Friday, December 17, 2010

This letter was just sent to United Airlines’ Customer Service office



My daughter Katherine was given a trip to Hawaii on United Airlines for her birthday.  It was this trip that motivated her through a difficult quarter at the University of Washington.  (The United locator for her ticket is XXXXX and the ticket number is 1234567890.) The itinerary provided to my daughter was somewhat complicated, taking her from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, CANADA (and therein lies the problem), to San Francisco, and finally to Honolulu. 

She was provided the itinerary, but there was no explanation as to why she was being flown OUT of the country in order to remain IN the country, and there was certainly no mention of a passport requirement for this (basically superfluous) leg of the trip.  The evening before the trip, Katherine was able to print a boarding pass for the last two legs of her trip, but not for the initial leg of her trip -- although no reason was given as to why. 

When we arrived at the airport, she was told that she would not be allowed on the flight since she didn't have a passport.  (Her enhanced drivers license, which is used to cross the Canadian border by car was apparently not acceptable.)

As you can probably imagine, being turned away and not allowed on the flight was EXTREMELY upsetting to Katherine.  To make matters worse, we were told that no money would be refunded as it is apparently the passenger's responsibility to know which travel documents are required for any trip.  This is certainly understandable if the intent had been to travel to Canada... or even if she/we had made the itinerary, but this was an itinerary approved by United (via Cheaptickets) in order to get Katherine from Seattle to Hawaii -- both origination and destination within the US border.  To turn her away at the counter, when she had no desire or intent to leave the country, because she didn't possess a passport (and had never been warned that one would be required) was very, very distressing!

Enter United Airlines's absolute STAR ticket agent and provider of customer service, Eugenia Ernst -- who I have already complimented via your online feedback form; she is now referred to as Katherine's Hawaiian Guardian Angel (as she comes from Hawaii, which was Kat's destination).  Eugenia, bless her heart, stood by us and worked hard to find a solution to Katherine's circumstance.  Ultimately, she found the last seat on flights to Portland and LAX and then on to Honolulu. The initial flight would be leaving in a few minutes... did we want it?  It would entail a change fee of $150.  Any parent reading this will know that the ONLY answer to that question was "Yes."  I paid the change fee with my Visa, Eugenia walked Kat to the front of the security line, and she was off.

TRIP SAVED!  $150 lost.

I would like to request a refund of my $150 on the grounds that an itinerary flying out of the country in order to keep a passenger in the country should have never been approved by United Airlines.  And even if it were approved, there should have been warnings in big, bold print on all communication, warning Katherine that even though she wouldn't be leaving the Vancouver airport, but would only be walking (presumably) across the isle to go from one United flight to another, she would need a passport.  There was no such warning on ANY of the correspondence sent to her.

I hope that you will take a serious look at Katherine's situation and take steps to prevent this from happening to other passengers.  Had she not been able to get to Hawaii, her entire holiday season would have been ruined.  (Thanks again, Eugenia Ernst!)

If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at 123-456-7890 or to reply to this e-mail. 

Thanks you very much for your kind consideration.


So, what do you predict their reply will be?  Guesses?

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Tonya said...

Holy....shit! I'm SOOOO glad she got on a flight, but what an ordeal! I sure hope that United sees the error of their ways and refunds you. (Great letter!) Poor Kat needs this — I got a hint of her stress in some of your FB posts. Poor thang!

Kookabunga said...

I can't wait to hear what they say. How scary! Was the Canada stop printed out on the itinerary? I'll bet they harp on that little detail... but yeah, I'd probably have made the same assumption - that you were not leaving the terminal in Canada. What a weird routing for this trip!

c said...

Not to be too pessimistic, and I hope I am wrong, but my prediction is that United will give you a run-around and your letter will get shuttled around and lost, but you will pursue it until they give you a reimbursement but it will take a while.

And if you don't mind my whining about United also... I was on the phone with them for a couple of hours today. We fly from SF to Boston tomorrow. I made the reservations 9 months ago. When I went to check in on-line, my son, my husband and I are no longer seated in one row as I reserved, but we are scattered singly about the plane! They switched planes, not routes or times, just planes, and so they reseated us! Argh!!! We're hoping to get seats together once we get to the airport tomorrow...

Perhaps you could try writing a letter to a newspaper travel journalist and they could contact United on your behalf. Yours is an interesting story.

c said...

Me again... Kat's story reminded me of when I was her age, 1976 or so, and I had a Eurail pass. I took a train from Austria heading to Copenhagen but what I didn't realize was that the train route I picked went across the border into East Germany. Out the window, the landscape became bleaker and bleaker and then I saw guard towers and rolls of barbed wire and when the train stopped at a border checkpoint, and I didn't have the right papers, some soldiers took me off the train for a scary night's wait for a train that would take me back out of East Germany and on to where I was going. There were German Shepherd's running under the trains checking that there was no one under there. I was so goofy and innocent back then, that I think it helped me as far as being sent on my way.

Carol said...

C, this is really embarrassing, but remind me again who you are! I, too, was about Kat's age in '75 and had a similar border crossing experience from West to East Germany... and my innocence, too, "protected" me from the harsh realities of that world!

c said...

Hi. I've also left comments as 'Lilly'. 'c' is my Google Account ID. (I have a blog at but I hardly ever write there any more.)

It was January when I crossed the East German border by accident and the guards had big thick long coats on and furry hats and bandoliers. When they marched me off the train everyone still on the train stared out there coach windows at me and they looked rather distressed. But I was so dumb and just had the universal attitude that if I was nice to them, they'd be nice to me. And it kind of worked out like that.

Perhaps you could do a post about your border crossing...?

Maria said...

Wow! Sadly, I'm guessing United will give you the run around and nothing will happen. Airlines are nearly as annoying as TSA.

Goofball said...

glad she was able to leave...I'm curious about United's response

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