Sunday, August 21, 2016

Adventures with United Airlines

Our adventure to Brazil was set to to begin on August 4.  We purchased tickets early in the spring and found that the best route to take for me traveling with 4 children by myself would be on different airlines.  So, we purchased 5 itineraries on  The first leg of the journey would be on United Airlines from Pasco to Denver.  The second leg would be on American Airlines from Denver to Miami.  The final leg would be on Latam Airlines from Miami to Brasilia.  The total hours that this would take would have been 17 hours 15 minutes.

We stayed in a hotel and had Erin stay with us to drive us to the airport at 4:00 am.  We arrived, unloaded 9 suitcases and went to the check in kiosk.  My confirmation number would not work on the kiosk so I was sent directly to the check in desk.
We stood there for over an hour because the computer would print out boarding passes, but not luggage claim tickets.  There was never a line.  We didn't hold any one up.  FINALLY, we were given all boarding passes and luggage claim tickets and told to run to the security area.
By then they were calling for the final boarding so I begged the TSA agents to allow us to go without waiting in line.  They did and we ran to the last gate (not really far because we were in the Pasco Airport).  The gate agent asked my last name and said, "Oh good.  You are one of the three parties we are waiting for for this flight."  Great!  I handed him our boarding passes and when he scanned mine a large red box appeared on the screen and said something like, "DO NOT ADMIT THIS PASSENGER".  What?!  So he scanned Kehli's and hers worked fine.  Then the next and the large red box appeared again.  Then again.  Then again.  Kehli's is the only one that would work.  The agent called 4 times for a United ticket agent to come help, but no one ever did.  A ground crew member came through the door and said that they were just waiting for us to board.  "Sorry" the agent replied.  He couldn't let us board.  He wouldn't let us board.  The grounds crew member called on her radio for help.  No one came.  The gate agent said, "I'm sorry.  I have to close the door.  The plane needs to leave."  I explained that our luggage was on board, and asked why we couldn't board.  He didn't have an answer.  He offered to book us on the 1:20 pm flight.  I explained that it was a kind gesture, but if we didn't get on that flight we would miss both of our connecting flights and would not make it to Brazil.  Nothing.  Door shut.  No United ticket agent ever came to help.  We sat in the terminal alone.  I asked the kids to give me a few minutes.  Then I cried.  This is not how this journey was supposed to begin.
After I got my emotions in check I got on the phone.  I called Mark to let him know that we were not going to be arriving on time.  Then I got on the phone with Expedia.  We spent the next two hours in the terminal getting passed from one person to another as Expedia looked for answers and they called United Airlines.  The kids were surprisingly good.  I think they sensed my feeling of being on the edge of losing my mind.  When I finally accepted that we weren't leaving we went back to the ticket counter to find that no one could help us rebook tickets until we had tickets arranged to get us all the way to Brasilia - since they sent our luggage without us.  And then we were told that 2 of the suitcases actually did not make it on the flight.  Luckily they were two that had a lot of my clothes in them.  So, I called Erin to come pick us back up and back to the hotel we went.  They were still serving breakfast so the kids got something to eat while I continued to be on the phone with no one that could help.  Evan got a breakfast of champions: a plate of bacon and some juice.
I checked back in at the hotel for one more night.  I knew we would be able to fly out the next day.  Certainly this would all be sorted out and we would have new itineraries soon.  I was wrong.  After spending 7 hours on the phone I was told that no one was authorized to help me until 8:00 am EST the following morning.  Ok.  We will play with friends for one more day.  We will go see Sadie.  We will hang out with Erin.  Then we will sleep and go to the airport in the morning.  I filled out an online form with United Airlines on Friday morning because apparently that is the only way to contact their "Customer Care Department."  Whatever.  Unless you post something on Twitter or facebook.  That is a sure way to get a response.  So I took to social media and posted the following to their facebook page:
          "I purchased tickets months ago for me and 4 of my children to fly to Brazil. Our 
          family is moving there for 3 years. We arrived at the airport yesterday at 4:15 am. The 
          flight departed at 5:47.  It took an hour to check in and print boarding passes and 
          luggage claim tickets. We finally received them and ran through security and to the gate. 
          We were denied boarding because there was "an issue" with the boarding passes. 
          7 of our suitcases made it to Brasilia, but we were denied boarding in Pasco. Over the 
          next 5 hours, as we tried to sort it out and get rebooked, we continually got 
          disconnected from calls and no one would take responsibility for the boarding denial. 
          This morning I was told that the reason we could not rebook to Brazil was because we were 
          entered in the United Airlines system as "no shows".  Interesting because I 
          have boarding passes and luggage claim tickets. Even after a customer service 
          representative admitted today that we had in fact checked in, they would not contact 
          Latam Airlines to tell them that it was a United mistake. Our suitcases made it all the 
          way to Brazil and now we have to wait for them to be returned to us. We could not book 
          more flights until next Thursday and had to pay over $6700 to get new flights. That on 
          top of hotel, meals, basic necessities, travel (miles & gas), and more for 5 people for a 
          week. All because our passenger rights were not honored, we were denied boarding, and 
          listed as "no-shows" therefore making it impossible to rebook the last two legs 
          of our itinerary. I was confident that your company would make this right, but I was 
          wrong to believe that. I am angry. I am disappointed. I am exhausted. I am not done 

I set my alarm clock for 5:00 am so I could be the first one on the phone.  I snuck out of the room and went down to the van so I could talk.  I was on the phone for 2 hours before I was transferred to someone who told me that United Airlines entered us in the system as "no shows" and that cancelled out other two legs.  There was nothing anyone would do for us.  Thanks United.  Obviously we were "no shows" - "no shows" with boarding passes, luggage claim tickets and now our luggage is in Brasilia.  This is when I just couldn't do it any more.  I called Mark and asked him to take over and get us new itineraries.  He was on the phone the rest of the day, literally.  I checked into the hotel for another night.  Surely it would be the last night!  Mark was able to get someone at United to admit that we were in fact there at the hotel and she wasn't sure why we were entered as "no show."  THANK YOU!!  Now the only thing she needed to do was contact Latam Airlines and let them know that they had made a mistake and tickets could be rebooked at no expense.  Mark gave her the phone number and she asked him to hold while she called.  Awesome.  We are getting somewhere.  Then the phone started ringing.  All she did was transfer Mark to Latam and she hung up.  The special thing about United Airlines is that no one has a direct line.  You can't call and say "I was just talking to so and so.  Can I please talk to them?"  Every single time you call you have to start over because you don't know that the previous agent has entered in the computer under your confirmation number.  Every. Single. Time.

 Latam Airlines wanted to charge us $15000 for new flights.  Expedia said the best they could do is new tickets for $7000.  I'm crying again.  We were now in the time frame that if we wanted any kind of refund from Expedia, we had to request it now.  No one at United would help us so we felt that we didn't have a choice. So, Mark requested a refund.  They charged us a fee of  $150 per ticket to get a refund.  We then contacted a travel agent to make new arrangements.  I asked them to book us out of Salt Lake City so that we could at least stay with family and be near a larger airport in case something happened again.  We would have more options that way.  The least expensive tickets were to depart one week later on August 11.

Back on the phone with United to request that they fly me and my four children down to Salt Lake City so that I don't have to drive.  "I'm sorry.  Your ticket has been refunded.  I'm happy to help you rebook new tickets for a price."  I tell her "No, I'm not paying.  Transfer me to someone who can help me."  I get transferred.  No one can help me there.  I get transferred again, this time supposedly to someone who has authority to help me.  "No, your ticket has been refunded.  I cannot rebook you without you paying."  I ask to talk to her manager.  Nope, but she puts me on hold to talk to her manager.  Nope. Can't help me.

I'm done.  I do some research on Passenger Rights, which I recommend that everyone reads before they fly.  I learned a lot of interesting things.  You cannot be denied boarding if you have a confirmation number from the airlines.  Even if you are not in their system.  Interesting.  So, I kept all of my reciepts from hotels, food, basic necessities while we waited for our luggage to be returned from Brasilia.  We were without stuff for 4 days.  I am currently waiting to hear from United Airlines about the claim form that I submitted.

Updates to come...

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