Good on ya, mate! United Airlines rescues failed New Zealand flight all by itself

There’s been an interesting question raised by an earlier post about Southwest Airlines’ lost-and-found luggage debacle. What role, if any, did yours truly play in retrieving the passenger’s bag?

The answer is: None whatsoever. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

To explain, let me tell you another story. This one is about Barbara Takahashi, who recently flew from Auckland to San Francisco on Air New Zealand and United Airlines.

Here’s what happened to her:

In LA, we had to change terminals and were not able to use the electronic check-in machines to get our boarding passes.

There were so few United agents available to assist with boarding passes that we had to wait an hour and a half in line and could not get to our flight on time. Nearly every person in our long line missed their connection. There were no alternate flights available that day as it was the last day of a holiday period.

We were given standby tickets and told to wait. After our first try at standby, it was clear that there was no way a group of four people would be able to get seats on one of the many oversold flights. The only option we were given was to wait all day for a flight and then, if that failed, try to get a flight the next day.

Because Takahashi was traveling with three children, waiting until the next day wasn’t an option. So she bought tickets to San Jose, Calif., on Southwest.

I would be much more understanding if there had been weather or mechanical issues, but this was a case of being sold defective merchandise. Our flights were not late. There was simply no possible way to use the tickets as sold.

She asked Air New Zealand why she couldn’t make her connection. It responded by punting to United.

While you were travelling under an Air New Zealand flight number, your flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco was a code share flight, with UA being the operating airline. As such, any boarding passes would have been issued or permitted to be issued by UA system. When you checked in Auckland, it appears that UA did not allow our system to issue your boarding passes as yet which is beyond the control of Air New Zealand.

There’s a much bigger issue here involving “legal” connection times and the reservation system used by airlines. But for the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on Takahashi’s next move, which was to contact me. She wrote me a note, asking what to do next.

Now, there are some of you out there who believe I should have immediately contacted United on her behalf and asked it to look into this. Isn’t that what an ombudsman does?

Actually, no.

It’s important that the airline has a chance to review Takahashi’s complaint and respond. So I suggested that she take the matter up with United and provided her with a few names.

She did, and just yesterday, I heard back from her.

I can’t believe it. I got a call at home yesterday saying that they had received my information and would look into some sort of refund. Frankly, I was just happy to get a call. This morning, I got a message that they were refunding $1,120 to our account. That is over twice the amount that I requested. I truly would have been happy with a sincere apology, but this is amazing. United is back in my good graces!

I agree.

My point? The system sometimes works. It did for Takahashi.

You don’t always need a reader advocate to hold your hand when things go wrong. And that’s the point of this blog: to offer tips on how to work within the system and get the results you deserve.

If you read my syndicated column, The Travel Troubleshooter, you’ll see plenty of examples of the system not working. Thank goodness, those are few and far between.

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