I hate the airline industry.
I’m not a frequent flyer. In fact, the last flight I took was in July 2005 (which is a story worthy of a separate post). But my boss travels pretty regularly and I usually make his reservations for him, so I’m familiar with the way the airlines work.
Last week, I made a reservation for Boss to fly to Huntsville, AL. He wanted to leave Monday afternoon (today) and return Thursday afternoon. If I couldn’t find a good flight Thursday, then he’d fly back Friday morning. I found one that worked for him so I bought the tickets through Expedia.
He left this afternoon in what he thought was enough time (to get through security, etc) to make his 4:45 flight, but I guess the time change kinda messed with the clock in his head and he left later than he wanted. Still, we figured he should arrive about 45 minutes to an hour before his flight, which should have been okay.
He arrived at the airport and 4:00 and called me…his flight took off ten minutes earlier.
“What?” I said. “That flight’s not supposed to leave for another 45 minutes!”
“I know,” he said. “Nevertheless, it’s gone. I need another flight.”
And that’s when the drama began.
The airline he was booked with, United, didn’t have any more flights this afternoon, so he was going to have to change airlines. I called Delta real quick and made a reservation. And of course, the time that Expedia was displaying for the Delta flight (5:35) was different than the one the ticket agent gave me on the phone (5:05). While I was doing that, Boss made his way to the Delta counter. I called him back and gave him the info, hoping that would be the end of it.
Of course, you know, it wasn’t.
He called again about 10 minutes later. Seems making that kind of flight change at the last minute highlights you to the TSA, which means extra security on you, which could mean delaying or missing the flight. So he wanted the info on the later flight (8:00 per Expedia, but who knows for sure?) and he said he would take care of everything from there. As of right now, I have no idea where he is. He could be in the air, eating dinner at the airport waiting for the later flight, or he could be driving home and will catch the 6:01 am flight tomorrow.
But the fun’s not over yet, folks.
Since he’s not using his original outbound ticket, the inbound one was going to be cancelled, unless I called United and reserved that portion of his flight (according to the agent at Expedia who, by the way, was surprised to hear about the early flight departure). We couldn’t make the changes then because, according to her computer, we were within one hour of the flight time (wrong—flight’s already gone!) I’d have to make the changes directly with United. Fine. So she connected me to United. I went through their little computerized menu, got to where I was holding for an agent…and got disconnected (show of hands for all who knew that would happen). I called again, went through the menu again, and this time hooked up with “Whatshername” ticket agent in “notanAmericancity”. Her accent was pretty strong, but she spoke slowly and clearly, so I understood her okay. To summarize our conversation, she said “well, your original reservation was made through a travel agency so you’ll have to make your changes through them.”
“No,” I said. “They said they couldn’t because we’re within one hour of the originally scheduled departure time so I have to deal with you directly.”
“Oh, okay, well, there’s nothing we can do then until after the trip is completed (note: meaning Friday) and you can then call and get a refund.”
“But what about the return portion of the ticket I already purchased? He’d like to take that flight home. How do we make sure that portion of the ticket stays active so he can use it?” Keep in mind, this is what the agent at Expedia told me to do.
“No, that portion cannot be used if the first portion goes unused. You have to buy a new return ticket and get a refund for the original ticket.”
Okay, I’m done. I hate it when two separate professionals in the same trade give you two different answers. I supposed the United agent was the one I should believe more because it’s her company, but I was done trying to talk to her.
“Let me speak to your supervisor.”
“Ma’am, she can’t make the return portion of your ticket active if you don’t use the first portion.”
“I want to speak to your supervisor.” Supervisors can do a lot more than the line agents, which is why I wanted to talk to someone above the agent. So she put me on hold points for her for not arguing too much. Ten minutes she comes back on the line.
“Ma’am, I spoke to my supervisor and there’s nothing we can do at this time. You’ll need to make a new return reservation and call on Friday for a refund.”
Well, say goodbye to those points you earned by NOT connecting me to your supervisor as I requested.
“Fine. Thank you. Good bye,” and I hung up. I was done dealing with her.
But the fun doesn’t end there, folks!
I get back online so I can make a brand new reservation for Boss’s return flight. And guess what I found? Anybody? Yes, you, there in the corner…you got it! Extra points to you! The flight at that time is no longer listed! He wanted to leave Huntsville around 3:30—which is what I had originally reserved—but that flight no longer exists. The latest direct flight leaves Huntsville at 1:35. There is one that leaves at 3:30, but it goes through Dallas and doesn’t get into Dulles until 11:55 at night! And it's an hour drive from the airport to here. I wouldn’t book my own worst enemy on that kind of flight.
So I gave up at that point and I went home. I’ll call Boss in the morning and leave him a message on his voice mail letting him know that the fun isn’t over yet. He’ll probably wind up staying Thursday night and leaving Huntsville on Friday morning.
What really ticks me off about this whole thing is the way United changed the flight times. I would think these kinds of changes aren’t made on a whim. They have to be planned out and scheduled carefully so as to be competitive and at the same time considerate of other airlines. If they knew these changes were going to be implemented, why couldn’t I have reserved the new times when I was booking the flight last Friday instead of times that weren’t going to be any good?
Like I said way back at the beginning, I’m not a frequent flyer, so I don’t have the answers to my frustration. You, there, in the corner…any ideas? What? Well, say goodbye to your points.