Consumer Complaint: United Airlines

Summary: I was booking an international ticket on United with frequent flyer miles and there was a problem with the info saved on my Mileage Plus account — because the United Visa database got hacked a few years ago.   But the India call center, instead of telling me about the problem, stonewalled me and then hung up on me. I would never have gotten my ticket if I had patiently waited, as they told me too.

If you want to skip the story, here’s the moral: Sometimes being a bitch is necessary. It works. Waiting patiently when people ask you to may leave you — waiting patiently.  Forever. 

Don’t bother reading the rest unless you’re a regular United flyer and/or have a Mileage Plus account –  or enjoy reading about consumer angst. I post these consumer complaints because

  1. other people with similar problems find these posts and they may be helpful
  2. I hope that at least some of these companies are smart enough to be monitoring how they show in the blogosphere and
  3. If, like me, you don’t fly United often but do have miles accumulated with them: the same could happen to you.

(Do I have enough links back to United? Want to make this easy for them to find.  I’ll smear tags all over it, too.)

If this doesn’t apply to you, you can stop here.  Unless you ENJOY reading tales of consumer woe. In which case, read on:


Booked FF ticket online and had to pay for fees plus upgrade.  Got an email that said my flight would be ticketed within 24 hours (huh?), with a # to call if I needed it sooner. A friend is going to book (and pay for) the same flights, so I needed to know my rez went through.  So I  called.

The guy was really friendly, said he’d email the seat assignments right away (too long to explain),  then said he had to check with his “help center” about something in his screen, came back and said coldly that I’d hear in 24 hours.   Uh-oh. (I figured I’m on their shit list because of problems I gave them over the problems they gave me the last time I tried to use miles.  See end of post.)

No email. No confirmation. Nothing.

So after several hours I called and got a call center  in India  again — the agent  (Abdul) stonewalled me, then told me I was using someone else’s miles, which I  wasn’t,  so I asked to talk to his supervisor — Jaba, #V059. Jaba  told me everything was fine, and when I said I needed that in writing, said it was fine, and when I again said I needed that in writing, hung up on me. Yes, was I not exactly calm and polite — how many times can I say “I need that in writing!” and stay calm?

(Since my last fiasco with United, I now routinely ask for names and employee id #s at the beginning of a call with United — and ask to speak to the supervisor quickly, rather than keep struggling with an agent who doesn’t know what they’re doing — I’ve had such problems in the past.)

So I  called back and got Abdul AGAIN (really; I recognized his voice) and I heard someone  yelling in the background (not what you expect to hear in a call center) — probably Jaba yelling something like “don’t talk to that bitch.” And Abdul hung up on me.

So rather than call the same number AGAIN and talk to Abdul and Jaba AGAIN — or, rather, have them hang up on me again –  I called the domestic reservations number, not so much to get a US employee (though I did) but to not get Abdul and Jaba.  We know how that would have ended up.

So it turns out that the credit card United had in their database for me was an old Mileage Plus Visa that I had had to cancel because THEIR database got hacked a few years ago – I didn’t pick up that the last 4 digits (which was all that showed on the screen) were wrong. (I never fly United anymore — and if I didn’t have 180,000 miles with them, I never would again — so they still have the old number.)  (BTW, I never save CC #s with online vendors anymore — not that I think that’ll stop a good hacker.) 

But Abdul and Jaba, and the first agent, would not tell me what was wrong, so I couldn’t  straighten it out – what did they think was going to happen?

So the person I talked with in the US/domestic flights center  got it all straightened out — and I filed a complaint  against Abdul and Jaba.

The man I talked to in the US says they have this problem with the India call center — they won’t do conflict.  But whether this was a cultural issue, or personal — if a service person can’t deal with problems, what are they doing in a job like that?

So if I hadn’t gotten mad enough to refuse to wait 24 hours and to find ANOTHER # to call instead of sticking with the number I was given to call if I had a problem with this rez…Who knows whether this ever would have gotten straightened out.

Oh, and by the way: the agent I talked to here passed me on to someone in Mileage Plus to describe the problem and report the agents’ names.  He took all this down, then said something about this needing more something, and put me on hold — and on hold — until I gave up and hung up. They know how to reach me.

(I have visions of him on another line with Jaba  who was telling him how this rude American woman wouldn’t shut up and wait for the email that was never going to come, and kept insisting on getting it in writing — and yelled at him when he repeatedly told her everything was all right even though it wasn’t — what a bitch.)

I’ve had problems in the past with United’s overseas call center people being poorly trained.  The last time I tried to use miles I had to tell the United rep that they have *2* levels of awards; that there was a routing through LAX to where I wanted to go; and other such basics.

(Lest this be seen as trashing overseas call centers, in India or elsewhere: when I had a problem with Dell a few years ago, their Texas call center was rude and unhelpful and the India call center was terrific. My hard drive got fried by a PG&E glitch. Texas  said they couldn’t send a replacement until their local repair person sent back the original.  I argued that I had no control over how long the drive might roll around in his trunk before he sent it back.  The India center sent out a new drive immediately.  If it’s a cultural difference, in that case it was to my advantage: the several people I talked to at the India center actually wanted to be helpful; the Texas people didn’t care.  It may often be a training issue: I’ve talked to helpful people at overseas and domestic centers who just don’t know enough to do their jobs.)

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8 responses to “Consumer Complaint: United Airlines

  1. United Airline do not honor fare that provided to a passenger with a purchase date deadline. Rather they hike it substantially on the deadline date. This is for an INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT.

    Is this American way of doing business?
    I hope NOT… if so, I will be so embarrassed being an American… in this global market.

    If you have a similar experience… let’s put it together and let our representatives to know…

  2. I fly frequently on business btween India and US. When I lived in the US, I used to be a Mileage Plus member. Since moving back to India I became a member of Lufthansa Miles and More program. I normally use that number for ALL Star Alliance flights, including the last one in Sep 2010. However, for my latest trip (in March 2011) I decided to use my Mileage Plus number. I was in for a surprise when the miles got credited. I got HALF the Base miles on UA as I got on LH when I flew the SAME flight number between the SAME cities in the same Class Z (Business Class), paying almost the SAME Money. When I wrote to UA they said they do not consider “Z class” as Business and Lufthansa’s policies were “different” than UA’s, and basically, that was tough. As an example, on flight LH 750 between Frankfurt and Calcutta, I received 9185 base miles in LH in Sep 2010, but 4599 miles on UA. Even on an atlas, it is closer to 9000 miles than 4500 . There is a ticket open (REF:12151345A) with UA to explain this where I have sent them a reply after they said inane things like “You cannot claim miles from 2 different airlines for the same flight”. Will keep you posted. But, it seems, switching to Miles and More will give members more miles for the SAME flights than UA.

  3. Utilized frequent flyer program to earn miles that could be used for future rewards. Found out that miles had expired. I recieved no notice that miles would be expiring thus could not take any action to use miles before that date or action that would keep them from expiring. Contacted United and they would not reinstate them without charging me a large fee that makes the expired miles worthless. Repeated contact with them has demonstrated they are not interested in customer care.

  4. United is stealing everyone’s miles – lost 160k miles

  5. United Airlines went from being the best to worst airline in the US in less than three years. In a short time United went from being a premier carrier to being one of the worst US based airlines in the industry. Their service is terrible, their flight attendants are down right rude and their commitment to high mileage flyers is gone. Many longtime United customers have taken advantage of Delta and American Airlines “status match” offers and transitioned to a new Airline. Myself included. The ojnly winners in the United/Continental merger were Continental employees and customers.

  6. I agree with the remarks regarding United. I was 1K with United up until 2012. Now you could pay me to fly them. United is the worst. Its amazing how fast United changed after the Merger with Continental. On flight last year, I sat next to a United pilot (from the pre-continental days) and he shared with me that while the company may be called United it is now Continental Airlines. It shows, United now feels like the 2nd or 3rd tier airline that Continental always was. He was taking an early retirement package. The only winners in the United/Continental merger were Continental employees and customers.

    • I have had this exact experience and am very frustrated. I had similar experiences with delta and american but was alerted to the fact that my miles would be expiring so was able to act. Any ideas or experience regarding how to move forward would be appreciated.

  7. Thank you very much for sharing your story. My husband and I have both been victims of United Airlines as well but have yet to have our problems addressed. In the meantime, we’ve started a petition against them here: http://www.change.org/petitions/united-airlines-stop-stealing-from-your-consumers/sign

    We’re hoping this will do some good and prevent future airline passengers to fall victim to United the way we did.

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