Speak Up When Something Goes Wrong (Resolution from Atlanta Trip Issues)

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A few people have been curious about what the outcome was in regards to my recent trip back from Atlanta on United where we had documented problems with our upgrades never being processed, and our daughter being told she has to be removed from her FAA approved car seat.  I’m happy to share the outcome, but also want to take this chance to remind others that it really is sometimes worth the extra effort to provide the airline or hotel some feedback when things really don’t work out the way they should.  This is not just because you may get compensated in some way (though you may), but also because it is the only way the company can find out there was a problem.

If you are curious, you can head to this post to read a detailed account of what went wrong on our United flight last week, but the gist was we didn’t get upgrades that were available and we were eligible for as (presumably) the gate agent did not process them, and more importantly we were told we had to remove our daughter from her FAA approved car seat after it was installed on the plane.  As soon as we landed I reached out to @United on Twitter, and then followed up with filling out the formal online form on the United website the next day.

United asked for my contact info via direct message on Twitter and a woman contacted me within a few hours of providing that info.  She seemed truly angry and upset that both events had happened to our family.  She spoke pretty candidly, and I believe her concern was genuine.  In other words, it did not feel like I was talking to a faceless and/or soulless company rep who was just checking us off her “to do” list.  I felt like I was talking to a real person who was proud of their company and wanted her fellow employees to do better (which is exactly what I want from “my” airline).  In addition to assuring me that she was following up with the folks I interacted with in Atlanta to make sure that they were clear on the upgrade and car seat policies, she also provided us with three regional first class upgrades to make up for the upgrades we had earned, but were not given on the flight.

With those three regional first class upgrades we will be able to confirm ourselves into first class ahead of time for a trip and avoid the day-of-departure upgrade drama for that particular flight.  Naturally we will likely use them on a flight that is much longer than Atlanta to Houston.  I’m sure some will say that is overly generous, and some will say that isn’t enough compensation, but I was happy with it.  It was the best way to replace the upgrades we weren’t given that day.  There is no way to fix the car seat issue with any direct compensation, and truthfully that isn’t what I was after.  I just really don’t want another family to have the same experience when flying United (or any other airline for that matter).  Family travel can be challenging enough without unnecessary roadblocks like that thrown in along the way.

I know that United reaching out to me quickly and personally may well be related to this blog.  However, you by no means have to be a blogger in order to receive compensation or get the attention of an airline or hotel when things go wrong.  Here are a few links to some airline online feedback forms:


American Airlines


US Airways

Southwest Airlines

Frontier Airlines

It usually takes less than five minutes to let the airline know what went wrong, and it can only help to bring real problems to their attention.  I don’t advocate complaining about every little bump in the road, but the things that really impact your traveling experience deserve to be shared.  Hotels can be a little trickier as you typically need to start by working one on one with the individual property you had an issue with.  If you don’t get resolution there, you can then go to their corporate presence for some additional help.

Have you had success in sharing problems you have encountered during your travels with airlines and hotels?


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  1. I’m so glad to hear that they worked with you to resolve the issue. It’s important that they give you some kind of appropriate compensation. But if it was me, what would’ve been a bigger deal was them responding promptly and with genuine concern. Kudos to united for handling the aftermath correctly.

  2. Big fan of your blog, and I am very sorry to hear about your experience with United. However, it seems like they went out of there way to fix it unlike the issues I have faced (which are much worse than losing an upgrade). In fact, I am still waiting to hear from them from over three weeks ago. I don’t mean any disrespect (I really don’t), but since you are a blogger, I am sure they want to please you so you can give them a good image.

  3. Glad to hear that things worked out to your satisfaction. I’ve had pretty good success with United when things have gone wrong recently (but I think having a high status level helped a lot in both of our cases).

  4. Do you really believe that people without a blog with high readership get the same kind of response? My personal experiences lead me to believe otherwise.

  5. I do think high status is probably helpful. They want to retain good business and make sure things are right. I haven’t had many bad travel experiences lately (except one on American a few months ago). I am 1k on United so am much more likely to complain there.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, I talk to a ton of United agents trying to book some of my complex, optimized routings. When an agent is particularly helpful (or doesn’t try to cause too much trouble insisting stopover and open-jaw rules are more restrictive than they are in reality), I often asked to be transferred to the supervisor and give them a glowing review. Or, if I am short on time, I ask for their names and send a quick note to United saying how helpful they were. It’s just so much better for everyone when I don’t have to argue for 30 minutes before everyone realizes I’m right! 🙂

  6. I agree with MPs as something similar happened to us during a Dallas-Miami flight with AA. We were flying first class as part of our last leg from Hawaii to Miami, and my wife’s seat did not recline. We personally didn’t really care, as the flight was only 2 hours and I just switched with her, but we did let the flight attendant know because we didn’t want the problem to go unreported and the next passenger getting stuck as well. He tried to fix it and couldn’t, and then he told us he would write it up. I dismissed it as it wasn’t really a big deal, but the next morning I woke up to the beautiful sight of 15,000 AA miles as compensation for our trouble. Needless to say we were thrilled and gave them a very good review.

  7. Status no longer matters on UA. If most other Plats had had the same issue, we would be waiting 6 weeks for an email reply telling us the issue was weather related and therefore not subject to compensation. I have been Plat on UA and before that on CO for going on a decade….

  8. In the pre-Continental days this is about the order of magnitude of compensation I would have expected anyone to get though it would likely have been a travel voucher rather than upgrades and with amount varying by status.

    United used to do ‘downgrade kits’ of a confirmed regional upgrade when you weren’t provided your first class seat (eg you were upgraded but the premium cabin was oversold). That’s effectively what happened here, you should have been upgraded but weren’t given the seat, so should be able to confirm an upgrade some other time.

    Seat aside, I think I recall that one of you actually upgraded on the flight, so the downgrade compensation seems right at 2 confirmed upgrades (family traveling together notwithstanding) but making it right with 3 seems fair considering the other issues (such as car seat) you faced.

    About the right amount of compensastion, also within the historical range of what United would provide back when the airline was ‘actually’ United.

    So the only ‘question’ here is whether you were given the right compensation, that anyone used to get, *by Continental* because of the blog. Who knows? It does seem like United is at least trying harder the past month or so.

    And regardless I think this is a useful post, a great benchmark for others on what’s within the ballpark of what they ought to ask for. So thanks for the followup!

  9. @Sean: I disagree. I have often received positive results out of speaking up issues during hotel stays or flights. Sometimes I get WOW’ed, other times it is a simple “thank you, we will look into it.”

    Having a blog may or may not help the cause, however I feel it is more important (to the company) to have some status with the airline/hotel. Anyway, the point is, voice your dissatisfaction and opinions if something didn’t go properly.

  10. I’m more impressed that someone actually paid attention to your complaint. In my experience with United it’s usually the generic “thanks for being a premier — sorry we effed up, here’s $200” which is great but I never feel like I get through to anyone if and when I complain. I have a ton of e-certs after a horrible year, but without feeling like anything is being done to address the issue(s), I’m kind of not that excited about using them to fly on United more. Anyway nice to her that someone is finally paying attention. Way to go!

  11. Thanks for links to airlines. On my to do list is a complaint message regarding the kids room inside the Admirals Lounge at LAX, which is disgusting. Whether my complaint does any good or not, I wanted to write the message so your post and link motivated me to get it done!

  12. Interestingly, my husband and I had a similar situation about 10 days ago. I was upgraded and he was next on the list. The gate agent, instead, moved 2 out of uniform airline employees into the empty seats from coach.. My husband emailed United and within 2 hours he had a truly personal response, and by the end of that same day, United deposited 10,000 miles into his account. We were fine with that compensation as the flight was only a 15 minute flight, but I suspect the gate agent had no idea that the spouse of the first person on the upgrade list was already in first watching all of this… (Full disclosure: we are both 1K). However, I was extremely impressed with the immediate response.

  13. I suppose it’s not surprising that airlines seem to have more “rogue” employees than most industries, after all the pay and benefits cuts and the uncertainties they’ve all been through.

    But, I do believe that airlines bring a lot of this on to themselves, by having opaque and extremely complicated systems to handle everything. It essentially means that employees who understand the system can get away with anything with little fear of being called on it. And if they are caught, their union will back them to the hilt, rather than focusing on trying to get better conditions for all its members.

    So, it’s easier for the airlines simply to pay some compensation, rather than tackle the issue.

  14. @MommyPoints, which UA Twitter did you tweet to?

    I do wonder if you’d get a response/resolution from the “regular” online form vs. Twitter. I think their standard turnaround is 5 business days?

    I submitted a complaint last Thursday (no status, *A Gold) for a aircraft-maintenance-delay-causing-us-to-overnight-in-EWR (for 2 adults+1 baby) requesting small compensation, and we shall see how long that takes

    I do think your blogger status helped as well Twitter, but regardless I certainly UA treats all customers like they treat you (on the customer service part, no on the gate agent part)

  15. Jamie, totally agree. Compensation actually didn’t even enter my head until someone brought it up online. I just wanted the problem fixed.
    Jack, I agree that may have played into it – mentioned it in the post as I think it is important to acknowledge that. I have had many other issues with UA that have taken longer to get a response on (weeks), but I would have been causing a big stink on this issue because of the car seat whether I was a blogger or not and hope that they would have responded at some point.
    Food and Wine, agree that status likely comes into play some as well.
    Sean, I said in the post that I acknowledge the blog likely came into play in terms of response time. However, I do think that they do eventually responded to the complaints that come in. It can take a while, but many non-bloggers get responses and compensation all the time.
    The Miles Professor, good for you for taking the time to give praise as well. Well done!
    FreeTravelGuys, well done and good example that many airlines really do try to do the right thing when you bring issues to their attention.
    AAexplat, there is usually a longer delay for sure, but I do not think they would have blamed weather in this case. 😉
    Gary, that is my impression as well and I do agree they seem to be trying a bit harder and I have seen them more active on Twitter as well (which is where this complaint first came to their attention).
    CodeAdam, totally agree.
    Hulagirl, it is more common that they hand out vouchers and a form letter…which isn’t terrible, but doesn’t necessarily make you feel like anyone is doing follow-up.
    Robyn, good for you and sorry the family room wasn’t up to par. That is too bad!
    Denise, great to hear you took the time to bring it up and that they responded quickly.
    NB, there is a lot of moving parts with airlines and problems for sure.
    Jerry, I used @Untied and I would do both. In fact, I did do both. I have had it take weeks to get a response via the normal channel, but they have always responded eventually. Fingers crossed you get a response soon!

  16. @MommyPoints
    Thanks, I find it funny that you typed @UnTIEd instead of @uniTED <– that could be intentional though, LOL, as UnTIED.com is a United-complaint website (which is being sued by United). I'll give 1-2 weeks for my case before tweeting, as they may be overwhelmed with the snowstorm aftermath

  17. Frankly, MP, this situation makes me very angry with UA. Don’t get me wrong, I really am glad that things worked out for you — you’re the sweetest blogger out there and you deserve all good things that come your way. But I have zero doubt in my mind that they’re only doing this because you’re a blogger and know that you’ll be writing about how great they are. The truth is that I’ve been a UA 1K and had much bigger problems than a missed domestic upgrade and NEVER got so much as a reply to emails, letters, faxes, Tweets…you name it. And this was for multiple problems on multiple trips. UA customer service agents are cynics. I let my status expire last month, because there’s nothing else I can do, so I will just go elsewhere. This situation doesn’t reflect on you one way or another, but it surely reflects on UA. They treat everyone like crap and then just treat a handful of bloggers great and bank on that “great news” being publicized. That woman who sounded upset on the phone? She was probably upset that her boss made her call you!!

    FYI, the day you tweeted to UA I replied to your tweet saying I have problems and was unhappy. I’ll give you one guess whether somebody reached out to me. Nada. Zilch.

    MP, if you want to do the public a service, please let UA know that you’re onto them and ask them to take care of everyone else as well. Use your position to publicize problems other people have, put pressure on them. I understand if you don’t want to do that, but in that case then you can’t really say they’ve done good when you hear so many others complaining. If you won’t talk smack about them, then at least don’t speak well of them — they’re using you.

  18. I don’t think you have to be a blogger to get a good response. Recently, our family went on a cruise (and we also travelled by train and plane during the same trip). I booked though AMEX travel b/c of a promo they were running and I had some issues with the cruise line. First, I told we would get some “freebies” b/c of our card, and then I was also told that my 3 kids would not have to pay gratuities.(Our agent had talked to the cruise line.)However, both of those ended up being false, which ended up costing us considerably more, adn the cruise line embarassed me horribly when I asked about the gratuities. I really wasn’t that upset, but I did email our agent when we got home and I told her she should know this for future reference. I also told her I wasn’t trying to get a refund (which was true) and that I didn’t want her to get in trouble, I just thought she should know. She emailed back and seemed genuinley concerned about our treatment. She credited our account with $600.00…MORE than the difference….without my even asking for it. That’s some good customer service!

  19. I had the opposite experience recently on USAIR. Bought two RT FC tickets with CITI points and cash, mechanical issues put us in coach and delayed our arrival in DC by 14 hours, lost a prepaid $300 hotel night. The next day return also had mechanical issues, again put in coach. USAIR gave us a whopping $200 voucher each. Wow. I complained succinctly and made my compensation requests very clear. The tickets were purchased with CITI Thank You points and cash. USAIR says they cannot refund any points or cash because they weren’t their points, and the coach seats we were put in had a higher dollar value than the FC seats. CITI says it is USAIR issue, they only provided the tickets. So I pay twice the normal points, and cash, and end up a day late and in coach both ways. USAIR and CITI both pass the buck. Not using any CITI cards again.

  20. Although you mentioned the car seat issue can’t be compensated and is minor, I think this is the main reason you were contacted. On the FAA’s website, FAA Circular 120-87B section 10. F. says:

    ” Operators Prohibiting CRS Use. No aircraft operator may prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a seat for the child. If an approved CRS, for which a ticket has been purchased, does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the aircraft operator has the responsibility to accommodate the CRS in another seat in the same class of service. The regulations also permit an aircraft operator to use its discretion in identifying the most appropriate forward-facing passenger seat location, considering safe operating practices.” 9/17/2010.

    As such, United would be in more trouble over the child restraint removal vice upsettinga Platinum FF.

  21. Wife and I used points for both of us to fly from DEN-FLL to visit family for Xmas. Both travel days had 2 flights, and ALL 4 flights were late. One was so late that we had to sleep in the airport the day after Xmas. Southwest could have prevented this and all the agents we talked to were rude and refused to help. I got sick that night at the Kansas City airport and it took almost 3 weeks to get better. Just more salt on the wound. Very disappointed in Southwest’s handling of the entire situation. I really need to let them know how crappy that entire trip was resulting from their failures.

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