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JFK-LAX UA Drats! Foiled again...

JFK-LAX UA Drats! Foiled again...

Old Feb 14, 00, 2:44 pm
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JFK-LAX UA Drats! Foiled again...

United made a big mistake that could have ruined my day, but one particular flight attendant turned a bad day into a good one.

I was booked in C via an upgrade for the 12:15pm JFK-LAX. When I arrived at the RCC, they couldn't give me a seat, which meant they were overbooked, and were either going to put me in F or in Y, it seemed to me, unless they had some no shows. It distressed me that they would overbook a cabin like this, but since it was Sunday and I had no urgent plans, I was gracious. (Not that I am ever not so )

Well, sure enough, 10 minutes before boarding arrives, and they want to put me in one of the flight attendant seats at the back of the C cabin. Economy seats, 2 of them side by side, and probably a C meal. No upgrade certs needed, which almost made me laugh out loud. Alternative? Wait 4 hours and go out in C on the next flight. I decided to take the FA seat.

Well, as I arrive, an Australian Soccer player does, too, and he is next to me. He is very unhappy, and conveys that sentiment to everyone around him relatively boisterously. And he is using "my" armrest! LOL. I quietly took the head purser aside and asked if she could find me a better arrangement. She tries to get me one of the two other FA seats in the row behind the one I was in, but they are FA safety seats, and somehow appearantly one of them is safer than the one I am in. My interpretation was that the FAs want to have at least 2 seats together so they can chat when not working. I hear the FAs in the seats behind me muttering to themselves at how the purser had wanted to change one of "their" seats, and weren't concerened about their safety. Being the zenlike Brian today, I just smiled to myself and busied myself telling my seatmate funny flying stories. Meanwhile, the purser goes off to make other plans....

She returns just as we are pushing back, says that there is a row at the back of economy that she has blocked off for me after takeoff and when the belts light goes off. She then comes by with the first class menu, and asks what I would like for lunch!

Well! She literally brought me every course of the first class meal in the back row of the airplane, from a delicious smoked salmon appetizer (thick pieces, not thin sliced) through a lovely seared tuna, all the way to a Chocolate souffle. She brought a bottle of wine and an opener to the back (from the first class wines), and I shared with the people around me a bit. She came back at the end of the flight with another bottle wrapped and with a flower in it for me to take home.

Not a lot of a moral to this story, except that it pays to find the reasonable people working a flight, treat them reasonably and with respect, and they will do the same for you. Had she not been there, I would have been stewing in my juices by the end of 6 hours, but as it was, I was relatively untroubled. Everyone makes mistakes... great employees do their best to mitigate them, and that she did.

None of this will keep me from sending a polite letter of compliant to UA, because I expect better of them.

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Old Feb 14, 00, 3:31 pm
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If I may suggest, in your complaint letter, mention how this employee went out of the way to make life a little easier for you.

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Old Feb 14, 00, 5:11 pm
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14 February, 2000

Denise Harvill
Director of Customer Relations
WHQPW
PO Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666
UA 1K#
Ticket #

Dear Ms. Harvill:
As an 8 year 1K, I rarely write to note problems I encounter in my travels; they are relatively few. However, I did have difficulties yesterday that reflect both the best and worst of these kinds of circumstances.

I was booked in economy and upgraded to C on UA 19, the 12:15pm JFK-LAX flight yesterday, 13 February. I was confirmed in business, but they were unable to produce a seat assignment. I encountered the same problem at the Red Carpet Club prior to the flight. Ten minutes before departure, I am told that they have overbooked, and all they can offer me is one of the flight attendant seats in row 13, which is an economy seat with a business class meal. My alternative is to wait 4 hours for the next flight.

Upon boarding, I am seated next to a very distressed Australian athlete, who is vocal in his dislike of sharing my circumstance. The row behind us is unoccupied, but the flight attendants will not allow us to take one seat in each row, for safety reasons.

I called the head purser over, and asked her to find a better solution. She was marvelous, and found me a couple of seats in the back of coach, and made sure I was served a premium meal there, course by course. She truly took the edge off a very bad experience.

My purpose in writing is simply to remind you that my relationship with United is more than a vendor relationship… I count on you to do what you say you will do. Occasional accidents notwithstanding, it strikes me as poor practice to allow premium cabins to be overbooked this way. Had I been told originally that my only upgrade option was on a later flight, I would have had a nice brunch in the city, and arrived at the airport none the worse for wear.

Most times, United does a very good job of protecting my interests as one who must travel for work. Occasionally, I am even delighted, and that is more than I have a right to expect. But when I am manifestly disappointed by a matter in your control, I am obliged to inform you, in the hope you will find a better solution moving forward.

Regards,




[This message has been edited by Brian (edited 02-14-2000).]
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Old Feb 14, 00, 7:11 pm
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Brian:
Delighted to hear how the purser handled this situation. You ended up with better service than anyone on the plane- you were treated like a king. I don't travel that route but it sounds like the plane you were on was configured for international-- could it have been a last minute switch from a domestic 767 to an international one, and they ended up with fewer C seats to assign than originally scheduled? I don't understand your complaint to UA HQ- is it that you were confirmed in NC and they failed to accomodate you? Sounds to me like you got better than NC- at least you got plenty of attention. Makes me feel good about being a UA customer, though I'm a measly PE.
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Old Feb 14, 00, 7:21 pm
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Well, Craig, as great as the service was, and it was great, I still would have rather been sitting in a nice business seat. I think that the purser did a tremendous job, but when United elects to overbook business class, they are making a bet that they won't underdeliver to anyone. Often, they probably win. This time they lost.
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Old Feb 14, 00, 8:03 pm
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But Brian, putting this in perspective:

You paid for a coach ticket. You received coach service plus "something a little EXTRA" I understand that your upgrade was confirmed, but always remember that upgrades are a perk, not an entitlement. Would you rather always be nervous getting to the airport because you could never confirm your upgrade or be "downgraded" to what you paid for <10% of the time?

- Derek

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Old Feb 14, 00, 8:13 pm
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Derek, I understand your point of view, and respectfully disagree. I am loyal to United 100% of the time, and do so in exchange for being able to count on them. They are eager participants in that transaction with me. If it weren't in their economic interest to do so, they would not offer the perks they elect to offer to attract 100% of my business.

I was very balanced in calling out both the good and the bad points of my circumstance, and extremely fair. I was neither strident or unreasonable. I did not bluster,a nd I did not issue threats. The point is rather simple... When I say I will do something, whether it is something I am "required" to do, or something I elect to do, I am accountable to do what I promised.

I apologize to anyone to whom this somehow seems unclear. It couldn't be simpler. The basic system failed, and I was penalized. Someone went to extraordinary lengths to mitigate that, and did an excellent job of doing so. But it doesn't change the basis of what happened. I merely reported it to those who are in charge of such things, in the hopes that i am not penalized again.

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Old Feb 15, 00, 12:13 am
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Brian, that was a great letter. I agree with your position: "confirmed" should mean confirmed! This has never happened to me and I know that few things perturb a gate agent more than having to downgrade someone expecting a "leather seat."

I'm glad to hear this is the only time this has happened in 8 years for you. The purser handled it well and I would certainly expect UA to respond to your complaint with an upgrade cert or something similar.
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Old Feb 15, 00, 9:17 am
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Thanks, QL. The funny part is that it really wasn't all that bad because of the unique circumstances. But you can bet the next time it happens, it will be on a weekday with a full plane in Y, and I will have to go right to work when I land, etc. In short, I truly lucked out on this one, but I have to point out the problem so that it doesn't happen again.

By the way, when I boarded and one of the FA's saw me in "her" seat, she came over to see why I was there. I explained, and she said, "Oh. They usually tell us in advance when that's going to happen." So my guess is that this is not the first time in the history of commercial aviation that biz passengers have sat in the FA seats.
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Old Feb 15, 00, 6:56 pm
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Brian, you handled this very, very well, all the way from treating the FAs politely, to the letter. I would also be very distressed to miss a promised upgrade.
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Old Mar 19, 00, 9:24 pm
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Just to wrap up this story, I received a polite apology letter today, and a "time-sensitive" one class upgrade, usable 24 hours in advance for most economy fares, and 72 hours in advance on C or F fares. I will no doubt be able to use it in place of a confirmed one way upgrade.
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Old Mar 20, 00, 12:49 am
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Nice of them to give you 72 hours to upgrade F fares. What exactly do you get upgraded to?
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Old Mar 20, 00, 5:55 am
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... may be to the Co-Pilot's seat?
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Old Mar 20, 00, 10:18 am
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Bravo, Brian! But how you managed to remain zen-like is a mystery to me...I would have bruded and pouted like a child...and probably not been taken care of as you were!!!!
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Old Mar 20, 00, 11:43 am
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I have learned (the hard way) that when I throw a minor temper tantrum, it costs me more than it costs the various people it is directed towards. Maybe they would have accomodated me in a better fashion at the time, but probably they wouldn't. Certainly, however, it would have ruined the balance of my day as I stewed about it, and it would have elevated my blood pressure. It just isn't worth getting that excited over.

So, the final tally is: I got a row to myself, with a full first class meal served to me course by course... I didn't use an upgrade to get it...I got a free upgrade in the mail from United... and I didn't shorten the lifespan of either myself or the flight attendant by having a fit. Not a bad day's flying.
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