All I knew about United Airlines prior to flying with them for the first time was based on the YouTube classic 'United Breaks Guitars', the story of the United nightmare experienced by my fellow quasi-Haligonian Dave Carroll. I never would have believed you if you told me that my very first United experience would be as bad as his. But, incredibly, it was. This is my United nightmare.
I originally had been scheduled to fly Delta from Ottawa to Phoenix via Detroit before the arrival of the incoming flight was delayed, causing my itinerary to be changed to an American Airlines service, flying to Phoenix via Chicago. I checked my bag with American and got in line to board the flight to Chicago. Just before I reached the gate, I was paged to the American Airlines desk where I was told that because of the long layover (about 5 hours) I was scheduled to have in Chicago, a better itinerary had been found for me. I would fly United from Ottawa to Washington and then Washington to Phoenix on United 999.
The flight to Washington was uneventful. However, delay after delay kept us grounded in Washington well past our scheduled departure time. After boarding, de-planing, and re-boarding (with lengthy delays at every juncture), we finally departed for Phoenix. There were no problems with the flight itself. But upon landing in Phoenix, I patiently waited for my luggage to appear on the conveyor. It never did. This is where my trip went from merely unpleasant—due to all of the delays—to something more vividly resembling a nightmare.
I immediately filed a baggage claim/tracing report at the airport. Having arrived so late at night, I was unable to buy clothes for work the next day. So I showed up for work, in the midst of a major project I’m working on (for meetings with colleagues I had never met before), in the same clothes I had worn for more than 12 hours of travel the day before. I was able to buy clothes that night, which would at least get me through the next day. See, I’m only 24 years old and in the midst of my MBA, so I simply couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket to for clothes that would make up for not having my belongings with me, even though the airline would presumably be reimbursing me later.
As the time went by, every single United representative I spoke to on the phone (and there were many) was glib, insincere, falsely promissory, or lied to me outright about when I would receive a call-back or email. Every single time I was told I’d receive a call by a certain time, the time came and went with nary a ring on my phone. Every single time I would be the one to call back.
One day became two. Two days became three. Three became four. And eventually four became nine. Nine days, of a 10-day business trip.
I'm convinced that if I hadn't finally taken to Twitter (on the 8th day) and gotten the airline's attention that way, they never would have found my luggage. The bag was found mere hours after @United noticed my tweets and asked me for my contact information (which, to date, they still haven't used). In fact, it became clear that they hadn't even been looking when I learned that my bag had been in Ottawa the whole time. That's right: it had never left the airport in Ottawa, my original point of departure.
But find it they did. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived at my hotel my trip was at its end. I received it just in time to turn around and go back to Ottawa. It was in Phoenix with me for less than 24 hours of a nearly two-week business trip. It was a miserable two weeks, with my ability to do my work and live comfortably (and hygienically) severely curtailed by this incident. Simply put: United Airlines ruined my trip.
Incredibly though, it got worse. On the last day before I was to leave, I received a form letter via email from a company representative offering me 20% off my next regularly priced United Airlines booking, as a "gesture of goodwill". Being without my luggage for so long was frustrating, but this was downright insulting—is this what my 9 days (I repeat, 9 days) without my belongings are worth? Is this fair compensation for all of my time spent calling, emailing, tweeting, and wearing the same clothes day after day? I couldn't believe my eyes.
As I said in my response to that insulting letter, I estimated the contents of my bag to be valued at upwards of $4000. I was without those items for the entirety (for all intents and purposes) of my trip. It's going to take compensation of a value far closer to that figure to even begin to make this right. As of right now, I could not possibly be more dissatisfied with United Airlines.
One last note: Ellen Roseman of the Toronto Star, Chris Elliott of National Geographic, and Dave Carroll of United Breaks Guitars fame have all shown their support for my case in recent days. I'd like to thank each of them for acting as my advocates as I seek to have this wrong righted.