ground in Tampa, as I later found out, so was well over two hours from landing. She decides to call the gate my flight left from directly, and proceeds to rudely yell at the other agent for the better part of a minute. I’m not quite sure how it’s appropriate to do that in front of a customer.
She tells me to get back in the line at customer service. I was utterly amazed by the crap treatment I was getting, so I requested a supervisor. She paged one over the PA, but he didn’t show up. I never pull the “but I’m an elite member” card, but I felt the need to tell her that in my 200,000 miles of travel so far this year with United as a 1K, this was the worst experience I’ve had.
I walked away and waited for the supervisor to show up. S/he never did. So about 20 minutes later I go back to this “service director,” and her attitude is completely different, I think because she realized I was a 1K and wasn’t going to take crap from her.
All of a sudden there was a complete change in attitude. She was charming, she addressed me by name, and even helped me select the exact seats I wanted for the flights the next day, with the utmost patience. Not sure if it was because I’m an elite or because she realized having a bad attitude wouldn’t help, but she did eventually fix the problem. Still, her attitude at first and the attitude of the other agents was unacceptable.
Look, I understand gate agents have VERY tough, stressful jobs, given their salary. Everyone blames everything on them, even if they weren’t involved in any way. But that’s why I go out of my way to be friendly to them, and 99% of the time it works great. Actually, I find that overall, United gate agents take excellent care of elite passengers. But it’s times like this that make me wonder why some people work in customer service.
If it weren’t for my mother having a near breakdown from sitting at the airport for nearly 90 minutes after we were bumped, I would have pushed it further and pushed for an actual supervisor, but mom always comes first…