UA SFO-IAH-PTY [14-Jan-2013] - A new low

Old Jan 14, 13, 8:51 am
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UA SFO-IAH-PTY [14-Jan-2013] - A new low

I purchased two first class tickets (paid Z) to fly SFO-IAH-PTY in November for myself and companion.

I needed to be in Panama City on Jan 16, so I purchased the flight for Jan 14, allowing a full two-day buffer to allow for any reasonably foreseeable type of IRROP.

I selected seats for all segments at time of booking. I monitored the reservation and the seat assignments every few weeks to ensure that they were still in place. I printed the itinerary, which showed booking classes and seat assignments, a day before departure.

The day before check-in, I received an email asking me to check-in online. My online check-in request was refused, because the system said my passport needed to be verified, yet again. This, despite the fact that I have flown more than 500,000 international miles on UA on the same passport including no fewer than 4-6 trips with this passport under SHARES.

After being denied check-in online, I received an automated phone call from United, asking me to check-in again. This time, I just ignored it.

I arrived at SFO at 5:00am for a 6:39am departure, allowing a full 1:40 for any foreseeable snafus during the check-in process.

I handed my bags to the check-in agent outside the airport. He said that the computer would not allow him to accept my bags, so he took me to the interior check-in area.

After checking in, I was handed a boarding pass that had “***” for the seat. I was told that there was no seat for me or my companion and that seats would be given to us at the gate. I explained that I paid for first class and that I did have a seat assignment. The agent said that I didn’t pay for first class, and that I was wait-listed for an upgrade. I produced the itinerary (step 3) to show her that it was a paid first class ticket and to show her the seat assignments that I had less than 24 hours ago. She told me that I didn’t pay for first class and I never requested a seat and there was nothing more she could do. She said that as far as she could tell, the aircraft was down-gauged from an A320 to an A320. That is not a typo. But, there was nothing she could do, because we never had seats in the first place!

I asked her to get a supervisor. She called the supervisor’s phone number but nobody answered. I told her that was not acceptable. She tried, then, to get a supervisor on the radio.

After about 10 minutes, a supervisor showed up and reviewed the situation but said there was nothing he could do. He suggested I call the 1K line, because they can see and do things that the front-agents cannot do.

I called the 1K desk. The first agent who I got was not able to understand english properly and after 3 attempts to get him to comprehend my record locator, I hung up. Then, tried again. The second agent located my record and said that she had no idea why I had no seat, just that I had not seat. I asked her to look up the history to figure out what happened. She said that she cannot look at the history, that is done by another department. I sat on hold for 11 minutes while she tried to get the “other” department to help her look at my seat assignment history and figure out why my assigned seats had disappeared. She came back and said that nobody is able to see seat assignment history, all she knows is that I have no seat, and as far as she knows, I never requested a seat. Furthermore, she said there was nothing whatsoever she could do to help with the situation. I asked her what she suggested I do. She told me that I should email customer relations. Honestly! The agent said that the only option for me to get any help was to email customer relations and sit at the airport waiting for a reply!

There were two segments. SFO-IAH and IAH-PTY. Both of those segments were in paid first class and both had confirmed seats. Our assigned seats were taken away on all flights, all segments. As far as she could tell, there were no issues with the IAH-PTY flight. She said I was “wait-listed” for seats in first class on the second leg, despite the fact that I had paid for seats in first class, and had confirmed seats at time of booking, and had checked those seats every few weeks, and had printed out the confirmed seat assignments less than 24 hours before.

This entire process lasted 1 hour. When 6:00am approached, I realized that there was no further point in arguing, because I needed to get to the gate for the 6:39am departure. So, they printed two boarding passes. Each of them had no seat assignment (the seat was listed as ***) and the passes had no bar code on them.

The TSA agent refused entry to us because the passes were not valid without a bar code. They forced us to go back to the check-in area and said we could not enter the airport without a valid boarding pass with a bar code. The duty manager at the check-in desk (who I had been working with in step 8b above) said there was nothing he could do. This is what the system gave him, and he had no ability to make it do anything else.

The manager walked back with us to the TSA and pleaded with them to let us through. The TSA refused. He asked for a supervisor. They got a supervisor. The supervisor refused. He asked for an escalation and they got the next higher supervisor. She refused. He told them that there was nothing else he could do and that this was a valid boarding pass. The supervisor of the supervisor got on the phone with TSA HQ to ask for an exception. All this went on for 30 minutes. We were now 9 minutes from departure. Finally, she got approval from HQ and allowed us through. I could not use Pre-Check since the system could not scan me.

When we got to the gate, the gate agent presented us with forms to sign that said we were volunteering to give up our seats! I refused to sign the form and I told them there was nothing whatsoever voluntary about their refusal to give us the seats we had paid for, confirmed, and held for more than 2 months. They said that we could not get on the airplane unless we signed that paper. We fought about this for several minutes and I insisted that under no condition was I going to sign a legal document saying that I was volunteering to give up my seat. The interaction almost came to physical blows when I started tearing up that form and the manager grabbed it back from me.

When it became clear that we could not be manipulated, we were given boarding passes for middle seats in economy, in separate rows from each other, and told to get on the plane.

What’s most astounding about this experience is that all of these agents are UA veterans with 10-20 years experience. I knew 3 out of 4 of them. While this behavior is standard at EWR or IAH, the fact that old-time veterans who had delivered consistently excellent service have devolved to this kind of behavior is, well, I’m just at a loss for words.

Upgrades are gone. A game of bait and switch. Nothing but lies. I get it. So, I step up to the plate and buy a Z fare, and they throw me into a middle seat in economy. This is far and away a new low, and this airline has reached a depth that I never even imagined possible.

Update 1: Events from 1/14-1/30 and return flight.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...l#post20157178

Update 2: Response to DOT complaint.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...l#post20161455

Update 3: Conversation with SVP at UA in Chicago.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/20322482-post450.html

Update 4: Final update after in-person meetings and follow up.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/20568020-post539.html

Last edited by FlyWorld; Apr 10, 13 at 9:01 am Reason: Added links to updates.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 8:59 am
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Honestly, that is insane.

Were it anyone else, I'd think that the person missed something, but not you.

I can only express my shock as well - especially with folks you know - and asking you to sign something voluntarily giving your seats away is insane.

I hope you get fully compensated for your troubles.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:00 am
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Aacharya, I'm even shocked. I'm filing a DOT complaint now. Compensation is one thing, but calling this voluntary crosses any acceptable threshold. I have read a few other posts reporting this type of experience. It's really true. And, I'm sure most people just sign it without even reading it.

Last edited by FlyWorld; Jan 14, 13 at 9:08 am
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:10 am
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Originally Posted by mitchmu View Post
Aacharya, I'm even shocked. I'm filing a DOT complaint now. Compensation is one thing, but calling this voluntary crosses any acceptable threshold. I have read a few other posts reporting this type of experience. It's really true. And, I'm sure most people just sign it without even reading it.
You need to make sure to point that out in the DOT complaint. I'm wondering how many other less sophisticated travelers are suckered into signing the VDB form as well.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:12 am
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Originally Posted by FlyingNut724 View Post
You need to make sure to point that out in the DOT complaint. I'm wondering how many other less sophisticated travelers are suckered into signing the VDB form as well.
My DOT complaint (completed) is exactly four sentences long. That is the only point I am formally complaining about. Because, I don't want that to get lost in all the detail. I attached the points in my message as a supporting PDF, along with a PDF of the receipt showing the confirmed and assigned seats in row 2. But, as for what I "complained" about - just that one point so it's clear.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:12 am
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I'm not sure, but according to cwsi.net and other websites, Z class is not First Class.

Description:
"Heavily discounted Business Class - CANNOT (officially) be upgraded using either miles or SWU's or Sales Dept upgrade certificates."

It's possible you were confirmed in coach and waitlisted in F on the SFO-IAH portion.
Maybe there was no F cabin SFO-IAH.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:18 am
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Let us know what you hear back from the DoT. It sounds like the salient issues are that (1) you were denied a seat in the cabin you had paid for in non-compliance with UA's published rules for IDBs and (2) you were asked to fraudulently sign a "volunteer form" and told you would otherwise be unable to board the plane.

Did IAH-PTY work out okay?

This is not a voluntary downgrade. You are owed a cash refund of the fare difference from Z to the lowest available coach fare at time of purchase (good luck figuring that out) and UA should be offering additional goodwill, at a minimum the amount spelled out in GG OVS DOWNGRADE for a 1600-mile flight.

I'm really glad to hear you made it onto your flight at SFO! I'm a bit surprised that the SFO agents couldn't / wouldn't issue you a gate pass (vs. begging the TSA to let you through with a boarding pass with no barcode). It sounds like there were several service delivery failures there.

Originally Posted by azstar View Post
I'm not sure, but according to cwsi.net and other websites, Z class is not First Class.

Description:
"Heavily discounted Business Class - CANNOT (officially) be upgraded using either miles or SWU's or Sales Dept upgrade certificates."

It's possible you were confirmed in coach and waitlisted in F on the SFO-IAH portion.
Maybe there was no F cabin SFO-IAH.
In this context (a two cabin aircraft) the Z fare class is a paid first class fare. It tickets into the First cabin on two-cabin equipment. It's very much First.

Indeed, United doesn't actually offer any other other cabin called First — the product they offer on three-cabin equipment goes by the subtly different name "GlobalFirst" or "p.s. First" depending on whether it's SFO/LAX-JFK or anything else.

It's not even a queasy quasi-VUP/HUP First which sometimes causes headaches for ill-informed agents.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:23 am
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Good job resisting signing the VDB docs. Someone screwed up and they had no clue how to deal with it.

This airline is in the dumps.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:25 am
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Originally Posted by azstar View Post
I'm not sure, but according to cwsi.net and other websites, Z class is not First Class.

Description:
"Heavily discounted Business Class - CANNOT (officially) be upgraded using either miles or SWU's or Sales Dept upgrade certificates."

It's possible you were confirmed in coach and waitlisted in F on the SFO-IAH portion.
Maybe there was no F cabin SFO-IAH.
This was confirmed first class, not an x-up fare, and I had seat assignments. In fact, I am on the flight now, and sitting in a middle seat in economy, using WIFI, and SHARES shows me in 2A.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:26 am
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The remedy on this is predefined in GG OVS DOWNGRADE.

I believe for a flight of this length (SFO-IAH) it's a $200 or $250 voucher plus the fare difference from First to Coach since you paid for First, refunded to the original form of payment.

At a minimum, you should get that.

As for the other stuff -- misinformation, lies, broken technology, etc., whatever you want to call it. That's par for the course these days. The system is clumsy, people have no clue how or why things happened, and trying to get answers out of them is just going to frustrate you more.

Just go with the flow, and make them pay. Last time they did this to me, I didn't fight. They said F was oversold, I said fine, how much is the comp? Other were arguing, fists on the counter and everything. It didn't get them anywhere. I got my voucher, and I was done. What more can you do when you're at the airport?
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:31 am
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Originally Posted by mitchmu View Post
This was confirmed first class, not an x-up fare, and I had seat assignments. In fact, I am on the flight now, and sitting in a middle seat in economy, using WIFI, and SHARES shows me in 2A.
You have to check the fare basis. Q/V-Ups frequently book into Z. That doesn't excuse what happened. Its been going on for years at United and Delta (that I have experienced). You go online and book "First" and pay what they ask and then get the nonsense about you didn't book first you booked coach with a free upgrade when you get to the airport if anyone has sneezed near your reservation.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:33 am
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
Let us know what you hear back from the DoT. It sounds like the salient issues are that (1) you were denied a seat in the cabin you had paid for in non-compliance with UA's published rules for IDBs and (2) you were asked to fraudulently sign a "volunteer form" and told you would otherwise be unable to board the plane.

Did IAH-PTY work out okay?

This is not a voluntary downgrade. You are owed a cash refund of the fare difference from Z to the lowest available coach fare at time of purchase (good luck figuring that out) and UA should be offering additional goodwill, at a minimum the amount spelled out in GG OVS DOWNGRADE for a 1600-mile flight.

I'm really glad to hear you made it onto your flight at SFO! I'm a bit surprised that the SFO agents couldn't / wouldn't issue you a gate pass (vs. begging the TSA to let you through with a boarding pass with no barcode). It sounds like there were several service delivery failures there.
Will do regarding DOT.

You captured the two salient issues.

Besides that, is a page worth of pathetic operational failures. But, that's not unusual. As explained in my post, I prepared to the maximum possible level for those - even to the point of traveling with more than a full day to spare.

We'll see what happens at IAH. In flight now. Since I'll be facing up against sCO there, I doubt they'll even let me fly. A this point, I'm prepared to buy a ticket on AA and take them to court if need be. Should have just taken them up on that status match offer last year.

The supervisor did issue a downgrade compensation ticket. It "might" be worth "up to" $500 on "selected" UA flights. Why did he issue me downgrade compensation when the other agent said I never even had a seat in F to begin with? I've never used one of those before but if it's like everything else, it'll be worthless, I'll get caught up in one trap or another trying to use it.

And, yes, while he was pleading with the TSA to let me get to my flight, he did have another agent working on a process to issue a gate pass. But, that process took longer than the TSA escalation process, and TSA said "yes" faster.

Last edited by FlyinHawaiian; Jan 14, 13 at 10:48 am
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:33 am
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Originally Posted by channa View Post
The remedy on this is predefined in GG OVS DOWNGRADE.

I believe for a flight of this length (SFO-IAH) it's a $200 or $250 voucher plus the fare difference from First to Coach since you paid for First, refunded to the original form of payment.
In 2009 (http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/11415190-post14.html) the amounts were

The ETC is based on the distance between the origin and destination of the oversold segment:
1-1000 miles $200
1001-2000 $250
2001-3000 $500
3001-4000 $1,000
4001+ $1,500
SFO-IAH is about 1600 mi.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:34 am
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Originally Posted by Beerman92 View Post
You have to check the fare basis. Q/V-Ups frequently book into Z. That doesn't excuse what happened. Its been going on for years at United and Delta (that I have experienced). You go online and book "First" and pay what they ask and then get the nonsense about you didn't book first you booked coach with a free upgrade.
UA's downgrade policy doesn't care how you got into F. It could have been a CPU upgrade, and they still are supposed to handle it.

Even if he were on an instant-up fare, the fare difference would be between that fare and the lowest Coach fare available on his date of purchase.
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Old Jan 14, 13, 9:35 am
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Wow....just.....WOW!

Usually I see "a new low" threads and roll my eyes. Not so in this case.

Please keep us posted on the resolution.
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