The Trip Home From Hell

Today I cannot mention United Airlines without preceding it with a seven letter adjective that rhymes with trucking!

I wasn’t arrested at Milwaukee International Airport last night, but it was close! I didn’t die at O’Hare Airport in Chicago though I found myself praying not to get a heart attack while running trough Concourse F. Helaine and I made it back to Connecticut after the strangest plane trip I’ve ever experienced.

Today I cannot mention United Airlines without preceding it with a seven letter adjective that rhymes with trucking!

Thursday and Friday in Milwaukee were gray. Saturday was rainy. Air travel throughout the Midwest was slowed.

Originally our Milwaukee–Chicago flight was scheduled to land 58 minutes before our Chicago–Hartford flight took off. That’s plenty of time. Well within United’s standard for transferring at ORD.

We got to the airport where our departure time was listed as “DELAYED.” Never a good sign.

When the flight was finally assigned a departure time, leaving just a few minutes to catch our Bradley-bound leg, a few of us headed to the podium. Would the United agent please advise someone in Chicago we’d be there at the last moment? Maybe they could help us with a motorized cart or something that would allow us to catch the last flight of the day on a weekend booked to the gills!

She refused… but in a way that dripped with contempt for us, for her job and for the airline that put her in this situation.

This kind of treatment is especially galling for those of us who remember airlines as they were. They portray themselves in ads as if they were still putting the customer first. They do not. We’ve been spoiled by years of flying almost exclusively on Southwest. It’s easy to come to the conclusion most airlines actually hate us.

One of the people standing near me at the podium started getting agitated. The gate agent called her supervisor. A moment later he called the cops!

This a policeworthy offense? Allegedly the irate passenger cursed at the supervisor. I didn’t hear it. I was standing right there. Anyway, as curses go this was a really minor one.

It didn’t make any difference. Around ten sheriff deputies arrived at the gate. Helaine and I were taken to one side while the more argumentative flyer was taken to the other.

In case you’re interested there are no wants nor warrants out for us!

I can’t be sure what happened to the really upset passenger except he was taken to the Sheriff’s Office where I was told he’d be issued a ticket and required to post at least a $500 cash bond to leave! He wouldn’t be allowed on the flight… and he wasn’t there when we finally departed.

Seriously, this is crazy. The man was upset, but he shouldn’t have been cited. If the lead gate agent has this much power, he has too much power! Is this really what United wants their managers doing on their behalf?

The cost to this angry passenger in time, money and grief was greatly out-of-proportion with whatever mistake he made.

We finally got on our plane and took off at 8:35 PM. We were due to land around 9:00 PM. By this time the Bradley flight had been pushed back to 9:15 PM.

We were assured by the lead gate agent that United at O’Hare would know we were coming and the circumstances and would help out. Empty words! I can tell you now no one at O’Hare or within United did anything to help us!

We landed a few minutes after nine, taxied to the gate and waited! The pilot came on the PA to say United knew we were there, that the gate was available, but there was no one to allow our plane to open its door.

Tick, tick, tick.

My phone rang. It was an automated robotic voice from United. Because of the delay they had re-booked us and we would now leave Sunday at 7:15 PM. United had arranged for us to spend the next 22 hours at O’Hare!

We weren’t about to give up.

Our flight from Milwaukee arrived at Concourse F. We were departing from Concourse C. The walk was prohibitively long, but there is a shuttle. We ran to it.

Am I out-of-shape? Yes. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

It was then I began to worry for my life. I was huffing and puffing. My heart was pounding. Today every bit of me is sore.

The shuttle between the terminals crosses over active taxiways. Our driver gave way to planes heading to runways and gates. At one point she also did a full 360&#176 turn! Who knows why?

As we crossed the tarmac I saw our A320 still at the gate with a food service vehicle alongside.

I was first off the bus, ran upstairs and down the concourse to a deserted Gate C11. There were two agents finishing up their paperwork. The door to the jetway was closed.

“There are four of us going to Hartford,” I yelled. “Please let us on.”

“Where are they?” he asked.

I told him they were coming off the shuttle. He turned to the other agent and asked if the plane’s door was still open?

The plane’s door closed a few seconds after the four of us were escorted on!

I am left with a few questions.

Why didn’t the Milwaukee United agents try and make us feel like they had our best interests at heart? Even an “I tried, but failed,” would have made us happy. They didn’t lift a finger on our behalf. They acted like there was no upside to making us happy. Maybe there isn’t.

Why did so many people insist United would do something in Chicago when they actually did nothing?

Why did United do nothing?

Why did United re-book us for a flight that would have forced us to spend 22 hours in the airport when we could have made (and actually did make) the outbound flight? Why not hold the plane (which was making its last run of the day) another few minutes?

What value did United put on the 88 man hours that would be wasted.

Why did I consistently find more trustworthy and up-to-date information on than from United’s agents and their terminal monitors?

By the way, our bag made it on the flight too!

39 thoughts on “The Trip Home From Hell”

  1. I hope the folks involved all write letters to United, although it sounds like with their level of customer service, they won’t care much. I’ve always had great luck with Southwest. Make sure the Mrs. takes a CPR class before the next trip just in case.

  2. You broke a couple of cardinal sins Geoff.

    1. Never EVER EVER make a connection in O’Hare (ever) even in summer EVER. It is the black hole of connections. I’d rather make a connection further way like Dallas than step foot in that place.

    2. The airlines don’t care about you, you need to disabuse yourself of that quaint notion right away. There is no upside to them treating you well and no upside to treating you poorly.

    Glad you got home safe.

  3. Oh Geoff!! Your re-acount reminds me of a trip I had many moons ago with my ex-fiance and I. We were flying to CA but had to change planes in Chicago. Same kinda thing happened to us. Though my story is a bit different. In our mad dash to catch our flight to CA, my Ex fell and hurt himself. Up to that point, He and I were just nobodies in the steady pool of human beings. After his fall, of which he was hurt, not badly mind you, you would of thought we were royalty. Not only did the airline hold our plane for us as they shuttled us to the gate, they also bumped up our tickets to business class from coach. I have to say the rest of the flight went very nice, champagne and all! But my point is, how sad that unless you wave your lawyers business card around, the airlines wont treat you like real people instead of mindless robots. Glad you got home safe. Next time, you might want to take a tumble…….JK

  4. I’m so sorry for your difficult journey… that truly sounded horrible. I’m sad to say that I’ve also had a bad experience with United last New Year’s eve. They boarded us, and then we sat for at least an hour until they explained that there was a little sensor that was malfunctioning – it wasn’t important at all – just let the pilot know if the landing gear was down. Then, they couldn’t locate a repair crew. I was watching the cockpit while four crew flipped through a manual and tried to figure out how to replace the sensor. They replaced it, tested it, backed off to taxi… and then it went off again. Off the plane we went while they located a spare. Then, they had to change crews, because the pilot would have been beyond his allowed shift. Finally, they boarded us, but couldn’t push back from the gate, because they couldn’t locate anyone at the tower. Finally, 2 hours late, we taxied out.

    I continue to be a fan of Southwest… for an airline which is supposedly ‘no frills’, they continue to dazzle me with positive customer service. Recently, I drove up to Bradley from the New Haven area, and got there a little earlier than expected, having not having hit any traffic. While weighing my luggage, the attendant mentioned that I should be able to get the earlier flight – that would bring me in earlier, AND she gave me a voucher rebate for the $7 difference in price. I had a good checkin number, so she called ahead to the gate. The attendant there gave me a pass to board between A and B. The flight was even earlier thanks to mother nature and favorable weather and winds… but I definitely felt like a VIP thanks to the great treatment by people at the airport.

  5. It’s interesting that airlines still have the gall to use mottos like “Fly the friendly skies”…I’d say the skies are about as friendly as an EF5 tornado. Airlines definitely specialize in customer disservice more than customer service nowadays. I guess the silver lining, if there is one in this, is that your luggage ended up in Hartford at the same time as you…what would have happened to your luggage had you waited 22 hours??

  6. A Few years ago I found out that KLF were doing direct flights to Bradley from Amsterdam International and after spending 2 hours getting through O’Hare Immigration I thought it would be nicer smoother and easier for me to Fly from Manchester England to Amsterdam about a 90 min flight, and then the 8hr flight across the pond. Rather than flying to Chicago and feeling fatigued trying to work out gates half tired and jet lagged. My flight was due to take off at Manchester at 8:15am which came and went with the flight listed as delayed, not to worry I had a 3 hour lay over in Amsterdam time for some lunch before the flight. The expected departure time kept getting pushed back and back before I knew it I would have literally 10 mins in an Airport I didn’t know trying to find an international flight. The reason given when we finally got on the plane? They forgot to book the plane for the flight….Unbelievable. One Good thing though was they did hold the flight in Amsterdam, BUT, neglected to tell any of the passengers that were onboard the plane. I like you am not in the best of physical shape I ran from concourse A to F. Where I was told the plane had missed its slot. They were then asking people on our flight to give up their seats to a previous flight that had been cancelled, they would put you up in a hotel and refund some money. Very cheekily I said I would give up my ticket if they through in business class as well, expecting a straight refusal, the staff member got on the phone consulted with someone and said that’s ok as long as you don’t have a hotel room…. So from being a fairly rotten day I got to fly business class over the Atlantic. I did have to spend 17 hours in the airport though but I think it was worth it.

  7. After years of traveling a lot for work, I wish your story was a surprise. Sadly, it’s not. Truly sad how little regard any of the airlines have for their passengers.
    How ‘thoughtful’ of United to rebook you and expect you to have no issue with spending 22 hours in an airport. How ridiculous. Remember the old days, when the airlines would check on connecting flights (oh yes, there were far fewer of those back then, I know) and actually make an attempt to wait for everyone to arrive. Oh and yes, they’d actually tell the passengers waiting exactly ‘why’ they were being delayed. No one got arrested, no one sued anyone, and everyone got to where they were going. Shocking…

  8. Now you know why I drive to my relatives, vs fly. Ohio isn’t that far away, ( roughly 10-12 hours depending on stops along the way), but we get there….a little tired, but without the hassles of the airlines and airports. Do they care??? Nope, not one bit. Just ask the people stranded on that Jet Blue plane for over 8 hours. Ah, how quickly we forget. Peace….

  9. Deja vu. Connection in Chicago. Running to catch the plane. First person there begging the gate person to hold the plane the rest were coming. Luckily the did as two of us were the tour reps for the group. Never through Chicago again!

  10. Sorry you had a bad experience, Geoff. You and your fellow passengers should raise a lot of hell with United and a few other government alphabet soup agencies too.

    We had a similar experience on United in 2004 going from Hartford to Orlando with a change in Chicago (O’Hare). We left Hartford late due to a faulty sensor (between finding a repair crew, getting the sensor repaired, getting the paperwork signed off etc.) We left about an hour late. There were a bunch of us going to Disney and another group going to Ft. Lauderdale for a cruise. Needless to say, someone made enough noise about the delay which got bucked all the way to United Corporate. They held our connecting flight to Orlando AND the other connecting flight to Ft. Lauderdale. They KNEW they would have a mutiny if they didn’t.

  11. Geoff horrible story I am glad you and Helaine are home safe, sound and with no criminal record! I would ahte to see that happen to my favorite weather man !! Hows the baby doing I bet she will be glad you are home to !!

  12. Once spent 3 night/days in Dallas and El Paso while United got their you know what together. Very nicely they upgraded us to 1st class from El Paso to Albuquerque. It’s a 30 minute flight…..gee thanks for the generosity! We almost always connect thru Cincinnati now…seems to be way less problems!

  13. Geoff,
    Happy you made it home safely. Sorry your trip ended on a bad note. From your earlier postings you were having a wonderful family visit until your Milwaukee departure.
    United skies are not friendly to be sure. The other passenger who was hauled away is a total power trip! My experience with Southwest is the total opposite. I try to fly ONLY SOUTHWEST!(I fly 6 to 8 times @ year at least)
    Southwest’s employees attempt to make your trip friendly and somewhat relaxing under the best of circumstances. Its great when the Southwest associates sing and tell jokes to their onboard passengers. A little humor goes a long way especially during these trying uncertain times.
    United, Delta and several other airlines only want their airfare money. Once that fee is paid, those airlines do NOT care about their customers’ requests, needs or concerns as you saw for yourself yesterday.
    I agree with Robert: Try to Avoid OHare if possible. Loved to know if United ever communicates with you regarding your nightmare.
    On a happier note, today I hope you’ve been able to relax with Doppler and reflect on your memorable family visit.

  14. This is why we always drive to Illinois. The possibility of spending an equal amount of time in an airport is ever present.

  15. My husband’s United flight to San Francisco left an hour late from Bradley. First, they wouldn’t tell anyone why there was no plane at the gate. When the plane finally arrived and boarded, they wouldn’t tell me what the holdup was. (Turns out the tractor tug had bent something in the nosewheel the night before.) The flight finally left with no time to spare to make the connection in Chicago. When I again inquired at the gate, the attendant said the people on the plane would not be making their connections. Meanwhile, on the plane, as they neared landing, the passengers were then told they had missed their connections and to find new flights when they landed. My husband got off, saw what gate he should have been going to, ran to it, and managed to make the flight (although they had already sold his seat!). He gets to San Fran and than thinks he’s going to have to wait 4 hours for his luggage. Surprise! Just like in your case, it was there!

    Last year, we were leaving Denver on a Southwest flight (also the only airline I want to fly on). A tornado warning had messed up the flights at the airport and now we would be landing when our connecting flight should be leaving. We had the last connection in Midway to Bradley that night. They told us not to worry, that all flights would be held. When we got to our connection (we were the first ones there), the flight attendant asked if we were from the Denver flight. When we said yes, she said there’s 12 of you coming on from Denver and I know some of you have children and would want to sit with them so we’ve asked people to move up and the entire rear of the plane has been saved for you. What a difference between the 2 airilines!

  16. Same reason I have not flown Untied (no misspelling) in over ten years.
    Sadly, Continental used to be a-okay, but they too have lost my business thanks to the merger. Just more $$ for Delta and AA.
    Always allow for 2.5 hours of time between flights at O’Hare and three at Heathrow if you ever want to see your luggage while away from home!

  17. Poor Geoff! So sorry you had to go through all of that. We always try to fly Southwest now. Aside from the great customer service, the no bag fees makes a huge difference. I usually pay the extra for the early bird check-in as well and always end up with a decent seat.

  18. What a nightmare! We used to use United most of the time in years past, and they were actually pretty good. But that was then, this is now. I will certainly keep Southwest in the front of my mind and United out the back door for any future flights.(Sorry for mixed metaphors.) Glad you are home safe and sound, but you are probably really exhausted.

  19. Southwest is by far the best! So sorry you had to endure the unbelievable ineptitude and thoughtless service of United. Glad you are all back safe and sound!

  20. UGH! I feel your pain! And for the record I also would have been hauled off by the sheriff and fined because of foul language!
    Reading all these accounts I think from now on I will look first to fly on Southwest.

  21. On my last trip back from Toronto my U.S. Air (United) connection at La Guardia (another airport to avoid) was delayed. The gate agents were checking flightview because it had information on the status of the incoming flight. Their own computers did not. They would have had no idea where the plane was otherwise. We’re back to Southwest for Christmas!

  22. This is one of the reasons as to why I don’t fly (the other being that I’m a diabetic who takes two different types of insulin, both with syringes). I have a major attitude when it comes to metal detectors and scanning to begin with and since the last time I was at a airport and one of the attendants (pre TSA) threatened to call security because I was giving them grief, I’ve never been back there since.

  23. You know, Geoff, you brought this on yourself. You said on the flight out you felt as if you were cheating Southwest. See, karma!

    I have also had good luck with Southwest. I had the opportunity to fly American Airlines this summer and had flights cancelled due to Irene (remember her??) but they were very pleasant to deal with and I have no complaints. (Of course, there was the fact that my husband flew home early and I was alone with two kids and when getting to the airport, found out my son did not have a seat. Well, they said as long as he was willing to sit in the seat that required him to help people off the plane should an emergency arise then he could fly home! I assured them he is a Boy Scout and was willing to help! After being delayed for three days we weren’t about to miss our flight!!)

  24. I had that problem in chicago along time ago and it was also from milwaukee
    but they held the plane,never fly through chicago anymore just because of all the delays unless i have no choice and theres plenty of time between flights. Being that it was the last flight and it was ending at BDL there really is no reason for not waiting since you were at the airport as long as you didnt stop to get something to eat on the way to the gate, can see them not waiting if it was earlier in the day as that could cause a ripple effect on later flights and cause more people missing there flights

  25. I never really had a bad personal experience while flying however what I find appalling is that these airliners can do whatever the want and there seems to be no recourse. Your experience is absolutely nightmarish and I would be fuming mad like you seem to be.

  26. The skies are no longer friendly, and good customer relations seem few and far between. Especially reprehensable when it’s holiday time and they know they’ve ‘gotcha’. I’d share my experience with United and wherever else (you’re a media man) you think it might do some good.

  27. The best airline by far is Southwest. Extremely friendly customer reps, entertaining flight attendants, pilots that still tell you to look out the window if we are passing a point of interest, no bag fees, no change fees unless the new ticket is at a higher rate. They are always our first choice for flights. More routes will be introduced as they finish up the merger with Air Tran. Glad you got home ok. Bet you missed Doppler, can’t wait to see more pictures of her.

  28. Between this type of treatment from the airlines (the one exception being Southwest) and the lunacy of the power given to TSA (I read today about an 83-year-old woman who had to remove her pants!!), it’s a wonder anyone flies. I certainly won’t.

  29. I am so glad i don’t have to fly anymore. i take the train when i can or stay home. it’s not worth all of this aggravation and get a heart attack from the running around.

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