Well, maybe I don’t actually “love” United Airlines, but for years I’ve been a loyal customer, choosing them over other airlines going to the same place, even, in some cases, when their flights weren’t as convenient as their competitors’. But my experience with them today has made me question my judgment.

It’s often the little things that make a difference. When I checked in online for my flight from San Francisco to Boston I discovered that the one bag I planned to check would cost me $15. I haven’t been living in a cave so I knew about the plans various airlines announced last year about charging for checked bags, but this was the first time the fee had been applied to me. “Nonrefundable,” the note on the computer screen said. “Forget it,” I muttered, figuring I’d wait until I got to the airport to decide whether to check or carry on.

I happen to detest carrying luggage onto airplanes. In my darkest moments I could probably confess to detesting those who do carry their bags onto airplanes, but it’s only those who bring along their spare sofas disguised as wheeled luggage who truly bother me.

But I also am no fan of standing around a luggage carousel waiting for a bag to magically appear, so I do wheel on my rollaboard from time to time. These days, though, with the regrettable proscriptions on liquids in containers larger than three ounces, I usually just check my bag to avoid the hassle of trying to smuggle a four-ounce bottle of contact lens solution on board.

But $15 is $15, right? Well, the friendly skycap at SFO seemed chagrined that he had to charge me, and he couldn’t take cash, only credit cards (what, United doesn’t trust their hard-working, always-smiling, ever-efficient skycaps to turn in the cash?), not to mention that his tips probably go straight out the window when passengers have to pony up. But I decided in the end I’d rather not hassle with the bag through security, and I gave him a cash tip for his trouble.

Then I looked at my receipt and there it was, plain as day, United’s vaunted customer service culture staring me in the face: “Excess Baggage Ticket Customer Receipt” it read.

I breathed an expletive. Excess baggage indeed.

At the gate I saw the usual gathering of sofa-wheeling passengers, some with toasters, one actually trying to stuff a four-burner stovetop range into a black canvas bag designed to fit in the overhead bin.

My boarding pass had a big “Seating 4” boldly printed on it, meaning that I’d be in the last group to board because I had an aisle seat. I didn’t mind, all I had was a small computer bag with a couple of books. But then the gate agent announced that the plane was filling up, and all passengers in number four seating group with rollaboard luggage should come to the counter to check in their bags because there wouldn’t be room on board for them. “Do it now,” she said, “so you don’t have to come all the way back from the jetway when you’re told there’s no room.”

Amusing, I thought. I’m sure United’s bean-counters didn’t think about this when they imposed their $15 checked-luggage fee. Not only are they forcing people to carry on every last piece of luggage to avoid the surcharge, now they’re going to have to do battle with livid passengers being told they can’t carry on their bags, they need to check them here at the gate, and each one will be $15, please.

Imagine the uproar. We’ll never get to Boston, I figured.

Except there was no charge.

After observing a half dozen friendly — and FREE — transactions, I approached the agent and said, “If I had brought my bag here to the gate instead of checking it in at the curb I would have saved $15?”

She smiled. “You sure would have!”

This is why I love United Airlines.

Filed Under Air Travel, Travel


9 Responses to “I Love United Airlines”

  1. Shashank Nigam on March 20th, 2009 12:28 am

    Larry, you’re not the only one it seems who’s turned off by United’s double standards and additional fees.

    Check this out: http://simpliflying.com/2009/the-airline-brand-suffers-big-when-big-spenders-get-frustrated-with-hidden-fees-true-story-united-airlines/

  2. Logan on January 12th, 2010 12:50 pm

    Obviously not as loyal a traveler as you think if you are in seating area 4. Even those with the lowest status board in seating area 1. Also, those with status may check baggage for free (although folks who travel that often know better than to check baggage.)

  3. Patricia on May 31st, 2010 4:33 pm

    I too have been a loyal United customer for years and years - I always choose them and take unnecessary trips to make sure to get enough miles each year to qualify for Premier status. I booked a recent trip for my Mother to travel across the country to visit me and it was the biggest travel-related nightmare I have ever experienced.

    I booked the trip online, along with a mileage upgrade both directions. The confirmation email said the trip had not been ticketed, without explanation of why, and said I had to call in to ticket the reservation. I did so immediately. The agent was unable to simply issue the ticket with the same credit card information I used to book the flight, so took it upon himself to cancel the first booking and reissue. He said he was unable to confirm the upgrade on the way out until I jumped up and down and screamed and yelled, then he magically found he could confirm the upgrade, same seat as I had booked.

    All was well, or so I thought until I realized that my credit card had not only been charged twice for the $600 flight, but I had been charged $25 for booking by phone. After several of those calls where you have to wait 30-45 minutes to talk to a live person, I learned it would take some time. i got a $250 courtesy credit toward a future flight for the inconvenience, but no credit to my credit card until I called the credit card company and get them to take it off.

    But that’s not the end of the trouble. Mom took the flight out and had very substandard service in first class - the only thing you get these days is a bigger seat. The service was awful and not worth the miles and $$$.

    Then, for her return, I was unable to get her checked in online for some reason I still don’t understand, but we got some sort of certificate to give the agent when we arrived. I called to inquire about the source of the problem and was told to just give the certificate to the agent and everything would be fine. I explained about the upgrade and was told all was well - no problem, and confirmed a wheelchair.

    When we got to the airport for the return trip, there was no record that she had paid for the upgrade with her miles - it took the agent 20 minutes to get mileage plus on the line and to confirm the upgrade. There was no wheelchair. First class was awful again - no video, no service, no first class anything.

    When she got home, Mom realized she had been overcharged 15,000 for the upgrades. She tried to get the 15,000 put back in her account online, to no avail. I have now been on the phone for 1 hour and 20 minutes, have talked to 6 people and still haven’t gotten the 15,000 put back in her account.

    I’m looking for a new airline that really wants my loyalty and my business.

  4. kenin on July 11th, 2010 9:39 pm

    United needs to go out of business…they couldn’t manage a car wash let alone an airline…let a new airline business with a clue and customer friendly model move in.

  5. fthomas on July 20th, 2010 6:33 pm

    I presently have close to 300K United Airlines Miles and I have come to the conclusion they are worthless or close to that. I would like to take my family overseas for a trip. I cannot find a single destination with open seats, even a year out, with Standard Miles. I even tried one seat from Denver to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for every day for a year out. Not a single Standard Mileage opening. I sent United customer service an email with my issue and they have not replied… that was a few months ago.

    These mileage programs are like Wall Street and a big implosion of all these programs has occurred, but there is no one to bail them out. United Airlines is just not telling anyone that there is nothing in the accounts to redeem against. A big fat scam.

  6. Sam P. on August 27th, 2010 5:50 pm

    Recently on my united trip from Osaka, Japan: This is what I wrote to united Airlines: My name is Sam Potts. I am a full-time student that lives in Denver Colorado. I recently flew with United from Osaka, Japan (KIX) to Denver, Colorado. I had to buy this ticket on an emergency basis. I paid the full Y fare for an economy class ticket. I was traveling with a broken clavicle (Collar bone) from a previous accident. So, when checking in at the ticket counter in KIX, I inquired about how much it would be to upgrade to business class. The ticket agent quoted that it would be Seventy($70.00) USD. I specifically remember being surprised by the price, so I asked again for clarification that it would be seventy USD and the ticket agent say “yes”. So I agreed to buy the upgrade. About a week later when the charge posted to my bank account, I was shocked to see that I have been charged $ 791.26 for the upgrade. If I would have known that the upgrade to business class was going to be that much, I would have NEVER agreed to the upgrade as because I did not even have that much in my bank account. I am now negative on my my Chase bank account due to this unacceptable error.–

    This was Uniteds response:

    Receive Business Response BBB - Please note that our guest will receive an email directly from United that includes the certificate number and terms.

    August 19, 2010

    Dear Mr. Potts:

    I am responding to your complaint filed with the Better Business Bureau, BBB.

    I’m sorry to hear that you broke your collar bone prompting you to seek a more comfortable seat in Business Class on your return flights with us from Osaka to Denver on May 17, 2010. Additionally, we regret that you thought the price to upgrade your return flights would be only $70.00 vs. the actually cost of $726.68. Please accept my sincere apology for any miscommunication or misunderstanding that may have occurred between you and our representative.

    As you are a current college student, I can appreciate your request for a reimbursement of the unexpected fees under the circumstances you describe. I can only reiterate what my colleagues in the Refunds Department had previously advised. Since the service you purchased was provided and you did occupy a seat in Business Class, we are unable to honor your specific request. While I can’t undo the circumstances you experienced, please accept a $250 electronic travel certificate as a gesture of our commitment to serving you better in the future. The travel certificate is listed below along with the terms and conditions for your reference. Your certificate is transferable and can be redeemed online at united.com for travel on United and United Express. In addition, please accept a check in the amount of $100 as a gesture of goodwill. We hope you will use the check to work with Chase to begin to bring your account up to date. The check will be issued under separate cover and should reach your Denver address within 15 business days.

    We hope you will give United another opportunity to serve you the way we mutually expect and that you truly deserve.


    Sharon Kristensen
    United Airlines Customer Relations

    This was my Response:Thank you for the swift response. Unfortunately this does not solve my issue with my bank or Uniteds Customer Service Satisfaction. As you will clearly see, I already had paid the full Y fare for a last minute ticket that I had just bought a couple of hours before the flight started boarding. My ticket was over $2000 dollars one way! If I could take back my seat in Economy, I would have gladly done so. But I was lead to believe it was one price and then it was stated improperly by Uniteds contracted employee at ANA. By the time I could realize this, I was already done with my trip and in Denver. Because of this transaction, my personal bank account was overdrawn and I was charged fees accordingly. The verbal exchange I had with the United ticketing agent was misleading and manipulative. I feel that an employee of United should be held fully accountable for the information they provide to international passengers.

    If I cannot resolve this matter directly through the BBB or by United, The next step will have to come from a federal level.



    Chase gave a provisional Refund to investigate the fraud. United confirmed the amount was valid and I signed for it so Chase Reversed the refund because they could not recover the funds. As seen above, I reported the claim to BBB of Chicago and am still in the process of fighting this. Any Suggestions?

  7. Paula on February 18th, 2011 2:54 pm

    If you have enjoyed your status on United, and the access to Economy Plus seating — beware. The good seats (exits, for example) are now blocked out from us schmucks that are just plain old Premier. You have to be Exec. Premier to get those seats. Even though it clearly says in the seating choice window, “You have access to our Economy Plus seats!”. Yeah, right.

  8. Carol on April 1st, 2011 11:04 pm

    UAL/CO takes away more benefits from retired employees. Our pension cuts were painful but at least in retirement we knew we could look forward to discount travel and priority boarding (on a standby basis) Now that CO has taken over, they have dropped retiree travel status to the bottom of the food chain. Now active employees(even new hires) can board first along with 2 buddies and extended family members (in laws, siblings, non dependent children, grandparents and grandchildren.) So, the long time employees that helped UAL survive labor disputes and bankruptcy have been slapped in the face. Not only does UAL abuse passengers, they abuse their veteran employees as well.

  9. Joan Kovatch on April 25th, 2011 11:17 pm

    I too have been “blessed” with a United Airlines “Customer Relations” encounter and would like to share it in the hopes that people will find an alternative method of travel:

    This is a copy of my email to United:

    Here is my story:
    Upon arrival at the gate to depart from Winnipeg on Feb 21st there was a group of young men who had obviously been drinking prior to getting there.

    One of these individuals was quite loud and obnoxious, to the point that when I was seated on the plane I was surprised when I saw that he had been allowed to board the aircraft.

    After considerable delay a United Flight Attendant boarded the plane and asked for him to leave. (Which he did without incident)

    When I arrived in Denver I realized there was a group of more than 15 passengers who were on the flight with me that were all trying to get to the gate for our connecting flight to Las Vegas.

    We all sprinted through the airport and arrived at the gate about 5–8 minutes prior to the departure of our next flight (Flight 717)

    Upon arrival at the gate there was no one available from United.

    We waited about 5 minutes for someone to attend the booth at the gate to take our boarding passes and as we watched out the window we saw the walkway to the airplane be drawn back from the aircraft.

    After about 10 more minutes I went to another gate and asked another United representative if they could give me any information as to what I/we should do.

    This agent pointed me in the direction of customer service.

    The United Airlines Customer Service Representative informed us that we had all be rescheduled on a flight the following day.

    She looked up departures for later on the evening of the 21st and was able to get us onto Flight 779 on the 21st.

    (Personally, the delay, which in my estimation could have been avoided, caused my father (who is 80 years old) to sit in the Las Vegas Airport for 2 1/2 hours waiting for me as his flight, which should have arrived after mine had in fact arrived before. When he asked for information at the desk about my flight he was told that they were unable to help him due to the “privacy act”.)

    One of the passengers who was connecting on the same flights as I was spoke to the customer service rep and she said that we would be compensated for our inconvenience. She recommended that we each send an email to United Customer Relations.

    This email is coming to you today as I wanted to make sure that there were no more issues on my return trip with United Airlines.

    In comparison to my experience on Flight 6562 the problems with Flight 6721 were minor but none the less I feel the need to mention them.

    There was no potable water on board and as such hot beverages were not available, and in order to use the restroom it was necessary to obtain a bottle of water and use it to fill and rinse the toilet. As well as use it to wash your hands…..not exactly a above standard experience.

    Here are my concerns:

    1. Why would the United Agents manning the gate at the Winnipeg terminal have ever let an intoxicated individual onto the flight. This definitely caused some concern for myself and I’m sure others, as we watched the entire situation unfold. At points I even considered getting off the flight myself and if the individual had not been asked to leave that may have been my course of action.……The Flight Attendant for Flight 6562 should never have been put in the position of having to make the call she did. Hats off to her for her attentiveness and her desire to ensure the safety of all of the passengers on her flight. For this she should definitely be commended.

    2. Knowing that there were in excess of 15 passengers who would be affected by the delay, why did United not radio ahead and make arrangements for the walkway to be accessed right up until the last minute on Flight 717. And if this was not possible, why was there not an agent available at the gate immediately to allay our concerns and ensure that we were kept informed of all goings on regarding our travel.

    3. Why if there was availability on Flight 779 was I not immediately booked on that flight as opposed to being booked for the next day?

    4. The line up at Customer Service was extremely long before the group from Flight 6562 ever arrived there, and the counter was being manned by 2 people?

    5. Is the maintenance of aircraft at such a low priority for United that you would not have realized the problem with the water on Flight 6721 and have it fixed???

    It took over a month and a half to get a reply to my email…..as well when I tried to call “Customer Relations” I was told they only work via email……Asking to speak to the President of United got me a 20% discount on my next flight with United…..the result from my email…..10% off my next flight……
    I will continue to spread the word to avoid United Airlines in the hope that they will eventually go out of business and allow more runway space for an airline that cares about their customers!!!!

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