This week a blogger posted a lengthy rant about his customer service experience with United Airlines over the Thanksgiving weekend. The short version of his story is that he bought a roundtrip ticket, didn’t show for the first flight (drove instead), so United canceled the reservation. A few days later, he shows up wanting to take the return flight only to be told he no longer had a reservation. Standard operating procedure for just about every airline I know of, but the guts of his post reveal more, and I actually take his side on some of it. I know there are two sides to every story, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
It really boils down to proper communication that manages expectations. First, I’ll fail the blogger, for not realizing the no-show policy is standardized across the industry. Doesn’t everyone know that? At the same time, I will take his side and fail United for the way he was passed around in a very believable way. I’d recommend reading the full account to see what I mean. The highlights of United’s errors include:
- Sending him the “Online check-in is now available” email for his return flight after it had likely already canceled. This absolutely should not have happened.
- At check-in, assuming he must have the wrong airline or confirmation code.
- Passing him off several times to various telephone and airport agents.
In the end he makes some valid points, but is incorrect in saying he “was offered zero recourse.” It sounds like United did offer the next available flight late in the afternoon for the going fare at the time, which was more than $300. Instead, he went over to Virgin America, where he had a very pleasant experience and found a cheaper fare on an earlier flight home. From a pure customer relations standpoint, though, he details seven “Lessons Learned” which should be on the must-read list for every airline front-line employee.
My main reason for posting this is due to the responses he received from his post. At the time I read it, more than 30 people had posted comments, and it is a curious case of perception and awareness of airline policies as to whose side they took. I saw 16 people agree with the blogger and are putting United on their “no fly” list, whereas only 9 people acknowledged United did nothing wrong on policy, but could have been softer in their delivery. My takeaway from this is that United really could have done a better job handling this scenario, but at the same time, it could have easily been the same story had he flown Virgin to begin with, and went over to United for redemption.