On our travel nightmare journey from Vancouver to Cancun, our United Airlines flight departure from YVR was delayed by two hours due to wildfire smoke at our stopover, San Francisco.
Let me make it clear, I don’t fault UA for this. The smoke was “an act of God.” The issue is, how did UA handle this emergency?
We made up about an hour en route, but still arrived an hour late at SFO. The flight crew assured us that all flights in/out of SFO were being delayed, so we might still make our connecting UA flight to Cancun. We were told to “check the flights board” to see if our flight had gone, and if it had, we should then talk to a customer service rep.
Of course, our flight had indeed departed (without the 13 of us who were all delayed from that one flight. Hmmm…13…I wonder?) so we went in search of a customer service rep. We found two United Airlines “service” desks, both unstaffed, and tried two UA “service” phones, both dead lines.
We finally approached a UA employee at one of the gate check-ins, who told us where to find an open service booth.
Question 1: Since our connecting flight had long since departed, why wasn’t that info passed to the flight crew to pass to us on the plane so we wouldn’t waste time trying to find our flight on the board? I have seen similar situations where a flight delay caused a number of passengers to miss a connecting flight, and the airline sent a rep to meet the plane, collect the affected passengers and escort them to wherever they needed to go next to resolve their flight issue. Why didn’t UA do that?
Question 2: Since dozens of UA flights were being delayed that evening and thousands of passengers rerouted, why wasn’t every service desk and every service phone in operation?
We finally locate the one open service booth and, naturally, there’s a long line-up, so we settle down to wait. 30 minutes later, we finally get to the head of the line. The harried UA rep asks “Are there only two of you?” We nod. He sends us to another booth down the terminal, where we wait again.
Question 3: Why didn’t the first service booth just have a sign or a rep stationed at the line to direct people immediately to the other booth, so we wouldn’t waste 30 minutes waiting in that line?
At the second booth, we are told that we have been rebooked via Houston on a flight that is boarding NOW. Really? We’re already rebooked, but you couldn’t have told us that back on the plane, an hour ago?
“Run!” says the rep helpfully.
Indeed, as we arrive at the gate, boarding is in its final stages. The surly rep at this gate snaps that the flight is full and we won’t get on. So why did the last rep send us here?
Two minutes later, she recants and we have boarding passes. Hooray! But when we find our seats (in separate rows), it is clear that both our seats were likely originally left empty because they are located next to Really Big People, who are not thrilled to discover that two last-minute passengers are about to take away their extra space.
As I wedge myself apologetically in the center seat of the very last row (read: no seat recline), the man on my other side smiles…and coughs. And coughs. And coughs.
Which leads to the topic of a future blog…”Mexican Health Care for Tourists.”