What can a Benedictine monk teach United Airlines about customer service? A lot

In my line of work, when you get a complaint from someone with the title “Imam,” “Rabbi” or “Reverend,” you assume something has gone wrong – very wrong. The clergy are generally not a member of the complaining class.

So when I heard about the troubles of Brother John Baptist, a Benedictine monk from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, NM, I suspected that United Airlines, the carrier that was supposed to fly him from Malawi to Albuquerque, NM, had really sinned.

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Brother John Baptist traveled to Malawi to visit his mother in late November. While he was there, he tried to extend his stay. The monastery paid for the ticket change. Somehow, his return ticket had been canceled. My colleague David Segal has a few more details in his account, although he doesn’t have all the details, as I’ll explain in a minute.

United claimed there was a problem with Brother John Baptist’s credit card. But the airline didn’t bother notifying him or his monastery about the credit card irregularity, or the fact that he didn’t have a valid ticket.

“United Airlines canceled a brother’s return ticket while he was in a foreign country without notifying us,” Abbot Philip Lawrence wrote to me. “United has failed to justify this decision. Most distressingly, United has done nothing to help us return our brother to the United States.”

I expected that when the good people at United learned they’d stranded a brother in Malawi, they’d jump right to it. They didn’t. Brother John Baptist languished in Lilongwe while his brothers in New Mexico panicked. They tried to contact United on his behalf, but according to the Bendectines, they received only excuses.

After the monks got in touch with me, I immediately reached out to United, and soon Brother John Baptist was on a plane to America. I can’t take credit for it; I think the brothers pressured the airline to do the right thing all by themselves.

United sent a rare personal email to the monastery.

Robert Bradford forwarded your email to me and asked that I research your concerns and contact you on his behalf to provide a prompt explanation and amicable resolution. Please forgive the delayed response to your concerns.

I am happy to know that my colleagues were able to correct the errors made by United; and now Brother John Baptist has confirmed return travel from Malawi to New Mexico.

If possible, I would like to speak with you via telephone to offer our full apologies and goodwill compensation for the inconvenience caused; however, your email did not contain any information for me to contact you directly via telephone.

I look forward to speaking with you at your convenience. Your patience and your business are greatly appreciated.

Best Regards,

Ava McDonald
Customer Care Manager
Corporate Customer Care

United eventually reached the monastery and offered a personal apology and a $350 ticket credit. Apparently, something had gone terribly wrong with United’s fraud-detection systems, which triggered the cancellation.

But that isn’t why I’m writing about this. It doesn’t matter that the “Haggler” couldn’t bring himself to mention my involvement in this case.

Rather, I’m interested in what the monks made of the whole episode. I think that’s the real story. Let’s go straight to Abbot Philip’s weekly message.

Dear Friends of the Monastery,

Blessings to you! What a different kind of week this has been for me. I began at home, in my own cell, and am back there now. But in between all kinds of things have happened in the quiet life of a monk!

Thank you for helping me with the problem of the return ticket of our Brother John Baptist. That situation has been resolved and the ticket is now back in place as it should have been. The whole experience was, in general, quite unsatisfactory, and taught me a lot about customer service and large corporations and care for others.

There were an incredible amount of untruths told to us by the airline customer service agents. Sometimes they contradicted themselves. I am sure that not of that was intentional on their part, or at least I hope that it was not. It is clear to me in this digital age that there are many levels of security and that they do not all interact with one another. They are all meant to protect against fraud, but not meant to protect the client. That is where the difficulty lies.

When I look at what happened with the airline from the perspective of spirituality, some things seem to reflect back to me. First, we must always love one another and strive to live in peace and tranquility. I repeat this peace and tranquility all of the time, both for my own sake and for the sake of the community. The airline might get a 50 percent rating on this virtue.

Secondly, we cannot tell lies or untruths which only serve to cover up our own negligence. Lots of us tell little white lies now and then and most of the time no one catches us out with them. This is not a good way to live, but it happens. On the other hand, public statements, statements that can be checked out fairly easily, need to reflect the truth, even when it is not flattering to ourselves. In this, the airline scored maybe 40 percent.

Thirdly, we should not pass the fault which is ours on to another person or entity. We see this already in the Book of Genesis when Adam does not want to take responsibility nor does Eve. It is deeply ingrained in our humanity and yet in order for a world to live in peace or a community to live in peace, this type of behavior must not be condoned. Here the airline scored about 30 percent.

In a community, we don’t throw away monks because they score low in things such as this. On the other hand, if a community does not insist on right behavior, it will eventually fall on bad days and probably cease to be a community.

Companies need also to look at these values or they too can cease to exist. The airlines are already an endangered kind of service. Monastic life is also in trouble in many parts of the world. For monks, the only solution is a strong life of prayer and a strong monastic life in general. For airlines, not religious entities, a focus on service is surely something that helps an airline. For monasteries, it is difficult for outsiders to be able to give feedback unless the monastic community is open to it. It is even more difficult for an airline. Sure, there are websites and phone calls and ways to try to send a message to an airline, but unless there is some listening, then such actions are futile and just waste our time.

My own sense of the airline with which we were dealing with this problem is that feedback is futile and a waste of my time. Everything was our fault from their point of view and I know that this does not reflect the truth. The airline also tried to blame our credit card company and that also was false. The airline tried to tell us that we had not been in contact with our credit card company and that also was not true.

While it is not easy to avoid doing business with a specific airline, especially when they are principal carriers to parts of the world, one can avoid them as much as possible. This is the way business works: if we are not given good service, then we cannot recommend a business. If we are given bad service, then we begin even to avoid doing business with the company. And the same is true of monasteries. If a monastery is not living a true monastic life, people begin to sense that and even begin to avoid such a monastery. If a monastery treats people badly, then they stop going to that monastery.

So I have learned a lot about one airline carrier through all of this, but also see the truth of the situation reflected in our world, in the Church, in dioceses, in religious communities. All of us live public lives in the present age and good or less than good behavior becomes quickly known.

Also through this experience I see the real power of the social media. I had heard before that through five people, we will know the whole world. That is why I sent a distress message on my notebook mailing list. What an incredible response! Thanks for all who prayed, who offered tickets, who offered connections, who offered love and support. This was a tremendously positive experience for me from those on the mailing list.

Now I can be still and prepare my heart to celebrate the last days of Advent and prepare for the Birth of the Lord. I know that our brother will be able to come home now and hopefully without any further problems. I know that the monastery and I are loved and that brings me incredible joy in these last days of Advent.

Be assured of my love and prayers for you. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions. May the Lord unite us all and with all others in a love which can change our world so that it is truly the dwelling of the Lord in every aspect. I send my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

Some of you reading this will demand more facts — facts that you suspect will exonerate United. Others — and I suspect it will be the majority of the “average” readers — will say “how could United do this?” I tend to side with the “how could they?” crowd.

It doesn’t matter if Brother John Baptist’s credit card had a problem. It doesn’t matter that he should or shouldn’t have spoken with the monastery’s bank. It doesn’t matter whose fault this is. United should have fixed it, fast. Before Abbot Philip had to get involved, and before the monks had to call me.

United apologized, returned Brother John Baptist to New Mexico, and offered a flight credit. But did it really do enough?

Did United do enough for the monks?

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57 thoughts on “What can a Benedictine monk teach United Airlines about customer service? A lot

  1. I had a similar case with American. It was not a credit card fraud alert but they invalidated my ticket booked through an agent without notifying me. There were so many inconsistencies in AA’s claim so I went back and forth with the travel agent and AA explaining why AA didn’t make much sense. Of course, the travel agent had no clue about what AA is talking about because it looked all fine to them. After calling them so many times (their platinum desk) including supervisors, they told me the same thing: the travel agent made a mistake and booked my ticket incorrectly, so they didn’t want to listen to me. I have to admit that AA agents were a bit mean and very narrow minded in this case until I made a conference call with AA, the travel agent and myself. All of sudden, the AA agent during the conference call said my ticket was completely ok. I explained my case to the customer service, hoping they would learn from this case. Not sure if they do but whenever I send an email to airline customer service, they almost always say they’d use it for training purposes. Given the fact that AA agents and their supervisors never wanted to carefully listen and investigate further, I wouldn’t be surprised if the customer service agents leave all these comments without making a good use of them…If so, my hope and comments will be wasted. I hope both AA and UA learn from the comments they get.

  2. I read this article a few days ago and though wow they really pissed this guy off. They wanted someone to drive 3 hours to the United desk at the airport to work it out in person. I believe the quote was “you have not been very helpful”, a monk saying something negative is the same as Silent Bob talking out loud.

    I’m leaning towards society as a whole does not care anymore. This could have happened to anyone, but because it was a monk it’s making headlines. People don’t give a rat’s behind anymore, everyone is skeptical, but at the same time it really seems like everyone is out to get everyone else. People want the lowest price no matter how bad the service and then complain the whole time (yes you Spirit Airlines)! Let’s scam anything we can seems to be the attitude. Here’s an idea, pay for something and enjoy it!

    Really what it comes down to is the company’s attitude towards people in general, unless your a really good customer they seem to not want to see it from the comsumer prospective.

    Anyway thanks for letting me rant!

    1. People want the lowest price no matter how bad the service and then complain the whole time (yes you Spirit Airlines)!

      I agree with most of your comment, but the evidence doesn’t quite support this statement.

      We have evidence that: “passengers of low-cost carriers [… ] are significantly less likely to complain about service quality failures than passengers of network [legacy] carriers […] controlling for similar levels of actual service quality and yearly fixed-effects.”

      http://web.mit.Edu/wittman/www/consumer_complaints.pdf

      Which makes Spirit’s complaint rate (see attached graph) all the more remarkable….

    2. People want the lowest price no matter how bad the service and then complain the whole time (yes you Spirit Airlines)!

      I agree with most of your comment, but the evidence doesn’t quite support this statement.

      We have evidence that: “passengers of low-cost carriers [… ] are significantly less likely to complain about service quality failures than passengers of network [legacy] carriers […] controlling for similar levels of actual service quality and yearly fixed-effects.”

      http://web.mit.Edu/wittman/www/consumer_complaints.pdf

      Which makes Spirit’s complaint rate (see attached graph) all the more remarkable….

    3. There is a segment of the population that will go for the absolute cheapest price, but the fact of the matter is, no one asked for their bags to be damaged, their tickets to be cancelled, or to be given bad service.

      It is the airlines who chose to skimp upon these things in an effort to lower prices. Consumers purchased the lower ticket prices expecting that the airlines had facilitated this by increasing efficiency and streamlining operations, not fully realizing that the economies necessary had been made by giving poor service.

      Since now most airlines have lowered themselves to this level, it has again become solely an issue of price.

      Some establishment and enforcement of minimum standards would force airlines to base their ticket prices upon improvements to their processes, rather than undesirable shortcuts.

  3. Why is there such an emphasis on this guy’s job description? That’s pretty much irrelevant to the issue. Also, who or what is this “Haggler” which pops up in the middle for no apparent reason?

    Having said that and aside from the obfuscation, this is simply a case of an error (human or machine?) which caused undue harm because it was not properly attended to and corrected in a timely manner. Would love to know for how long Baptist was stranded before Chris was contacted.

    1. I don’t have an exact timeline, but Brother John Baptist was stranded for well over a day. The Haggler, who writes a consumer advocacy column for another newspaper, covered this case last week and noted that “someone else connected the monastery to a person with clout at United. Brother John Baptist’s ticket was quickly reinstated.” That someone else was me, although as I said, I would credit the monks for pressuring United to do the right thing.

      And yes, having this happen to a monk is a big deal.

    2. It is relevant in a way that a person with a highly respected status in a society who normally gets better treatment can get maltreatments in hands of an airline.
      The story implies that treatments that nobody like me receives can only get worse than a monk gets, which is frightening.

  4. I don’t think that people will necessarily want all the facts in order to make United look good but I suspect that they will want some facts in order to answer the poll question. I do not think that United acted out of malice. They certainly could have acted a lot quicker from our POV but there is little to go on. I do see that the monks have learned about shaming via social media.

    1. I don’t think I would personally call a plea for help “shaming”. They needed help, and they were probably at a loss as to what to do. So they asked, and they received. Glad they got him back home.

      As for the poll question. I’m not sure what more UA could do at this point. I was glad to see the apology though.

  5. Airlines know they have a captive audience. True competition no longer exists as they are a protected industry with ownership of landing slots, long term “strategic” arrangements with the critical US airports, lack of competitive pricing, focus on cramming more bodies into less space, et al. Have traveled extensively domestically and internationally for many, many years and find the only carriers who care about the customer are overseas. Lots of reasons for the above – our cultural focus on immediate results, stock price, executive bonus, disregard for others, loss of ownership of a problem through resolution by individuals, emphasis on call centers responding to as many calls in as short of time as possible and promotion of individuals who can effectively ‘blow off’ the caller in the shortest time, etc. We no longer treat each other as people but as commodities – and not just airlines. Until we recreate ourselves as people who care about each other, this will continue.

  6. I’ll probably be criticized for saying it, but something in the Abbot’s letter seems a little “off”. It just doesn’t seem like something an Abbot would have written. Am I way off?

    1. I don’t have a problem with the letter. Seems Abbot-ish to me 😉 It certainly was a nice way to express his frustration with the airline. Very level headed and articulate.

      It is possible, as the monk was from another country, the Abbot himself may be from a non-English speaking land as well. That could influence his writing style to a degree.

    2. I didn’t feel much love-thy-neighbor tone towards UA reps in the letter, but then I read transcripts of phone conversation in the accompanying article and realized that they are people of extraordinary patience.

  7. This looks like one of those problems that got fixed in a twinkling as soon as it got escalated to someone with enough neurons to realize what a public relations catastrophe stranding a monk in Africa would be. The abbot’s letter needs to find its way to the functionary in charge of developing those gassy “mission statements” about how important customers are to us. Perhaps they should contract the abbot to write the next mission statement.

  8. Sadly this type of action happens all the time by the airlines, Monk or not. I think this type of situation is one of most airlines major falling, and they all need to work better to prevent situations like this form happening. I really like the Abbot’s letter, the telling of un-truths and buck passing is rampant in “Customer Service”. People need to simply take ownership and fix things, rather than pass the buck and/or lie.

  9. I don’t care I’m going to say it, again. This would not have happened if Can’tinental d.b.a. United didn’t change UA’s computer system to SHARES, a system so primitive it cannot assign seats on a downline segment or tag a bag through to destination if two legs are on separate records. Pre-merger, United staff was trained to pretty much move mountains and take care of a “fraud” alert, deal with the issue and get the guy going instead of tossing it around like a hot potato and they had the tools to do it. Highly unlikely as well would the PNR’s return have be cancelled. All of that technology was stripped away because of SHARES. At worst, he would have been told to purchase another ticket and deal with the refund of the previous one upon return to ABQ.
    Cantinental’s new year resolution ( they’ve been saying this 3 years since the takeover) is (yet again) to improve customer service and now “hold employees accountable”. Does anyone really think CO is going to hunt down the 1/2 dozen people the monk’s spoke with, research their answers, and “hold them accountable”?
    Why, for the love of all that’s holy (no pun intended), do passengers have to get to hair-pulling extremes and do all the work themselves or get third parties involved ?? CE, You certainly are an asset in helping and advocating but really, a person is spending thousands of dollars, stuck clear across the world and this airline can’t help him ???

    1. Continental no longer exists. It hasn’t since United swallowed them. United went with the former Continental reservation system because it was paid for and worked well enough to make senior management happy (i.e. they didn’t have to spend money on it!).

      I never experienced any of the issues you mention about the Continental reservation system and in fact usually saw the exact opposite. Pre merger United screwed up more of my flights than I can count leaving me stranded, Continental only did once but then put me on a Lufthansa flight in 1st class for no extra charge to get me home. Maybe it was because I did not have status with UA but was top level elite with CO and the UA employees didn’t seem to care about my situations.

      There have been numerous times where a former Continental reservations agent has been able to work miracles to get me where I needed to be post-merger while in similar situations an employee from the pre-merger United simply says they will not do it because ” we can’t do that here anymore. It must have been a Continental employee who knew how to do that.”

    2. Sorry but I had the opposite experience with UA before the merger. Their system was junk, filled my PNR with cancelled flights, forced me to call India to do things I could do on the CO website and didn’t seem integrated at all.

      Oh … and the UA staff I dealt with in the US were rude unionites that wouldn’t move their finger much less a mountain to do anything including fixing their mistakes.

    3. I disagree. I stopped flying United years ago for this reason. Every time there was a problem, United acted as if it were my fault. Mechanical problem? Your fault! On-board flight computer issue? It’s up to you to find your way home, and no, we will NOT provide any meal vouchers! I also found that it was up to me to get it fixed. I’ll pay the extra $50-100 and get better service on another airline, thanks.

      1. In the bad experience I described above, they did get us on the next flight (which wasn’t for a couple of hours) but I agree with you. Their customer service was beyond disappointing and they did for us, as far as I can tell, the absolute bare minimum they are required to do. I don’t care to give them any business in the future.

  10. I agree with Chris, the point here is taking responsibility for the mess, not trying to figure out what happened, that’s an internal task. UA can go on and on … but the goal is to take care of the passenger. This is the kind of CS disaster that I’ve been anticipating as I’ve watched the airlines force their customers to do business electronically. Booking online is wonderful, convenient, quick and I prefer it. But I want a real human being to help me if there’s a problem. At the rate airlines are going, pretty soon there will be NOBODY to help the customers except people at a foreign call center who just read scripts and repeat everything you tell them … rarely understanding the situation, much less solving the problem.
    Yesterday I called United to ask about seat assignments on their Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines. The CS rep responded negatively even before I had finished my first sentence. “We can’t do that”, he said. They certainly could do what I asked, once I was able to finish my sentence. All I wanted was the CA record locator number, a simple thing. Surely the airlines can do better at hiring, training and compensating their CS people … but of course that requires actually spending a little money.

    1. This made me cringe and smile at the same time. As agents, we have always had access to an agency desk. The best of their reservationists were placed on those phones. With UA, we have our US based agency desk back. I actually cried when I spoke to their department. The old says, ‘You don’t know what you had until it is gone’ certainly applied to customer service…everywhere. I have had the worst experience with off shore customer service people. You can’t train people to help when their culture is so different and you just give them a printed piece of paper to read off of.

  11. This is one of the most outrageous examples of combined corporate indifference on the macro level and personnel incompetence on the micro level I have encountered in the area of consumer/fianancial fraud law in 40 years.

    And the sadest commentary of all is, in my minds ear, I can hear Excecs at United saying to each other:
    “We stroked those monks pretty good and avoided a big wave negative publicity. It’s a good thing they have to forgive us our sins. If we had left a pet dog stranded in a foreign country, we would have had PETA and the national media all over us for months. Let’s go to the club for celebratory drink.”

    It seems world has adopted a cynical sarcasm of yester year as the general rule of today: “legal is what you can get away with.”

  12. United had it’s problems for sure but for me, ever since Can’tinental took over, top heavy with their people in management on down, it has turned into a negative “we can’t do that anymore” experience and then total silence with no explanations and no effort to find out what could be done with a problem to fix it. They are in severe need of customer service classroom training including caring, empathy, empowerment of their frontline employees, though for a combination of airlines that have been around a long time (CO and UA), you would think they would know how to do that by now.

    1. I had a really bad experience in the past few years with United. We had to make an emergency landing (full on with foam trucks and fire trucks and EMS) and nobody notified us that something was wrong until the last possible minute (I had to notice that we were going in circles myself). When we finally got on the ground, they dragged their feet until the last possible minute before putting us in a hotel we could only use for maybe 2 whole hours of sleep. It was ridiculous. Normally, I don’t care about those things, but when you don’t know what’s wrong with the plane and you think you might die, you would think they could do a little better afterward. We were all pretty freaked out.

      1. @JewelEyed:disqus In a former life, I had some training on emergency management. One of things we were taught was that while people can be intelligent, groups of people are generally dumb. We were told that the smartest thing to do was to share the minimum amount of information and hold off until the last possible minute. The thought being the longer you give people to be scared about something they can’t do anything about, the more time you give the mob to form. Apparently, they had research to back it up. I also had an employee that was a former FA that told us the same thing. That doesn’t excuse the after the fact but may help explain why they waited.

        1. Well, they assumed that each individual person was too stupid to notice. I kinda find that to be a problem, especially since they were wrong. When we passed a cloud that looked like Professor Farnsworth from Futurama twice while I was reading my book, I knew something was wrong. “Good news, everyone!” was never quite so well-timed.

  13. First, UA seemingly did not attempt to identify the root cause of their problem and change their procedures to eliminate that root cause. UA might have eventually done enough to satisfy one customer, but by not fixing the root cause they put future customers at risk. I do hope that the folks at UA will embrace rigorous root cause identification and corrective action procedures. Good training has existed for many years.

    Finally, I am reminded of a recent event in Russia in which two thieves robbed a church. As they were exiting they were struck by lightning and killed. While I do not wish that anybody at UA is ever hurt, a gentle but unmistakable close call might get the attention of certain lax customer service reps and managers.

  14. First, UA seemingly did not attempt to identify the root cause of their problem and change their procedures to eliminate that root cause. UA might have eventually done enough to satisfy one customer, but by not fixing the root cause they put future customers at risk. I do hope that the folks at UA will embrace rigorous root cause identification and corrective action procedures. Good training has existed for many years.

    Finally, I am reminded of a recent event in Russia in which two thieves robbed a church. As they were exiting they were struck by lightning and killed. While I do not wish that anybody at UA is ever hurt, a gentle but unmistakable close call might get the attention of certain lax customer service reps and managers.

  15. Judy
    I can soooooooo empathize with your “we can’t do that” encounter with the United airline phone representative. It happens thousands of times a day from thousands of comapny call centers. I’ve concluded it’s a sign of the times with employees who are afraid to admit they don’t know everything and are convinced they so much more than the consumer that they don’t listen to what’s being said. The real test is when yo ask a question and the answer given is the response to another (sometimes unrelated) question.
    Retraining is the only answer and every assistance call center rep should be trained to listen to the question or statement and repeat it back to the caller before verbalizing the response. That would force the call center rep to think of the issue presented by the caller not an issue the call center rep thinks it is.

    1. A large problem, though, are also the off-shore, overseas call center employees simply do not understand the vernacular or parlance. What good is speaking the King’s English if you do not understand or listen properly or have no clue how to show empathy or compassion? I recently had the “pleasure” or I should say no choice but to speak to someone at such a foreign call center. It was so frustrating. The representative just kept repeating my name, thanking me for calling and repeatedly apologizing before I even elaborated in depth about the problem. When they finally stopped all this rote, they acknowledged my “problem” by completely twisting it around and saying there was nothing they could do. I’m talking about A and they are talking about Z. No clue. I hung up. I had to make 4-5 attempts to finally get someone to listen, understand and react appropriately.
      Hmm, I pay money, I get an inferior product or service, I call to complain or get it rectified and I’m met with – NOTHING – just the feeling that I have to do all the work. Aren’t they getting paid (with my money) to do the work ?

      1. Usually it’s apparent in the first 90 seconds whether or not the offshore person actually understands the problem. After that, I just keep repeating “I want to talk to a supervisor” until I get someone who isn’t compelled to read off a script. Occasionally I need to start asking to speak to someone in the US – they do give in if you’re persistent enough. The legendary AOL-cancellation video guy is my hero.

    2. 1. They ain’t listening to you.
      2. They don’t understand you.
      3. They are reading from a script.
      4. A robot could do the same job.

      At Best Buy:
      Me: I need an AV cable to connect an analog video camera to a digitizer.
      Disinterested yuckle: We don’t have one.
      Me: What did I just ask you to get for me?
      Dy: Huh?
      Me: What did I just request from you?
      Dy: I don’t know.
      Me: Then how do you know that you don’t have it?

  16. Once again, I think the ‘quiz’ misses the point of this mess and of the Abbot’s letter. It’s not so much an apology and compensation. It’s more about United learning from it.

    One thing I learned a long time ago is that most people, with the exception of those who like to scream to try to get something for free, want more than an apology and/or a refund – they want to know *why* it happened and *how* it won’t happen again. A company will be seen as having good customer service simply by saying, “We screwed up here, here, and here. We’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen again by doing X, Y, and Z.” And then following through and doing those things.

    1. I don’t agree that “most people” feel that way. In my experience, most people want whatever they can get. It is the minority that truly want to understand things and willing to listen to information when something goes wrong.

  17. It’s not that United didn’t go far enough…. the Abbot should have gone further. Abbot Philip, who like others of the cloth, has a direct line to the heavens and might have
    condemned the United official to the 9th ring of Dante’s inferno in Hell. There, instead of celebrating a mass, the United malefactor would have his head gnawed by Satan’s mouth, his back forever skinned by Satan’s claws while lying supine in a covering of ice,
    except for his face. A hundred years of that treatment would put the fear of
    Elliott in the hearts of those in the travel industry.

    1. I don’t think that’s punishment enough. i would put the miscreants on Hell’s official airline, Allegiant, and make them take flights continuously for all eternity.

  18. Solution is, as always, disarmingly simple and incredibly impossible to apply – competition. Nobody and nothing will make ANY change in its course unless a force acts upon it. Newton 101 😉

    You want a significant and visible change in course of observed person or entity? Good, apply force big enough to result in such change. Nothing motivates humans and entities made of and by humans better than threat of sudden death.

    Autobahn and High Speed Rail. You do not need airlines for most of average American’s trips.

    Yeah, I’m aware that there is no train between New York and London, thank you very much.

  19. I disagree with you about Can’tinental’s flight screw-ups. My experiences with them were that snafus were the norm rather than the exception. I was NEVER on a Can’tinental flight which was on time. NEVER!

    – Cancelling flights without contacting me. My overseas and domestic phone numbers, as well as e-mail address, were in their “system”. Had in hand a printout from their partner in Asia issued 3 days previously. They claimed in EWR to have no knowledge of the flight cited on the paper. I asked them if they thought I conjured up that paper with magic.
    – Cancelling / shuffling flights out of IAD to EWR which, in light of my historical experience with Can’t, made it problematical to make the overseas connection in EWR because the layover time had been shortened. Again, they never contacted me; I discovered the change during my normal 2 week before departure review. Can’t wouldn’t switch me to an earlier flight unless I gave those thieving scumbags a $100 change fee to repair their screw-up. They wouldn’t permit their “partner” airline to have access to the system to make the change. Partner airline rep saw no seats available. They had ’em for me if I gave ’em $100.
    – Can’t wanted to charge me a bag fee on an international itinerary which was their flight to connect with their Asian partner. Bimbo tried to tell me that it was two different reservations because the confirm numbers were different. As in, I’m a moron that I’d believe that, in that Can’t has a different confirm code from the partner airline, and always has, but now I’d be a stupid jerk and hand them $60. Called the partner airline, who told me they had a seat for me two days hence. Told Can’t their choices: Either put me on the flight w/o trying to steal from me, or 2] I leave, go to see my lawyer and turn him loose, and make my way to the partner airline another way. They caved. And I never flew on them again.

    You were lucky. Maybe I wasn’t. As noted elsewhere on this thread, the overseas airlines are customer-oriented. The ‘Murican flag lines can KMA……

  20. I’d rather use a reputable airline. I can deal directly with them. Of course, the native language of the reputable airline isn’t Ænglish.

    I have nothing against using TA, especially wanna use ’em for anything complicated. For my normal, uncomplicated commute to Asia, I can buy a ticket from the airline and experience no problems.

  21. “you just give them a printed piece of paper to read off of.”

    NEVER end a sentence with a preposition!

    Correct: “you just give them a printed piece of paper to read off of, you MORON!”

  22. I am glad that it was resolved – disappointed but not surprised that it happened. Kudos to all of those involved in the solution.

    Perhaps Abbot Philip or Mr. Elliott could implore upon United to also not repeatedly damage my bag and some of the contents just about every time I check it. When I go to the baggage repair facility, they most certainly know I have completed another United trip.

    The score for damaging this bag over the last couple of years is:
    United 4
    All other airlines 0

    I assume that they are not treating my bag any differently than those of others, but yet this is indicative of their rough treatment of baggage in general (United doesn’t only break guitars).

    Perhaps airlines in general, and United in particular could reflect upon these aspects of their business and resolve to make some significant improvements. They should strive for improvement rather than the opposite direction.

  23. united cancelled by flight out so i rented a car(daughters weddfing) and was told by gate agent thery would not cancel my return flights but of course they DID,,, not nice i saved them$$ by not flying and renting a car

  24. This isn’t accurate. United did not “swallow” Continental. It was technically a merger, but the vast majority of surviving executives came from the Continental side. Most policies that were not blended came from the former CO side. Very little is left of United besides the name.

    As for the reservation system, many former CO agents say that there are problems with the system now that were not present pre-merger, which basically implies that the system may have been fine for the size that Continental was pre-merger, but is having issues with the combination. I would suggest that is kind at best.

    As for your last point, when the carrier does not want to pay for thorough training of agents converting to the new system, well then as a group they will not have the same level of experience.

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