“I realize they had no choice to cancel the flight but United handled it horribly”, posted FlyerTalk member frequentjohn, who was one of 275 passengers on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft which was to operate as United Airlines flight 49 from Mumbai to Newark on February 20, 2014 but was grounded due to significant damage on its right engine cowl. “It took them hours to figure out how to get everyone out of the airport so I am still in Mumbai. They had to take us back through customs to ‘cancel’ our exit from India. It took them a couple of hours to figure out how to get us out of the departure side so we missed all alternative connecting flights to Europe. Hopefully I will get out tonight on Air France through Paris. United originally re-booked me on a return flight next Tuesday getting me home Wednesday and could not understand why this was not a valid option! I had to call United to get better options. The whole thing has been one disaster after another. It’s too bad because the new BOM terminal is much nicer.”
The passengers were delayed for 43 hours at the international airport which serves Mumbai; but they were provided meals and hotel accommodations, according to a spokesperson from United Airlines. The Boeing 777-200 aircraft which was to operate as United Airlines flight 49 from Mumbai to Newark on February 28, 2014 was cancelled as the result of a mechanical issue — and because maintenance work could not be completed in time before the flight crew exceeded their “legally-permitted duty hours”, the replacement flight on March 1, 2014 was also cancelled.
FlyerTalk member skidooman — who was also scheduled to be a passenger on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft to be operated as United Airlines flight 49 from Mumbai to Newark — reported a detailed first-hand account of the incident:
“The incoming plane had an issue. Apparently, a big hole in the engine. Everyone at the gate asks what is going on. Local gate agents seem completely panicked, keep on telling everyone ‘don’t worry, they are working on the plane, the plane will eventually take off.’
“This FF knows better. And United’s computers do as well. Eventually, calls get through, the app tells the truth: the flight is canceled. Gate agents just don’t know it yet.
“OK, what do we do now? Nobody is rebooking anyone. So people start making their own calls. United Reservations puts me on Lufthansa to Munich. Great! Leaves in 2 hours. Cool. What do I do now?
“Well, the Lufthansa guy says I need to go through immigration again. Indian regulation. I also need to have someone escort me – from United – to the departure level. That is not happening. Wait 90 minutes, with other FF. We are just stuck. Lufthansa leaves by the time we are taken in charge by United Mumbai agents.
“Go to one level. Immigration authorities say no way, can’t come through here. OK, then let’s go another way. Pass security in opposite directions after negotiating for 20 minutes with CISF. Then, somehow get in arrival hall. Get the luggage.
“The chaos still reigns supreme. I try to be helpful: can I fly from Delhi tomorrow please? ‘Sure.’ Ensues discussion in Marathi. My flight is ‘confirmed, please go to the hotel sir, you can verify everything with UA reservations.’
“By the time I get to the hotel, it is 3:45AM. Get right away in touch with United Reservations. Hell ensues. The Mumbaikars never rebooked me through Delhi. Delhi flight is full anyway. They tried to book through Dubai, but failed – there is space in Dubai, but not to get TO Dubai. Earliest schedule they can get me out? Monday night. And, one agent tells me that I may need to pay money since, after all, I missed my Lufthansa flight!
“Not deterred, I contacted a few companies. There is space on Indigo to Mumbai. But international credit cards don’t work. I finally get space on Jet Airways. Sure, the flight is overbooked, but then I check in right away for my flight, and get seating.
“Call back United. Get Stephanie from SLC. Nice person who saved a miserable day. No problem: grab a seat from Dubai to IAD. And even confirm an upgrade with a Global instrument. Nice. Because by then it is 8:30AM, I am working on reserve batteries.
“Mumbai calls me at 11:50, upon me getting kicked out of my hotel room. Saying ‘I see there has been changes.’ I tell them in no uncertain terms to back off, they ‘helped’ enough already!
“Finally back in the US, I write to United to explain my ordeal with the crew in Mumbai and compliment Stephanie (as opposed to other agents which were less than helpful… what, you screwed up and I end up spending money). I also have them note that I spent some $435 to help them get me back home. I don’t get everything back, but I get an answer, and a voucher. Answer is pretty fast arriving, voucher as well.
“Voucher that I am more than happy to redeem for a flight back from India. But we’ll try Delhi this time, so far I got a better run from that place.”
This incident led skidooman to think about an interesting point: “Look. If I take my Hyundai on a trip, say from BOS->ORD, and then I have a mechanical problem on the road. I can pull over for repairs, right? The local car shop is unlikely to tell me ‘well, sir, we need the parts from your dealership.’ So, why isn’t GE, Rolls Royce and other companies not maintaining a set of parts in strategic places in the world? Mumbai isn’t exactly New York, but it is not Novossibirsk either. There are how many 777 taking off from there?”
That is a good question, skidooman.
How else do you believe that United Airlines could prevent a similar incident like this from happening in the future?