“The results were nothing short of remarkable”

united3After last Sunday’s Washington Post column, in which I suggested travel companies were being more charitable at this time of year, incredulous readers wanted to see proof. “Where’s your evidence?” one traveler demanded.

Well, to those of you who think the Grinch works for your favorite airline, let me introduce you to Raj Wadhwa, who was trying to help his mother fix a flight on United Airlines. United wanted to charge her a change fee. I’ll let him explain the rest:

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My mother, who is 70 years old and has Multiple Sclerosis (mobile without a wheel chair but tires very easily), goes to visit her 90 year old aunt in San Diego every Christmas. This year she booked early using miles but was only able to get a connecting flight back to Chicago, extending her travel time from 4 hours to almost 12 – not counting travel to/from the airports.

After booking online, she attempted to contact United several times to see if she could get a direct flight on the return but was unsuccessful. On her last attempt, the agent on the phone said there were direct flights available but there would be a $150 fee to change the ticket.

Wadhwa called United on his mother’s behalf, but a phone representative remained firm: If mom wanted a nonstop flight, it would cost an extra $150.

After the call, I went on Elliott.org and looked up the various contacts you have listed for United. I did not think this situation warranted a call/email to the CEO of United, but did decide to send an email to Hellen Chellin, Manager of Customer Relations.

He did, and here’s the surprise he got from her:

I received a response from Denise Gibbons within a couple hours of the email. She called both my office and mobile phone and left a message that she would be very happy to work with me on changing the reservation and that they were going to waive any change fees. She asked that I call her to arrange the best date/time for the return flight, based on availability of seats.

We played phone tag for a few hours on December 11, but Ms. Gibbons went ahead and made the change, based on the date/time criteria I had left for her via voice mail, so that my mother would have a confirmed non-stop, and she and I could finalize once we were able to connect live.

I only had to escalate one level and the results were nothing short of remarkable.

United has a long tradition of being charitable to its customers not only during the holidays, but year-round. Regular readers of this blog will remember my recent conversation with Denny Flanagan, the pilot who goes the extra mile.

So I put it to you, dear readers: Seen any evidence that your travel company is getting in the holiday spirit? Please send me your stories of airlines waiving fees, hotels offering upgrades, car rental companies looking the other way when you put a chip on the windshield.

Hey, it’s the holidays. You never know!

(Photo: Brendan/Flickr Creative Commons)

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