The story behind my bump earlier in the week…

As some of you may remember, I had pretty good bump luck earlier this week on United. My first bump was on Sunday night, where both my mom and I got bumped, though as I mentioned, the experience was less than stellar. The next evening I got bumped again, this time a very pleasant experience, including a stay at the InterContinental O’Hare. Anyway, this post is about the first, less pleasant, experience on Sunday night.

We got to the gate (D21) over an hour before departure since the flight was looking quite full and I wanted to get on the bump list. When I got to the gate, with well over an hour to go, there was one seat remaining and 26 passengers confirmed awaiting seats. What does that mean? Well, it means 26 people are booked on the flight but don’t have a seat assignment, mostly due to the fact that the flight is over by about that much.

As soon as a gate agent arrived I approached him and asked if they might need volunteers. He said probably not, but he’d add us to the list anyway. About ten minutes later another gate agent showed up, and they really started soliciting volunteers. They made at least a handful of announcements asking for volunteers, offering a hotel and $400 in travel credits. Conveniently she left out when passengers would be rebooked, since the next available nonstop flight to Tampa was two nights later. Nonetheless I was using expertflyer.com to look up availability, and found a pair of seats through Chicago the following evening, which I figured was better than nothing. She gladly “protected” us on those, just in case they needed us. I have to say, both of the gate agents were phenomenal. They were all smiles, incredibly professional, and handled a very stressful situation (an overbooking, combined with a late inbound aircraft, combined with trying to gate check bags) gracefully. I couldn’t help but laugh as the gate agent laughed at my more complex routing through Chicago, exclaiming that some customers intentionally book longer routings in order to earn extra miles. Who would’ve thought?!? 😉

With about 30 minutes to go till scheduled departure, the gate agent paged us and explained they’d need our seats. She said since they were busy, we should go to the customer service desk at C20, where they could process our bump, getting us our hotel voucher and travel credits.

We walked over to the customer service desk, which is quite a distance from D21. My mom was exhausted and had a seat, while I got in line. The line was insanely long, so it took probably close to 30 minutes before I was being helped. There were only three agents working the desk, and for the most part they were helping IDBs (passengers that were involuntarily denied boarding).

When it was my turn, I went up to the agent and explained the situation to her. She was by no means friendly, but not rude either. She took a few minutes without saying much, and then told me I needed to go to the gate to process the VDB, since she couldn’t see anything in my record indicating we were to be bumped. I explained the gate agent sent me here, and I had been waiting in line for over half an hour. All the while she was having a conversation with the agent sitting next to her, joking around and laughing as if there wasn’t a care in the world – “man, that last passenger was an asshole. He called me fat. Talk about attitude.”

She decides to call the gate to check what she’s supposed to do. And when I say calls the gates, I means picks up the phone, yells at them, and then hangs up. She insisted I need to go back to the gate. Now that’s a long haul, and I was specifically told to come here, so I explained that to her. She then said “I don’t have time for you, I have to take care of my own customers.” Excuse me?!? This is the customer service counter. As a 1K am I not one of “your” customers?” I explain the issue once again – I volunteered to give up my seat (essentially doing United a favor), was told to come to this desk, and am being told I need to wait for well over an hour, and even then you’re not sure you’ll be able to solve my problem. Her response? “Not my problem, I wasn’t working the flight.”

She tells me to just take a seat and get back in line in 30 minutes. At this point the line is maybe 40 people deep. I asked why, and she explained maybe our status as being bumped would show up in the system with a bit of a lag, which is why I should get back in line. You’re kidding me, right? Just sit down for half an hour, and then probably wait in line for another hour? I asked for a supervisor, and she says “the lady over there is a supervisor.” Now that lady was a service director, and there’s a huge difference. Supervisors wear suits and work for management, while service directors are usually the gate agents with the worst attitude (and wear a normal uniform).

As I leave the desk a flight attendant cuts the whole line at the customer service counter and starts to have a conversation with one of the three agents working the customer service desk, with a 40 or so person line. They have a conversation for about five minutes, completely ignoring customers. Seriously?

At this point I approach the service director standing at the gate across from the customer service desk. Before I can get up to her, she says “what do you want?” I explain the situation, and she says “can’t you see I’m busy?” I explained I was sent over to her and what the issue was, and she responds with “JESUS CHRIST (screaming), what do you think I can do to help you?” I’d like to point out she wasn’t even working a flight. I’m sure she was busy, but there was no plane at the gate, and the inbound plane she claimed to be waiting for hadn’t even left the ground in Tampa, as I later found out, so was well over two hours from landing. She decides to call the gate my flight left from directly, and proceeds to rudely yell at the other agent for the better part of a minute. I’m not quite sure how it’s appropriate to do that in front of a customer.

She tells me to get back in the line at customer service. I was utterly amazed by the crap treatment I was getting, so I requested a supervisor. She paged one over the PA, but he didn’t show up. I never pull the “but I’m an elite member” card, but I felt the need to tell her that in my 200,000 miles of travel so far this year with United as a 1K, this was the worst experience I’ve had.

I walked away and waited for the supervisor to show up. S/he never did. So about 20 minutes later I go back to this “service director,” and her attitude is completely different, I think because she realized I was a 1K and wasn’t going to take crap from her.

All of a sudden there was a complete change in attitude. She was charming, she addressed me by name, and even helped me select the exact seats I wanted for the flights the next day, with the utmost patience. Not sure if it was because I’m an elite or because she realized having a bad attitude wouldn’t help, but she did eventually fix the problem. Still, her attitude at first and the attitude of the other agents was unacceptable.

Look, I understand gate agents have VERY tough, stressful jobs, given their salary. Everyone blames everything on them, even if they weren’t involved in any way. But that’s why I go out of my way to be friendly to them, and 99% of the time it works great. Actually, I find that overall, United gate agents take excellent care of elite passengers. But it’s times like this that make me wonder why some people work in customer service.

If it weren’t for my mother having a near breakdown from sitting at the airport for nearly 90 minutes after we were bumped, I would have pushed it further and pushed for an actual supervisor, but mom always comes first…

Comments

  1. @ Matthew — The RCCs had just closed. I went to the D customer service counter first, and they told me to go to C20 customer service to get VDB compensation issued.

  2. Perhaps in the 30 minute wait the service director completely forgot about you and thought that you were a different passenger.

  3. It’s all your fault, you should’ve flashed your 1k status at the beginning.

    Or better, flash your status in the middle of the conversation and watch her force herself to change her manner, fun~ 🙂

  4. I had a similar experience at ORD this spring (on a short segment run; cxn canceled; brushed off by multiple gate agents who were doing NOTHING that took priority; and generally advised to run back and forth between terminals). Finally found one GA who took her job seriously and got rebooked.

    I’m only a lowly 2P, but you better believe I sent UA a blistering letter — including names, physical descriptions, gate numbers, time sequence, etc. — and received a conciliatory response w/compensation (which was perhaps more than necessary). Too bad ORD service is still so poor.

  5. If “sitting at the airport for nearly 90 minutes” gives you a nervous breakdown, there’s seriously something wrong with you.

    You need some perspective dude 🙂

  6. Being a gate agent is a very tough job and they don’t get compensated for the issues they resolve for their customers.

    Like you Lucky, I always try to be nice to them. Even thought I am a 1K, I don’t tell the gate agents that I am a 1K. Whenever I give them my Mileage Plus number or my name, they already know that I am a 1K and treat me accordingly. And I always thank them for their hard work.

  7. To clarify, mom had no problem bumping. She waned to bump. She had an issue with sitting around for 90 minutes afterwards being ignored. She runs her own business and believes in good customer service, and hadn’t ever seen this type of customer service before.

    @ mrpickles — She definitely hadn’t forgotten about me. I sat across from her the whole time looking at her, and she kept looking at me.

  8. Sorry to hear about the bad service lucky. Perhaps next time you should not do a bump when with your mom as it is probably more stress than is worth it.

  9. “Look, I understand gate agents have VERY tough, stressful jobs, given their salary. Everyone blames everything on them, even if they weren’t involved in any way.”

    Hey if they don’t like their jobs they can find another one. They took the job and knew the salary and “issues” that come with the job. I would hardly say that their jobs are tough or stressful as I did the job in college. You never have work to take home with you, and nothing keeps you up at night wondering if your decision will ruin your company.

    They are the face of the company and as such get to deal with the decisions the company makes. They need to understand that the customer paying their salary has a reason to be upset by a decision their company made to oversell the flight by 26. Granted no one needs to be cursed or called names, but then again the customer shouldn’t have to suggest routings, additional airlines, etc because of lazy or bitter employees. If you hate your job that much, leave.

  10. “I would hardly say that their jobs are tough or stressful as I did the job in college. ”

    The difference is that they are NOT in college, and, more often than not, have been doing it for years. As a former check in / gate agent, I can assure you that it is MORE stressful, and much more poorly compensated, than my well-paid desk job (secured after a completing an MBA).

    The part that bothers me the most about this whole story, though, is the systemic failures that occur at the airlines that no one is inclined to fix. That is a result of years of cost cutting, shabby terminals, and poor communications equipment (have you seen the computers and phones behind the gate and check in desks?).

    There’s no excuse for staff rudeness (unless the passenger is rude first), but it is kind of understandable.

  11. I wish they would record all the conversations of customer service at the airports for monitoring purpose, like on the phone. United agents frequently abruptly switch their attitude according to the elite status of the customer. Is that how they were trained, so people are motivated to keep their elite status and feel powerful??? 🙁

  12. Totally agree with Left Seater. If any of us did our jobs as poorly as these people we would be fired. Nobody forced them to take jobs at customer service “professionals”. It’s unfortunate that these bad apples give a bad name for the many of the great front line staff that United has.

    It’s not a matter of not doing bumps no matter who you are traveling with. No one should expect the bump process to be this frustrating when you’re in essence doing the airline a huge favor by not forcing them to IDB.

  13. Not sure why everyone is so focused on what YOU supposedly did wrong (why shouldn’t you go for the bump with your mom, etc.?) – the attitude and laguage of the service director was just inexcusable. The whole “J.C., what do you think I can do to help you?” strikes me as particularly egregious and offensive. Personally, I would complain about that.

  14. Grr, “language” not “laguage” …

    Also meant to add that I wonder how much age plays an occasional part in dismissive and rude service. Or maybe I’m just cynical based on my own experiences. 🙂 I frequently notice a difference in how I am treated based on the initial “You look under 30” impression versus the subsquent “Oh, you have status/are a regular customer/etc.” discovery.

  15. Some people might find this passive-aggressive, but I generally have my iPhone ready in hand to record any such incident like that (you can usually see it coming). It’s surprisingly effective in extracting either a good response on the spot, or later on from corporate.

  16. @Joe

    These jobs should be lower paid than your MBA level job. The point of saying I did the job in college was to say that if a teenager can do the job, there isn’t anything difficult about it. You never had reports or presentations that required you to work on them from home, etc. When the clock struck 4, I was gone and never thought about it again.

    As for stress there wasn’t any even knowing I would be buying 25 people off of a flight from AUS to ATL almost every day. Not because the company oversold the flight, but because the fully loaded 727 couldn’t get airborne on a 100+ degree summer day with the 8000 foot runway at the old AUS airport. You put a smile on your face and offered those affected options. Zero stress unless you hated the job. I didn’t hate the job and loved the free travel, but aspired to make more money so I left. I didn’t just complain about the job, the customers, the pay, etc.

  17. AJ, I’d be careful about using the iPhone to record a conversation (if that’s what you mean). Incredibly, in 12 states you cannot record your private conversation (phone or f2f) without the consent of *all* parties; in many cases, it’s a felony to violate this prohibition. (Federal law — 18 USC 2511(2)(d) — and the law of the other states requires only the consent of one party, which would be you.)

    For a decent overview, see http://www.rcfp.org/taping/

  18. @James said ‘What was the ethnicity of the 2 rude gate agents’?

    Why should that matter?? I think lucky’s age is more of a factor than anything else.

  19. Welcome to the world of the non elite flyer. I heard the “jesus christ” from an FA on the way back from DUS to ORD a few months ago (wasn’t me, someone else apparently ticked her off). This was in E+ by the way.

    What I find especially strange about your experience is that are SO many people without work who would do anything – MBAs included. So everyone with a bad attitude could be fired and replaced.

    As for the FAs who think they want to be safety pros and provide no service at all? They may eventually get their wish. I’d be just fine with replacing them all with air marshalls trained to do safety function and protection, it even makes some sense.

  20. Ouch! While I hate to be one of the DYKWIA types, I think I would have mentioned my 1K-ness earlier in this case. Kudos to you Lucky for your patience.

    My IAD experiences (including inside RCCs) have consistently been less-than-stellar for any kind of irrops.

  21. Sounds like typical UAL customer service. BTW I think you should differentiate between true gate agents (who are at the gate) and the CSRs who man the terminal help desks. I think the latter are more akin to the CSRs who work the checkin counter, with similar bad attitudes.

    Honestly Lucky I think that you have been spoiled so long as a 1K (and RCC member?) that you probably don’t realize this is the face of UAL as far as the vast majority of customers are concerned. All you needed to top it off would have been a call to the ICC. Not very pretty, is it?

    What I do find interesting (and sad) is that your status basically didn’t get you any special treatment here. You had to wait in a horrendous line along with everyone else (my sympathies). Personally that would be a dealbreaker for me as I can’t stand waiting due to insufficient resourcing or incompetence of others.

    Contrast this to my recent VDB on Southwest with my family in tow. The GA was assisted by a manager, who personally issued all 3 VDB vouchers on the spot after rebooking us on a flight of our choice the following day. No line waiting, he told us to go off and get some food, and everything was waiting when we returned. You need to ask yourself, why couldn’t UA do that? You experience was at ORD, not some podunk outpost where UA only has 2 employees on duty.

  22. I probably would have politely waited at the gate, since you ended up waiting anyways.

    @unavaca WN is no different. There are bad apples working for every airline.

  23. I think it’s wrong the agent treated lucky like this.
    He’s a 1+mm with an average of 300k butt in seat annually, that is lots of high revenues we are talking here. That ga was a union worker I am sure and need to realize how valuable he is.

    JOSH

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