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“Friendly” Skies.

After a long week away from home for work, I was ready to fly the one hop from Rochester, N.Y. to Chicago to be back in our new comfort zone. Work had gone well, I was feeling pumped about my new role at the company and I had a smile on my face.

I was scheduled to fly United 518 from Rochester to Chicago. Departure was at 5:23 PM. I was at the gate early; one of my co-workers had a 4:00 PM conference call so we carpooled early to the airport and I was through security in plenty of time.

Quick sidebar (still in corporate-speak mode): the TSA made me take ALL electronics out of my backpack for the first time ever. Normally I put all of my belongings in my bag so I don’t need a bunch of bins. I then take out my laptop and put it in a separate bin. My shoes and belt go in another bin. My backpack rides through solo. Yesterday I had to take my iPhone, iPad and laptop out of my backpack and place them all in separate bins. When asked about any other electronics I told them I had headphones in there but they didn’t care about those, which is interesting since my AirPods are really little computers with speakers, but that’s just geek speak. When I asked the TSA agent why my iPhone and iPad had to be in separate bins, she told me it was new procedures as of this week. The rules and regulations of this country are such a moving target these days. The moral of the story is people like chaos and they vote for more chaos.

Anyway, at 4:40 PM, a gate agent that was struggling with the operation of the microphone announced that there would be a slight delay due to a mechanical issue and we would be updated shortly. The sign behind her head still proudly proclaimed the flight was On-Time and departing at 5:23 PM.

At 5:10 PM a supervisor installed herself behind the other terminal at the gate. A bearded gate agent (not a woman) stationed himself where they beep your ticket. People started lining up in the designated cattle chutes by their assigned groups, because United believes people are cattle and should be lining up in chutes. I’m always reminded of “Celebrity Sweepstakes” by it’s not as fun without Carol Wayne and trust me, no one is a winner when they’re standing in a chute waiting to get on a United flight.

5:23 PM came and went without a peep from anyone that was intently staring into their computer screens. Bearded man was approached by a couple of people and he said “I don’t have time to address your question” a few times before the cattle got the message that he had no hay. There had been no update from anyone behind the desk since the 4:40 PM announcement of a ‘slight’ delay.

A pilot-y looking man came from the jet bridge and shook his head. I knew the flight was cancelled, others knew the flight was cancelled but the monitor behind the intent people proclaimed “On-Time”, though it was after our 5:23 PM departure time.

The monitors were then turned off. The United app continued to proclaim “On-Time”.

After 5:30 PM, supervisor-y looking woman announced that “there is a mechanical issue that would take too long to fix so we are canceling the flight”. She then said, “this is our last flight of the night and all the flights from other airlines are booked.” She then continued with “call the 800 number or go down to ticketing as we are a bit busy here at the gate.”

The lead bull in Chute #3 (that would be me) immediately called the United number. The older couple behind me panicked because they had a smartphone and didn’t know what to do. I used my bullhorn voice to proclaim the number to anyone that wanted to hear it. After wading through approximately four minutes of a chipper automated man asking about my experience, my phone number, my frequent flyer details and whether this phone number was who I really was or not (he sounded like he was fueled by cocaine) I finally reached a woman and told her of my plight. When asked why I was not on the flight that left at 5:23 PM I told her that the flight is still here and has been cancelled. She asked me why it wasn’t marked cancelled and I told her, in no uncertain terms, that the gate agents weren’t really engaged and basically said we were on our own. The airplane would take too long to fix.

She immediately booked me for an American flight leaving at 6:12 PM but was concerned that Rochester Airport was too big for me to make the flight. I told her not to worry, the only thing big about Rochester was its ego.

I arrived at gate A8, keeping the United agent on the line, and confirmed that I had a seat. However, Katie at the American Airlines counter informed me that because United had not sent over my bag I was unable to get on the aircraft. She could not separate me from my bag. I had hung up with United because she had waved my boarding pass in my hand and then taken it back when she found out I hadn’t retrieved my checked luggage from a United 737 myself. She told me that I couldn’t get on without my bag and I had to take it up with United.

I had what was probably my most epic hissy fit in public in the 49 years of riding this rock around the sun.

“I’m not allowed in the cargo hold.”

“You mean, even though I have a seat, the gate is still open and I’m all confirmed, I can’t get on because my luggage is on another airplane?”

“Do you realize that airlines lose luggage as a sport and you’re ruining the fun for everyone involved with the fiasco?”

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever heard of a passenger not being able to fly because he doesn’t have his luggage with him. Who made up that rule?”

“Trust me, there is nothing and no one in Rochester, New York that warrants any sort of special rules about luggage. I’m surprised there’s anyone left to travel.”

She asked me to step back from the counter. I stepped back and called United. United told me that the woman was crazy and when she heard I was telling various people about “Katie at A8” she let me on the airplane if I agreed to be separated from my luggage and not sue American Airlines about it.

I said, “don’t worry Katie, I’ll be on the airplane in less than five minutes and you can go back to your mundane existence.”

She glared as she gave me my boarding pass. I thanked her for putting up with my tirade, promised her I’d never see her again and wished her a Happy Friday.

The woman that beeped me through was surly. I said, “you should try being chipper like Katie.”

Yes, I’m a dick. I’m not often a dick but when it’s time for me to be a dick I can be a dick. I don’t mind being a dick. I’m not afraid calling out people when they’re being willfully stupid. The last time I went to the epic setting was at a Wawa on a cashier who would shut off the gas pump anytime a customer took their hand off the gas nozzle during a raging rain storm. The gas nozzles were equipped with those little flippy things to keep them on but she said new rules didn’t allow their use. I’m fairly certain she no longer abuses her “power” after I dressed her down to nearly tears.

When I sat down in seat 14B, after being glared at by folks that had been sitting on the airplane longer than they wanted to, I told everyone around me, “I’m sorry for the delay but there’s some wacky rules about luggage in Rochester, New York. And trust me, I’m not going to win a popularity contest at this airport anytime soon. I won’t even win Mr. Congeniality. On the bright side this isn’t United and I have no hair to grab onto.” A few people laughed. An older couple headed to Greece (not Greece, New York) came up the aisle behind me mentioning the idiocy they had to go through. They stopped at my seat and thanked me because I had blazed the trail for being separated from your luggage on an American flight departing Rochester, New York.

Next time you’re on Celebrity Sweepstakes, don’t doubt the bullhorn at the lead of United Chute #3.

Lessons learned? I will never, ever, ever fly United again, simply because they really don’t care about their customers at all. They never cancelled United 518 but simply marked it delayed for 17 hours. I’m suspecting this was to avoid paying for hotel rooms for stranded passengers but I don’t know this for certain. But the bottom line is that United never communicated with their 110 or so passengers that were waiting for the flight and when they did they said we were on our own to find our way back. They couldn’t have cared less. That speaks volumes about the customer service experience with United. I’ve experienced this on previous United flights. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. There won’t be a third time.

If you can’t kill them with kindness, which usually works for me, go epic.

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  1. JP
    I totally agree with your feelings about United. When I flew back from LAX after having some serious surgery and had a little problem the United flight crew was completely useless, rude and unfriendly. I never flew with them again after that.
    I always found US Airways good and hope that since they have merged with AA that they are still pretty good. (It seems that way by the way they handled your problem).
    Sandi

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