Do you remember the old United Airlines slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies”? It was the tagline on most of the company’s advertising from 1966 to about 1996. They promised an idyllic in-flight experience comparable to what you might encounter at a 4-star resort. Take a look:
Doesn’t that look like fun? I don’t know about you, but I sure want Nancy as my flight attendant the next time I fly anywhere!
Well, let me tell you something, people. United’s skies may be friendly, but here on the ground the airline is anything but! In fact, this next video is a much more accurate representation of the treatment I received a few days ago when I attempted to fly to California from the Tampa International Airport.
Yes, I said “attempted”. That’s because I never made it on the plane. In fact, I never made it to California at all, although not for lack of trying. Right now, I’m sitting at home in front of my computer, absolutely seething with anger over what happened. You see, dear readers, this Lonesome Traveler has been grounded!
It all started a few months ago when the kind folks at POM Wonderful invited me to come out to California as their guest for the first ever POM Wonderful Harvest Blogger Tour held on October 19-21. The trip was to include a tour of POMS 18,000 acres of pomegranate orchards, a tour of their fruit processing and juicing plant, and a lot of great food, networking and fun. There were around fifteen bloggers invited to participate and I was so flattered and excited to be one of them!
On Monday Mr. SGCC and I got up before dawn (which was a herculean effort for me), and made the 70 mile trip up to the Tampa airport, for what was to be the beginning of another Lonesome Traveler adventure. My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:00 am, with a brief layover in Denver, and land in Fresno around noon.
We arrived at the airport at 7:00. We didn’t want to waste time parking, so Mr. SGCC dropped me off right in front of the United Airlines entrance at the terminal. I stood in line for for a while at the Skycap station to get checked in. When it was my turn, I was told that they couldn’t check me in outside and that I would have to go inside to do so. So, I went inside and waited for a while on another line. By the time I got up to the front of the queue, it was 7:21. I found myself in front of a scrawny, pinchy-faced, little blonde woman with an attitude. I handed over my suitcase and told her that I was checking in for the flight to Denver. Without ever even looking up at me, she informed me that check-in for my flight had just closed and that I wouldn’t be able to get on the flight.
I started to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and told myself that she must have misheard me. After all, she didn’t seem to be paying much attention. So, I tried again.
Me: “No, I’m on the Denver flight. It’s not set to take off for another forty minutes.”
Pinchy-Faced Snotty United Airlines Employee: “I heard you. That flight is closed.”
Me: (incredulously) “Closed? What do you mean closed?”
P-FSUAE: “I mean closed. We have a 45 minute cut off time.”
Me: “But…I was here well before that! I’ve been waiting in line outside and then on this one since 7:00!”
P-FSUAE: (randomly punching keys on her computer) “Well, you weren’t here. It’s 45 minutes from the time you get here.”
Me: “Are you serious! I have plenty of time to make that flight! I didn’t even know that you had a 45 minute cut-off! Every other airline I’ve flown on has a 30 minute cut-off”
P-FSUAE: (still not looking at me) “Well, it’s on our web site. You should have checked.”
Me: “Look. I didn’t make these travel arrangements. Someone else made them for me. If I had, I probably would have checked your web site. But, it never occurred to me to do so. In the time we’ve wasted debating this, I could have already gotten through security and been on the plane! I NEED to get on that plane!!!”
P-FSUAE: (as she turns and walks away) “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”
Me: (really pissed off and a little hysterical) “Listen lady, don’t you walk away from me! I want to talk to your supervisor.”
P-FSUAE: “She’ll tell you the same thing. We can’t check you in.”
Me: (begging) “Please! Isn’t there anything I can do to get on that flight (like buying you a condo in the Bahamas) This is a really special trip? I’ve driven all the way up here from Sarasota!”
Me: (thinking shitshitshitshit) “Sigh…Okay, can you get me on another flight that will eventually get me to Fresno?”
P-FSUAE: (back at the computer, clicking away) “You can go standby to Chicago, then standby to Los Angelis and then standby to Fresno. If you make it on all of the flights, you’ll get to Fresno at 10:30 pm Pacific time.”
Me: “That’s it? So, what are my chances of making it on all three flights?”
P-FSUAE: (looking down again) “Not good.”
Me: “So, there’s a good chance that I’ll be stranded in either Chicago or L.A.?”
Me: “That’s it?”
Me: “Whatever happened to ‘The Friendly Skies of United’?”
P-FSUAE: (blank stare and no response)
Then, P-FSUAE turned and walked away again, leaving me standing there with my suitcase, my unused ticket and an angry mob forming behind me. I had no choice but to call Mr. SGCC and tell him to come back and get me.
I was crestfallen! I was bereft! But most of all, I was f%@$*&g FURIOUS!!
(Photo from istockphoto.com)
When Mr. SGCC got back to the airport, we spent the next two hours running from one airline counter to the next trying to get me on a plane that somehow would end up in Fresno that day. We got bupkis. I do want to note, however, that every single employee we spoke to from every other airline was helpful, courteous and sympathetic – unlike those at United. One lady at Continental told us that the United flight was probably overbooked and that they had most likely given away my seat before I’d ever even had my unpleasant exchange with P-FSUAE. Based on P-FSUAE’s rapt attention to her computer screen, she probably already knew that while she was arguing with me!
Before leaving the airport, we eventually did speak to a rather apathetic United Airlines supervisor who told us that the reason that they didn’t check me in was because I had a suitcase to check. She said that if I had only had only a carry-on bag, I could have still gotten on my flight.
I had plenty of room in my carry-on bag for some fresh underwear and a change of clothes. I could have easily left my suitcase behind with Mr. SGCC and just picked up a few things in Fresno. But, I didn’t have that option, because P-FSUAE, never told me that I was being denied because of my suitcase! Remember, I asked her if there was anything I could do to get on that plane? Why didn’t she tell me then?
I posed that same question to the apathetic supervisor and do you know what she said to me? You’re gonna love this one! She looked me right in the eye and told me “Well, you should have known that.”
I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT???
How the f*&# should I have known that? It’s not like I work for United Airlines and have anything to do with setting their policies! I’m not a seasoned traveler who globetrots around the world and flies all the time! I’m just a poor schlub food blogger who was given a once in a lifetime opportunity and got screwed because of a lazy and callous airline employee who never got the memo that the customer is always right!
By the way, when I finally got home and after I called Jeff at POM Wonderful to tell him what had happened, I did go and take a look on the United Airlines web site. With a little digging, I did find the section about check-in times and yes, there is a 45 minute cut-off for baggage – not passengers. It was not listed under the Itineraries and Check-in section, which is where I would think is the logical place for such information. Instead, it was listed in the Baggage section at the bottom of the page under the heading “Additional Information”. If United Airlines is such a stickler on this issue, shouldn’t this information be more prominently displayed and easier to find? In fact, why isn’t this rule printed on the travel documents themselves?
I’ve also spoken to several travel agents about what happened and every one told me that United Airlines was notorious for puling this sort of thing on passengers and that they were difficult to work with. Each agreed with the theory that the flight was probably oversold and that they gave away my seat.
Now, I’m not saying that I am completely blameless in all of this. In retrospect, I probably should have checked out the web site and I might have learned about the check-in rule. Though, I wouldn’t have been looking for it, so maybe not. Since I’d never, ever had this situation come up before, it never occurred to me that this could happen.
What do you all think about it? Was United Airlines right or wrong in refusing to allow me to board my flight when there was still time to do so? Since I had obviously been waiting on line prior to the cut-off time, should they have tried to accommodate me? Should P-FSUAE have explained to me that it was my baggage that was the problem and let me have the option of leaving it behind? Should the airline be more aggressive in letting passengers know that there even is a cut-off time? Or, do you all think that I am a big crybaby who got what she deserved?
Jeff from POM and the other lucky bloggers who actually got to attend were kind enough to keep me posted on all that I was missing was happening. I alternated between being happy and sad about that. From all of the pictures and posts I’ve seen, I think they all had a wonderful time. Below is a list of links of all the bloggers who were there. I wish I could have met them. I hope you check out their blogs and see for yourself that POM Wonderful really is wonderful!