The New System - How United is just falling apart - Trip from Hell part 1

I had the misfortune of traveling on United Airlines for the first time after the “new” combined UA/CO system was put in place. I have been reading post on United’s facebook page, flyer talk and mainstream media about all the issues United was having with this “new” system. Reports of just poor customer service, odd things happing online, upgrades not clearing, massive delays and other issues just to name a few. I have been a loyal 1k with United for years and was thinking to myself could it really be this bad?!?!? After my trip this weekend, yes it can. It is clear that one hand has no idea what the other is doing at this airline. Staff and crew have a very vocal “Us and Them” mentality. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the trip here are some quick fun facts:

I had 6 segments booked, I never boarded one of these originally booked segments.I had to make 7 phone calls, with a total of 5 hours + on the phone.I arrived 8 hours late on the outbound and 5 hours late on the return.

Here is what my original booking looked like:



Here is what I flew:



So how did this all happen?? Lets start 2 days before the flight when I was happy to get an email confirming my upgrade to Business First. My co-worker who was traveling with me was not so lucky. During my online check-in process, I picked my seat in business, and then was offered to buy business for $699. This flight was operated on a B757 and it was clearly a 2 cabin aircraft. My co-worker who was still in Economy was offered to buy a Business seat for $399. This is just an example of how f-ed up the new is. Confused by this odd offer I checked out the available fare buckets online. I was shocked to see R2 (R is the upgraded space for business). I called UA and got a former CO agent who told me that he would clear at the airport, if he was going to get it. I did not like that answer so I called back and back and got a legacy UA agent who also could see the 2 “R” seats and confirmed him. Cool! I was happy about this and he was thrilled!!! Then at 0545 in the morning at my airport hotel in Manchester, UK; I checked my email and United sent me an email with a flight delay of 1 hour, due to late arriving aircraft. I checked on the United mobile app to see the status of the inbound EWR to MAN flight. I was shocked to see that aircraft was sitting on the ground in Boston. This was 3.5 hours before my scheduled take off time, so I knew it was going to be more then an hour delay.

I once again called UA to see what options we had, as if we were going to connect in Europe we needed to get out of Manchester in the morning hours. The first 3 agents were all former CO agents who told me, your “flight is only delayed Sir”, we cannot do anything unless it is canceled. I tried to explain I was on a Y class flexible ticket and wanted to reroute. All these helpless agents kept telling me was to get to Newark and they will rebook you. At this point the “system” rebooked us on a EWR-SEA flight that was scheduled to depart a half hour after our new estimated arrival time. This was also the last flight of the day. After a few more calls I got a United agent in Dearborn. MI. It was night and day, this agent was so helpful and apologetic. She noticed that we were both in Business class over the Atlantic and in First for the original domestic flights. She said, “let me find space for you in upgraded cabins” After 15 minutes she found:

MAN-FRA on LH op’ed by bmi (Economy Class)
FRA-SFO on UA (R class – Upgraded Business)
but could not get us from SFO to SEA

She then worked some magic she opened up space in Y to then upgrade us to First. (Both premiers booking a Y class we were eligible for premier instant upgrades)

I found out at the end of the call this super helpful agent was in fact a Global Service agent who just happened to get my call.

So everything looked good at this point! Went to the LH desk in Manchester to check in, the agent only could see the MAN-FRA flight and nothing about the FRA-SFO-SEA flights in her system. She told us, this was a new problem they kept having with United bookings. She forced checked our bags to SEA and we got to FRA 20 minutes early. As we approached the United gates in FRA it was a mad house, hundreds of people yelling, crying, screaming, pushing and fighting to get to an agent.

This trip from hell story will continue in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.


Kent April 11, 2012 at 01:19 am

Damian, what is the best number to dial if you are a 1K-United elite and wish to reach the legacy 1K elite desks? Thanks.

@Kent: It's a roulette. I could share stories too, but I'm to the point where I ask an agent if they are legacy CO, and hang up if they say yes.

Damian is absolutely correct--it is a night v. day difference when dealing with elite-friendly UA and indifferent "not possible" CO. The ex-Cons have a chip on their shoulder (I can actually tell in most cases because the ex-Cons never say "United Airlines").

I now go out of my way to avoid CO metal in the air (avoiding EWR and IAH) as well. This is a sad new world.

Damian April 11, 2012 at 04:50 am

Within the USA I think it is just luck.. BUT if you are outside the USA use the old 1K toll free AT&T access number to call the 1K and you get a legacy UA agent in Dearborn. (This was an old PDF file that was on the 1K only webpage). I'm sure this will not last much longer..

Andrew April 11, 2012 at 08:42 am

Hello Damian and Matthew, I have the same issue with the new United. I called the 1K Desk days before departure to apply 2 of my global premier upgrades for a last minute roundtrip itinerary and after spending literally an hour on the phone, the agent somewhat successfully pulled 6 upgrades out of my account due to her repeated attempt to do this in the "new system."

11 hours ago I boarded SFO-NRT and at the United Club, the agent told me that I was #1 on the upgrade list to United BusinessFirst and there were 13 seats left. The agent however, could not clear me at the Club 70 minutes before take-off. I went to the gate, and was told by the gate agent that I was not on the upgrade list!

Shocked I was, I checked the United iPhone app as suggests us to do and for sure my name had disappeared while I was standing in front of the gate. The agent again waved me down the gate and asked me to take my original seat! I asked about getting put on the upgrade list, and was told this had to be done 24-hour prior to departure. Wow and there I was, just got off my SFO-NRT flight, now sitting at the United Club @ NRT leaving you this comment.

What do you think I should do? Write to 1K Voice? What should I expect from them?

Thanks, Andrew

Damian April 11, 2012 at 06:31 pm

Hi Andrew, I do not know what to tell you. There are some major issues with upgrades. From what I understand, when you do not clear 24 hours or more out, you are removed from the wait-list, and once you check in you will be placed on "standby" for that cabin. I'm told you can see this on the UA mobile App. I was able to get my co-worker upgraded over the phone with a legacy UA agent, who booked him into R, and reissued the e-ticket. I think the old keep on calling back or ask someone else might be the only thing you can do.

Sean April 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm


Thanks for your tale of sorrows, it's nice to know there are others out there to commiserate with!

United could really use a little improvement, it's been over a month since the switch to Shares and there's been so little progress...

Another great anecdote to add to the growing list of woe. My whole family traveling internationally to Tel Aviv for Easter this year. It takes the Dulles GS agent over 45 minutes to check in the family of five for the first leg of the IAD-EWR-TLV trip. Well my younger sibling who shares my father's name, was issued a duplicate ticket of my father's rather than being checked in. We identify the issue but the flustered GS agent just says "They can fix it at the customer service counter after security. NEXT!"

So we get to the A gates customer service counter and the nice but distracted agent work on the issue for 25 minutes, while taking a collect call on her cell phone from her daughter, before saying "Oop! they locked me out! you have to go to the gate now."

Off to the dreaded A gates boarding area it was.

After two minutes of computer tapping the answer from the A gates agent: "Well you can all go but he can't, there's nothing I can do."

After another 20 minutes of "negotiating" with various UX employees it came down to this ultimatum: either get him a boarding pass or offload the whole family and our 6 checked bags.

At the sight of more work and a flight delay somehow United's IT system's aligned to print a boarding pass for my younger sibling and we were on our way.

Needless to say this was just the beginning as by the time we got to EWR his reservation had been auto-cancelled and had to be reconstructed by a very nice GS agent in a President's club there. There are still some good employees out there, you just have to get lucky.

Del April 13, 2012 at 09:21 pm

Sounds pretty bad, however I am eagerly awaiting part 2, whats the eta?

Damian April 13, 2012 at 09:53 pm

Part 2 should be up this weekend..

Andrew April 16, 2012 at 06:40 am

Damian, thank you for your insight. I wish I had known and called. It's a lesson learned.

The good news is that I am again at NRT now and this time my W fare with the systemwide upgrade cleared a few days out, and I received another bump at the gate to Global First!