Oh United, You Make it Hard to Love You

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Important thing’s first.  Happy Memorial Day, and thank you so much to all who have served our country.  I may or may not always agree with why we are at war with various countries, but I will forever be enormously grateful for those who are willing to serve.  I am sad that I missed the Memorial Day celebration in DC by two days.  Instead, I celebrated the three day weekend at home with my family – which in reality is much better anyway.  We dressed in red, white, and blue, put out American flags down our sidewalk, went to a neighbor’s pool party, ate burgers, and drank whiskey.  Oh, and I also wasted 100 minutes on the phone with United.  That was not a part of the initial holiday weekend plan.

About three weeks ago I purchased a very simple ticket from Houston to San Antonio and back.  My daughter and I are flying there to meet up with my husband who will already be there for work purposes.  Normally I would have driven that route, but this time it makes more sense to fly.  Anyway, I bought the ticket and received the initial automatic email back from United that showed the dates, the price, the confirmation number, etc.  Normally I would receive the email that the reservation had actually ticketed a few minutes later.  However, that email never came, the reservation never appeared in my MileagePlus account, and the confirmation number would never pull up an actual reservation.

I kept hoping against hope it would fix itself, but that never happened.  So while my child was napping today I bit the bullet and called United.  I knew it would not be a quick call, but was hoping to keep the call at about 30-40 minutes as that was how long I likely had until nap time was over.  Yes, all things revolve around nap time – the only productive 90 minutes of the day.  I’ll start with a positive fact, the phone was answered almost immediately, no hold time.  The call was answered in India by a woman who was trying to be helpful, but rather quickly I was asking for a supervisor as it was clear that she was not going to be able to find the reservation, and I needed to talk to someone else.  Since she was nice and kept asking for a few more minutes to “try to find it another way”, I agreed.  Eventually she did let me send in the initial email I received from United.  I had asked for this from the beginning, but 30 minutes in she agreed it was a good idea.  She explained they do not have work email addresses, so they normally cannot accept emails, but I was able to send it to her supervisor.

About another 30 minutes go by after I send it while we wait for the supervisor to get done with another call and review the email.  She does offer to call me back, but I just don’t trust that I will hear from anyone again, and I really don’t want to start over.  At roughly the one hour mark my child has been awake for about 15 minutes and both she and my husband are getting a bit annoyed.  I want to hang up, but keep hoping a resolution is just around the corner.  Around this same time it is confirmed that the supervisor has received the email and the problem is that the reservation never ticketed and thus was canceled.  Um, yes, I know that is the problem.  I want to know what caused it never to ticket, and what are we going to do to fix the problem.

The agent I have been on with the whole time takes all my flight information again and says she will book it for me again and (generously?) waive the phone booking fee.  Amazingly the flight is still pricing the same as it was a few weeks ago, so that part is pretty simple.  I wanted it booked again on the spot first to avoid possibly repeating the same problem, and secondly to make sure that the gift certificate that was applied to part of the first ticket wasn’t going to show as already used.  After the agent takes all our info, she transfers me to someone else to finish the booking.  This starts the entire process all over again.  We have to explain what the problem was, what had been done thus far, and then start over again with the booking process.  Normally, this would not be a big deal but I had now been on the phone for about 85 minutes and had a cranky toddler and husband on my hands.  Going backwards for no apparent reason was not making me happy.

After she gets all the information again, I get put on hold.  Again.  At exactly 100 minutes into the call, I call it quits.  While the call hopefully would have ended at any moment anyway, I had already been thinking that for about 40 minutes and couldn’t waste any more time hoping we were almost done on a day that was meant to be about the three of us enjoying time together. It was way past swim time at that point!

Miraculously, about an hour later I receive an automated email from United with the ticketed reservation.  Hallelujah!  I had already planned in my head to write a polite, but unhappy letter to United about this experience, however the email confirmation made me think twice.  The price on the email confirmation is less than what I was quoted today by both agents.  The price was about 35% off and it booked into a different booking class than what I saw available today.  Perhaps that was a lucky mistake, or perhaps it was intentional as a sort of apology.  Either way, it certainly wasn’t mentioned to me today during my 100 minutes chatting with United.  It was, however, a nice surprise.

To pass the time today, I was tweeting some of my displeasure with the process.  As a result, some helpful readers sent me some “special” United numbers to call for better assistance.  I very much appreciate that assistance, but it seems crazy to me that anyone would have to call a special number.  I’m not “special”, I didn’t have a “special” request, and I don’t need “special” help.  Well, maybe I do, but that is a story for another day…… 😉  I just need basic help when an airline doesn’t ticket a reservation.  I should not have to spend 100 minutes on the phone and then just give-up as I have no idea when the problem will be resolved.  This is kind of crazy.  What makes it worse is that I have another reservation that seems to have the exact same problem, only this one was just purchased yesterday, so I am still hoping that it will ticket on its own.  I actually brought it up today on the call at the beginning, but we never got around to actually addressing that issue.  For that one, the price I paid is way long gone, so I can only imagine what the process will be like to get it fixed.  I very much do not want to spend another 100 minutes on the phone.

However, despite how this likely sounds, this post really isn’t about me.  If I was the only one on earth this ever happened to, then it would just be bad luck.  However, based on the Twitter responses I got today, there are others that are having this same problem and they are having similar difficulties when they try to get it resolved.  Have I just been lucky for 31 years to never have this issue, or is this something that is happening more frequently right now?  Who really has that long to be on the phone to resolve a problem that they didn’t cause in the first place?  Who really has time to repeat the whole process again on a different ticket?  In case anyone is counting, I do realize I could have gotten half way to San Antonio by the time today’s phone call was finished.  United, I really want to love you.  I do.  But, you are making it quite difficult.

If anyone has a similar story, or a recommendation to get my next ticket fixed short of wasting another hour and forty minutes of my life, I’m all ears!  Sounds like many of us could benefit from some help with this apparently semi-common issue.  We all need less time on the phone with airlines and more time swimming in the pool!


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  1. This seems to be a big problem whenever redeeming gift certificates or any type of certificates of a sort… I have status, and let’s just say it took multiple calls, and several agents before it got resolved. United has got quite a bit of work ahead of them!

  2. UGG!!! Your story brought up way too many very unhappy United memories….how do we get in on the special numbers?? Are those agents in the USA?? Although their redemption award fees were a fraction of US Airways the past two summers, getting someone who is able to help is VERY difficult!

  3. Feel. Your. Pain. My upcoming flt on United this week has been through the ringer. It was booked 3 months ago. Both direct (and short) flights. Outbound has had departure and arrival time changes. Inbound is now a whole new flight, which leaves 45 min earlier (from a way too early flight anyway) and on a CRJ now (from SEA-DEN). If it were just me, it would be fine. BUT I’m traveling with a 5-month old and a 2 1/2 year old. I wanted the 3-across seating of a mainline.

    Emailed United. Heard back 29 (!) days later via email “Sorry about the delay, we’ve been experiencing higher than normal……blah blah blah.”. Then they said “by the way, we can’t help you with this via email, you have to call 1-800-WAIT-FOREVER”

    Not happy right now.

  4. I can not recommend to anyone to fly United until they have the many many problems worked through (families been broken up on flights because of last minute seating changes, flight segments going missing, difficulties rescheduling when problems happen, on and on). I’ve wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt but problems abound, and who needs the headache of it all? Let’s check back in with them at the end of the year.

  5. United’s now good-for-nothing system is just not processing tickets the way a modern system should anymore. I made reservations for a friend using a voucher code, was charged a phone booking fee when the website did not work whatsoever, and then his ticket wasn’t confirmed or processed until a week later. What system does not process tickets instantly these days? How on earth can the largest airline in the world use such horrible infrastructure?

    I called in a few times, and the first time, I was barked by the agent in a way that sounded like I was wasting his time. Absolutely ridiculous. If it wasn’t for the Star Alliance partner benefits that I would receive, I would definitely fly another airline over them now.

  6. 100 minutes? That’s it?! Geez, I spent 4 hours on the phone with them a few weeks ago. I dread ever having to call them but I end up having to almost every time I fly to redeem certificates, have a flight cancelled, or my all-time favorite because they gave my infant son his own record locator and split our family apart.

  7. I did the same today and got connected to this lady in India who spoke broken English and who wouldnt understand a word I said, she kept saying “I try now”. However when I told her the confirmation code she didn’t understand what I was saying. I just hung up after that because she could not understand who I wanted to speak to (I asked for the advisor).

  8. Time to ditch United and go with American who could’ve helped you via Twitter since I noticed they replied to Ben’s (Lucky) photo tweet around the same time as yours 😉

  9. Pre 3/3 I had an issue where I thought I booked a ticket through the iPhone app, but it didn’t go through. About 12 hours after that, when I had received no email and it wasn’t in my MP account, I called up United (who transferred me to CO because that is where all the iPhone app reservations go through). In the time since I thought I booked it and when I called it had gone up from $90 to $220. After about 20 minutes the Continental agent did honor the original price, annoying, but it all worked out.

  10. I just had a positive experience with UA though it is not related to ticketing. Just got off a p.s. flight from JFK-SFO that was 3 hours late due to engine problems requiring a plane swap at JFK.
    By the time I got home and checked my email, they had already emailed apologizing for the delay, noting the exact reason for the delay, and noting that it was really really hot in the plane while we were stuck inside. Link to the appreciation page offered us: 1) 7000 miles (flight itself is only 2586); 2) $100 off a North America flight; 3) 10% off any economy ticket. We took #1, banking almost 10,000 miles for a single transcon. I’m appeased.

  11. The confirmation e-mail never came after booking tickets with cash and then upgrading to business class with miles on United. I do show a reservation on the web site and after a similar 2 day several hour phone call to India it was confirmed I do have flight reservations. A month later the miles have not been deducted from my account and the charge to my credit card is less than the web site pricing. Still waiting for an e-mail response as to what is going on!

  12. @Jimgotkp – American does ticket things pretty quickly. Of course, between the scheduled departure time and the time the flight actually leaves the departure gate, you could’ve driven there…. 😉

  13. It sucks. For sure.

    Since you are a self-proclaimed Cuntinental girl, keep in mind that it is CO’s SHARES which is causing this problem. United used to do instant-ticketing — never had a problem with any type of discount. Not saying that CO had this problem prior to the merger — I dunno, never flew them. But it is well-known that SHARES is inferior.

    You could earn a lot of cred as a blogger if you would start taking UA to task over these issues on a regular basis.

  14. Typical. I’m surprised they don’t charge you an extra fee for talking with them on the phone. By the way how long is the flight from Houston to San Antonio ? I bet the phone call almost matches the round trip time in the air 🙂

  15. If it makes you feel any better, I had a similar problem with BA for a BA flight when using a coupon. Four weeks after reservation, it had not ticketed but at least it was still in their system. I called 2 days before departure and they manually (and painfully) ticketed while I was on the phone. ‘Only’ took half as long as your phone call but I was dismayed with their antiquated coupon system. Old CO vouchers could be applied online.

  16. This happened to me but I found out it hadn’t actually been ticketed when I got to the airport…on my way to Germany!

  17. Sorry to hear that many others have had similar situations. Billy made a lightbulb go off over my head as gift certificates are exactly what these two reservations had in common. I’ve had so many reservations lately, I lost track in my mind of which ones I used those on, but it was indeed these two. I’m about to have to call for the second one, and it is likely to be a much bigger mess as the fare is long long gone and I need the B fare at the price I paid….or thought I paid.

    I am not one that was drinking the CO Kool-aid and thought everything was perfect before, but I never personally had this problem before. I’m not out looking to write negative experiences about my airline of choice, but when stuff goes wrong, I do often find myself here writing about it. Hopefully the next post about them will be something that went right! Crossing my fingers this next call doesn’t take quite as long. Oh boy…….. 😉

  18. Just another data point. Redeemed a travel voucher yesterday and it got ticketed immediately… looks like they are slowly making some progress.

  19. I have had no luck with United either. Back in Feb I booked 8 round trip reward tickets to Hawaii for my family in Aug. They have changed my direct return flight KOA-ORD to a connecting flight in LAX and are now requiring me to leave 4 hours earlier than originally planned but now with the connection. No apology, no credit just an email tell us our tickets had been changed and re-booked for both outbound and the return. When I called to complain they say that I have to send an email to customer service. I have done this multiple times and no response. I even requested to speak with a supervisor and they just tell me to send an email. I told her that when I send emails to customer service I never get a response back. What should I do? Continue to wait, give up or send a fedex letter to head of customer service.

  20. This is a little off the subject, but I’m so sick of talking to people in India or the Philippines , The thing I Love about Chase is I have Never spoken to anyone but Americans when dealing with them. And they claim to hire veterans big-time. YEA CHASE! Everyday I get a call from Citi Bank someone in the Philippines wanting to sell me I’D Fraud protection. They can’t even prounce my first name. I’m about to dump City, because of this out sourcing and harassment. But again, GOOD JOB CHASE, KEEP AMERICANS WORKING !

  21. Looks like the ‘new’ United is quickly becoming the old “red and gold” Continental of the 1980’s. Where service sucked across the board and nobody wanted to fly them. Please tell me it is not so. For now, I am sticking with flying Southwest out of Houston until all these ‘bugs’ are worked out of the system.

  22. Agree on Chase, though my wife doesn’t like Chase because she has to talk to a human every time. Go figure…

    I’d tell you some stories about Carnival cruise line, but I can’t afford another new keyboard right now. 🙁

  23. Tragically, this story is too typical. I have been 1k for the last two years and will be again this year.

    I was actually “upgraded” to a later flight by Continental a few months back. In essence, they bumped me from my scheduled flight. It took me two letters to Jeff Smisek and hours on the phone to get the compensation that they are required to give me.

    My experience has been consistently bad with Continental and, since the merger, United. Literally everything has gotten worse – website, phone service, security wait times, upgrades, service at the airport and onboard. It’s all really disappointing.

  24. So today I call about my other non-ticketing ticket and this time it clocked in at just under one hour, however several hours later it still has not ticketed although they say it was “fixed”. I’m going to have a hard time staying calm if I have to call a third time. This is truly insane.

  25. Unfortunately, you are experiencing the new normal. There are no quick calls to UA anymore. Don’t matter if you are a 1K or dirt, it takes forever.

    Please post your story on FT.

    • @Ralph, once it has a resolution, I will. Sadly, the story is not yet over. Additionally, I think “dirt” is a very good way to describe my current status. 😉

  26. I’ve got a similar post-merger horror story- flight to India rebooked, with errors, 3 times; price increases had to be paid to correct their mistakes ($500+), but certificate for the one price reduction never issued. Had an absolutely horrobile experience at EWR terminal B lounge- rude staff and disgusting bathroom is enough said. Have also received less than half the mileage credit due. To top it off, received an email about a month later saying they had a long que and someone would get back to me soon. (Btw, been another month and no response yet.)

    But, inspired by your phone call tenacity, I called the primier line today and have actually been connected to two incredibly helpful people. I’ve gotten the travel certificate, and a future flight fixed, and official requests submitted about the miles. There still doesn’t seem to be any real customer service mechanism for complaints, which in itself warrents a complaint. We’ll see what happens.

  27. Having the same issue with a non-ticketing ticket. Ticket went from confirmed but not ticketed to on hold, expiring today. I booked this online using a gift certificate.

    UA Plat here.

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