The Customer Is Always Right Screwed

united_continental_logoIt amazes me how many companies are happy to be perceived as pricks! Just when you think cable TV or banks or cell carriers have the lock on customer unfriendly policies, in comes United Airlines to raise the stakes.

It now costs $200 to change a domestic ticket on United. If you’re going to South America that’ll be $300, $250 for Asia and Europe!

There are a few reasons United is doing this. Obviously, they want to be able to lower prices (if necessary) without letting those already holding reservations take advantage of the discount.

Why can WalMart do this, but not United? From

  • We will match any local competitor’s advertised price.
  • We do not require customers to have the ad with them to honor a competitor’s ad.
  • Items purchased must be identical to the ad (size, quantity, brand, flavor, color, etc.)

stew-rule-stoneEven better than WalMart’s is Stew Leonard’s customer policy, carved in stone!

Businesses are supposed to make money. No one, certainly not me, wants to deprive them of that ability. What bothers me is when businesses take advantage of their market position and create one-sided rules. It almost seems as if they’re relishing our pain.

Airlines can change my flight times or itinerary or nearly any other part of my trip without compensating me. On the other hand, I have to cross every “t” and dot every “i” or suffer their wrath. That seems inherently unfair.

Airlines can delay without penalty when they can’t get a crew to the airport on time. If I can’t get to the airport, tough luck.

Not only can’t I freely change my ticket (except on my fav, Southwest), I can’t sell it or give it away either. Why should any airline care if it’s Helaine or Stef or me or anyone else? From where I sit, this is mean spirited.

Like I said, airlines aren’t alone operating like this. The less competition there is, the more likely stuff like this will happen.

I am happy to see Google beginning to compete with cable companies and T-Mobile upending the cellphone business model. We need more.

Where is PeoplExpress when you need them?

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!

And They’re Back

As I understand it Roxie flew on Stef’s lap coast-to-coast on two separate flights!

It’s my understand child and dog have returned to Connecticut. As I understand it Roxie flew on Stef’s lap coast-to-coast on two separate flights! The Foxes are rebels if nothing else.

We will find a plastic hard case that fits under the seat for Roxie’s return to the Coast.

“What if she barks?” Stef asked?

I haven’t figured that part out yet.

Roxie And Stef Are On The Way

Roxie took a pill and a half which hasn’t taken effect yet. Uh oh.

Helaine spoke to Stef a little while ago. They were on their way to the airport. Roxie took a pill and a half which hasn’t taken effect yet. Uh oh. Earlier Helaine saw Stef’s Chicago flight was the continuation of a Sydney/Los Angeles.

“It’s running an hour early,” she said.

It’s not quite that simple, because other than the flight number these seem like two totally separate flights. The Sydney/Los Angeles leg is aboard a 747. Los Angeles to Chicago is on an A320.

Why does United present it this way? Is it so they can claim ‘direct’ Australia/Chicago service? I don’t know.

In the meantime I’m hoping Roxie sleeps coast-to-coast.

Raider Of The Lost Archives

My friend Paul Brownstein and I have been friends for better than 35 years. He was the first of the ‘gang’ to go to Los Angeles. He came to Helaine and my wedding late… not having been fit for his tux… and wearing a fur coat!

Our mutual friend Howard used to say, “Some people go to the seashore. Some go to the mountains. We go to the Hotel Brownstein.”

It was because of this we often referred to Paul simply as, “The Hotel.”.

A trip to Paul and Sue’s teeny little house on Stanley Hill, above Laurel Canyon, would be guaranteed to have a touch of Hollywood. You’d always run into someone you’d heard of. And Paul always had stories to tell.

The house was packed to the gills with memorabilia. In this age of EBay, Paul’s sitting on a fortune.

Just being with Paul was entertaining. I’m not sure how else to explain to. Something was always going on, or seemed to be, even when it wasn’t.

Over time Paul became involved with artists who owned the rights to their own shows. He was pivotal in getting the old Smothers Brothers Show and Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour on “E”.

As DVDs of old TV shows grew in stature, Paul moved there. He is a charming guy – the perfect schmoozer. That made him the perfect person to produce special features for DVDs.

Paul’s the guy who finds old commercials to go with old shows, or gets that classic interview with the stars. He has been dubbed, “Raider of the Lost Archives.” It’s a great name, it fits, and I suspect he enjoys hearing it said by others.

Paul has dropped more names of more actors of the 50s, 60s and 70s than anyone in the world. Why not? He’s been with them and listened as they told their stories (sometimes for the last time).

Recently, Paul has been the guy newspapers and magazines go to for quotes about the DVD business. He is now a respected expert.

In Hollywood, your friend’s success often breeds envy. I live in Connecticut. I don’t need that. My friend’s success breeds pride. I am very proud of what Paul has accomplished.

Now he is profiled in the current issue of United Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Just in case you’re not flying any time soon, here’s the link.

My only regret is, it’s for February – the shortest month. Paul deserves a 31 day month at the very least.