A Case of Skyway Robbery

March 26, 2012

This is a letter I am sending to United Airlines. I know it is probably all in vain as I will most likely not get a response, or if I do, it will be generic and unapologetic. I do, however, have a real problem with the way the airlines treat their customers when they are supposed to be a customer service industry, so I am making this a public complaint to air those concerns. 

March 26, 2012

United Airlines

Customer Care
United Airlines, Inc.
900 Grand Plaza Drive NHCCR
Houston, TX 77067-4323

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to express my concern for the airline’s lack of willingness to assist customers in time of need. Recently, we purchased tickets to fly from Seattle to New York when my husband’s grandfather fell ill. He wanted to see him one last time to say his goodbyes. Unfortunately we were too late. Upon calling United to change our reservations so we could make it to the funeral, I was dismayed by the lack of compassion shown by the customer service representatives.

First, I was on hold for 25 minutes before even speaking to anyone. The answering service estimated a 3-minute wait. Secondly, after speaking with Ivan, your customer care agent, I left the conversation knowing everything that airline can NOT do for me, rather than how the airline can help.

According to your website, United Airlines is “dedicated to providing a level of service to [your] customers that makes [you] a leader in the airline industry.” It seems to me that the airline doesn’t really care for providing any level of service to your customers, unless it means adding to your profit line.

I understand this is a business and industry that must make profit to keep running. I understand the airline industry is hurting just as much as any industry in our economy. I do not, however, understand how it costs more for the airline to adjust a ticket from one flight to another, especially if they can resell the later tickets for a higher profit to someone else. An adjustment fee of $150 seems reasonable, but to pay the difference in fare for a seat that is likely to remain empty (for a next day flight) is nothing short of highway robbery.

Your bereavement fare is a sad attempt at trying to provide care to your customers. A 5% discount on an $800 ticket is a slap in the face. Again, according to your website, your “goal is to make every flight a positive experience for [your] customers.” I can tell you what would make it a positive experience and help you build a more loyal customer base (which in the end would help your bottom line), take your department’s name literally and actually care about your customers.

When one must make flight reservations or change existing flight reservations due to a death in the family, it will always be short notice. No one can plan ahead for that. Bereavement will always be last minute flights. Last minute flights will always be outrageously expensive. Offer more than 5% off. Train your customer service representatives to help the customer in whatever way they can. When I spoke with the agent, I was the one thinking of alternatives (i.e. What about flying to a nearby airport? How about using frequent flyer miles?). In short, I felt like I was doing his job for him. All he was doing was telling me what the airline couldn’t do.

In our case, we had already paid $946.80 for three roundtrip tickets. The best Ivan could do for me (at first) was to book tickets for the next day (so we could be there in time for the funeral) for an additional $550 per person, plus the $150 change fee. Just to be clear, that is an additional $1800, even though we have already paid close to $1000. Eventually, Ivan was willing to wave the $150 change fee, but only after I started offering alternatives like using miles for the difference in flights (which as you know, you do not do).

The definition of bereavement is  “ the state or fact of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Ironically, that is in fact what you are doing by offering only a 5% discount on an extraordinarily high priced ticket. You, the airline, are depriving your customers, whom you claim to care greatly for, of proper closure with a loved one. It is shameful and needs to change. I know United is not alone in this and the guilt should be shared amongst all major airlines. Today, people are less willing to fly because it is too expensive and incredibly stress inducing. Perhaps if you were willing to support your customers, your customers would be more willing to support you.

Sincerely Concerned,

E. E. M.

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