Furious at United because she missed her best friend’s funeral

Alicia and Joe Haviland are mad at United Airlines and at me.

They’re furious with United for canceling Alicia’s ticket from Panama City, Panama, to Seattle via Houston and issuing an involuntary refund. As a result, Alicia Haviland missed her best friend’s funeral.

And they’re upset with me because they want me to write about their negative customer service experience and I haven’t — until now.

Yes, the Havilands’ story is another case study in airline disappointment. I’m scheduled to meet with United Airlines in person in a few weeks and I could talk to them about what went wrong with this flight. But it is also a story about how your rage, no matter how justified, can erode your chances of resolving a service dispute.

I haven’t decided what to do next with the Havilands’ issue. For now, I’m filing it under Case Dismissed because I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it. But maybe you have some ideas.

Let’s start with Alicia Haviland’s flight on Jan. 30. She was scheduled to fly from Panama City to Houston on flight 1033 and then connect to flight 425 to Seattle. The ticket was purchased the day before her departure — in airline parlance, a “walk-up” fare, which in general is the most expensive kind. Her return was set for Feb. 10.

I’ll let Joe Haviland pick up the story from there:

My wife arrived at the Tocumen Airport in Panama City, Panama, with an eticket receipt and confirmation in hand for a flight from Panama City, Panama, to Seattle.

When she went to check in at United, the counter employee for United stated, “Your ticket has been refunded” and gave her a local number to call in Panama.

He didn’t help her further. Imagine that!

She spoke to two women. The first “customer care” person was Gabriela, and when she couldn’t help [my wife] she asked for her supervisor, Mariana P.

Both ladies told us what we already knew, and that was that the ticket I had bought for my wife the day before had been “refunded.” They couldn’t offer a legitimate reason why.

Furthermore, they weren’t eager to help make things right and get my wife on the 3:30 pm UA 1033 flight to Houston with a connection to Seattle for the funeral. They acted like they could care less.

The representative told Haviland that the reservation was canceled because his wife had tried to redeem a $250 electronic travel certificate as part of the reservation. The system automatically refunded the reservation, he was told.

“We find it quite strange,” he says.

I found it quite strange, too. So I contacted United to find out what was going on. In response, Haviland received the following email:

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the canceled ticket for your wife, Alicia Frank Haviland, for travel from Panama City to Seattle, Washington, originally scheduled to depart on January 30, 2015. The details of your three e-mails have come to the attention of the United Airlines Executive Offices, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond on behalf of our CEO, Mr. Jeff Smisek and Ms. Laura Mandile.

Mr. Haviland, I am sincerely sorry for the confusion surrounding the cancellation of your wife’s ticket to attend her friend’s funeral on January 31. After some research, I learned that a Credit Management representative canceled the ticket due to suspected fraud.

When last-minute reservations are booked, our Credit Management team goes through a number of steps to verify that a requested credit card transaction is valid. In your case, the address you provided matched the address on file with the credit card company, but the phone number you provided did not match.

We tried repeatedly to reach you at that phone number for voice verification but were unable to do so. In addition, your listed address is in Miami, Florida, but the travel originated in Panama City, Panama.

We were also unable to locate any reference to you in either Panama or Seattle, Washington, and there was no MileagePlus account history we could use to verify your personal information since you booked through our website as a guest.

As such, our representative made the decision to refund your wife’s ticket in an attempt to protect you from suspected credit card fraud. I am sincerely sorry that as a result of our efforts to protect your credit card information, your wife was unable to travel.

Because the ticket was paid in part using an Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC) you received in 2014, the refund will need to be completed manually. I forwarded the necessary details to our Refunds Accounting team so that you receive $177.40 back to your credit card and an ETC for $250 issued to replace the one that was redeemed. Because the original ETC will expire on April 2, 2015, David Risinger issued you another ETC that will expire in 2016.

I was also able to locate two MileagePlus accounts for you and your wife; if you plan to book future travel, it might be helpful to update these accounts to reflect your most current contact information. I will be glad to assist you to accomplish this; you can contact me directly at [number redacted] weekdays except Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Houston time. Again, I hope you will accept my apologies for your experience.

As MileagePlus members, please know your business and goodwill are never taken for granted by our airline, and we will strive always to meet your expectations of clean, safe and reliable air transportation coupled with exemplary customer service. Your comments have also been forwarded to senior management in our ongoing effort to provide our passengers with the type of service expected from United Airlines. Thank you for including United Airlines in your travel plans, and on behalf of my co-workers, we look forward to welcoming you aboard a future flight.

United’s fraud detection systems seem to be working overtime, and I don’t mean that in a nice way. Remember the monk I helped with a refund a few weeks ago? You know, the one a certain newspaper of record took credit for? Also a fraud issue.

Fraud detection is good when it works. When it doesn’t, you don’t just walk away. You fix it.

Haviland had to buy a new ticket on American Airlines. United could have offered to pay the fare differential, but as far as I can tell, it offered nothing but an apology and a new electronic travel certificate.

That really set Haviland off. And here’s where things went a little sideways. Haviland began sending me regular missives, urging me to write about his case. He also started hammering United’s executives by email. He accused them of being “condescending” and decried their services as “egregiously poor.” He said he was disgusted by the way United had handled his case.

Haviland sent United cartoons mocking bad customer service.

“Still waiting for some kind of satisfaction,” he wrote. “Ain’t got it yet!”

Now, these are all things that we as customers think when we’re going through a difficult customer service dispute. But we don’t articulate them. Why? Because our words, even if they’re true, lessen the chances of a successful resolution.

I mean, imagine how a customer service representative reads statements like those. Do you think they make an employee more likely, or less likely, to find a resolution?

Haviland then took aim at me. Since my involvement in the case didn’t yield the desired result, he believed I was part of the problem. He signed up for my personal email newsletter. In my latest issue, I talked about how we’d had a great month for traffic in February. In an email response, he targeted me directly:

My writing was a BIG waste of time. I probably should have spent the time doing other things.

And you as a resource proved mediocre at best despite your blowing out every record for February. Congrats on that by the way, but what good are all the pageviews and forums if it doesn’t change the way businesses like United conduct their daily business? That’s the BIG question.

CEOs like Smisek could care less and [are] laughing all the way to the bank. There’s no accountability anymore and watchdogs like yours [are] merely a way for people to vent without any significant resolution in the way companies treat their customers in the 21st century. Sorry, but I had to voice my opinion on this.

Well, consider your opinion voiced.

So many mistakes were made here, it’s hard to keep track. United could have certainly done better, not only with its fraud-detection systems, but in its responses. Haviland could have kept all of his contact information up to date, and his correspondence might have been a little more civil.

And perhaps I should have followed up to United’s form response with a polite request to take one more look at the case. I’m not sure why I haven’t.

Who is most to blame for this case?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend