Here's How United Airlines Supports the Troops

Jun 23 2012 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

United was able to get my wife into one of the many empty seats on their 0600 departure. While I'm happy that she is en route, the number of empty seats makes me wonder why she couldn't have been rebooked onto that flight in the first place, particularly when United was willing to sell me a seat on that flight for $1500 in the last couple of hours before departure.

Look, I'll admit at the start that United Airlines - or, for that matter, any other commercial enterprise - does not have any obligation to treat members of the military any better or worse than they treat their regular customers, but it would be nice if they can do better than what my family is dealing with right now.

Here's the deal:
Yesterday, the Northeast had yet another air travel debacle. Between weather and an FAA fire, flights were cancelled and delayed all over the coast. Naturally, yesterday was also the day when my wife arrived in Atlanta from Afghanistan for her 15 days of mid-deployment leave, which started upon arrival in the states. Her connecting flight from Chicago to New York was cancelled.

It happens. It's frustrating, but it happens. Weather is not something that an airline can control. Fires in FAA control centers are not something that an airline can control. It's frustrating, but I get it.

How passengers are rebooked, however, is something an airline can control. And it is here that United Airlines is showing just how they support the troops.

My wife is travelling in uniform. She has explained the situation to the United agents at O'Hare, and says that they appear to be doing their best to help her. Unfortunately, the best that they could do is rebook her for an 8:15 pm departure today - that's more than 24 hours after the cancelled flight.

I should be asleep right now, but I'm not. That probably has something to do with being alone in a hotel bed I had planned to share. Since I couldn't sleep, I decided to try to see if I could find some alternative that would get my wife to NY before an 8:15 pm departure from Chicago would.

I started with Priceline. I plugged O'Hare and NYC into the appropriate boxes, told it to try to come up with anything arriving within 200 miles of New York, and waited to see what came up.

Priceline found a 6:00 flight from Chicago to Newark with seats. On United.

I figured that couldn't be right. I went to United's website, punched in ORD and NYC, and went to see what I could book.

At this moment, while my wife sits in uniform at O'Hare waiting on the "first available" 8:15 departure to see her children for the first time since December 27th, United Airlines is willing to sell me Economy seats on:
Flight 1750, departing from O'Hare at 6:00 am and arriving at Newark at 9:00 am
Flight 3452, departing from O'Hare at 2:45 pm and arriving at LaGuardia at 5:54 pm
Flight 5151, departing from O'Hare at 5:22 pm and arriving at Newark at 8:48 pm

That's just the nonstops with allegedly available economy seats. There are another half-dozen nonstop flights with first class seats available, and several multi-stop itineraries with economy seats also turn up.

I've got - and may post - screen captures of some of this later. I've looked at the seat maps for the flights, and they show specific seats that United is willing to sell me on those flights. I sent my wife a text. The agents at the airport in Chicago cannot get her those flights. They tell her that their computer setup won't let them, unless it's tied with pay. Instead, they're trying to get her a flight to Albany, where I can meet her and we can catch the train.

The kids and I flew United's Honolulu-Newark nonstop on the way out here. I'm looking at alternatives for the flight back.

6 responses so far

  • Tamar says:

    Righteous indignation going full tilt after reading this one, Mike! I've got my fingers crossed this will work out much better in the end.

  • The Ridger says:

    Oh fer ...

    But I doubt anybody else is any better.

  • [...] Dunford of “The Questionable Authority” blog relates an on-going negative experience with United Airlines. His wife is in the US military and has 15 days of leave to meet with Mike. [...]

  • boba says:

    It's not the person, it's the algorithm and the computer program behind it. The agent probably could have put your wife on standby - but not as a booked seat for the reason you discovered - they want to sell the seat and do so at a premium. the algorithm will not release that seat for any other condition until n minutes before the flight time.
    The solution would be to give gate agents an override capability. Unfortunately you're talking about very old code (probably COBOL on a VTAM platform) and there are not many out there who could slip that function into the program. Propagating it through the system would cost many dollars and it's a small return on the investment.

  • Zuska says:

    Another reason to loathe the Byzantine system of airline seat booking.

    Why can't our COUNTRY do better about getting troops home for leave?

  • leigh says:

    so glad to hear she got on a flight, Mike... hope you are all away enjoying your precious family time. shame on United for screwing around like this.