Friday, February 8, 2013

Nemo Brings Out the Best (and the Worst) in United

As luck would have it, I happened to be traveling today as thousands of flights across the country were cancelled due to the Nor'easter named Nemo. I'm currently on an Amtrak train, heading home to New York from San Diego via Baltimore. How'd I end up in Baltimore you ask? Well... it's a tale of how incredibly helpful and unhelpful United can be when it comes to dealing with weather problems.

Loving and loathing United right now

Here are the highlights...

Incredibly Helpful

In trying to figure alternate plans, the agents on the United 1K line were outstanding. I sincerely appreciate everything they were able to do for me over the past 24 hours. In addition, I had to call several times - and each time I got through almost instantaneously. Considering how many people scrambling to change their travel plans, that was huge!

Helpful United 1K Phone Agent 

My original itinerary was San Diego (SAN) - Los Angeles (LAX) - Newark (EWR). After LAX-EWR got cancelled, the first agent I spoke with was easily able to switch me to LAX-JFK, which at the time, was still on schedule. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for LAX-JFK to cancel - and with everything else north of Philadelphia dropping like flies, I needed to figure out a different plan. I decided that I'd try to get a ticket to DC, and then take Amtrak from there. I gave that idea to another phone agent, and he had the presence of mind to suggest Baltimore instead of DC (a much better option for sure). He was able to get both me and two of my colleagues (who were struggling to get through on their own) switched to an itinerary that would take us to Baltimore via Chicago. He also proactively put them both in EconomyPlus without me even having to ask! Another helpful phone agent was able to get my waitlisted Regional Premier Upgrade (which I'd applied a few weeks ago for the LAX-EWR flight) re-applied to SAN-ORD-BWI, and I cleared on both legs.

I haven't had to work through many issues like this in the past, so have probably under-appreciated this perk of having a high status level on an airline. It was customer service at its finest - which is good for United, because their technology fell short in a big way...

Incredibly Unhelpful

United started cancelling Friday flights on Thursday, and I actually like that approach because it gives people the opportunity to figure out alternate plans without having to go to the airport. Unfortunately, they also neglected to notify me that my flight had been cancelled. The only reason I figured it out was because I was checking on the upgrade waitlist to see where I stood, and noticed that the flight status was "Cancelled". In these situations, United also encourages you to make changes to your flights at, to help alleviate the wait times on the phone. Works for me - I prefer to do things myself online vs. calling in whenever possible. Unfortunately, I couldn't actually DO anything on Every time I tried to make a change, I kept getting an error message. However thanks to those great agents on the phone, I was able to get things sorted out ahead of time.

My original flight from San Diego to LAX was scheduled to depart at 7:35 this morning. I finally ended up getting my cancellation notification from United for LAX-EWR at 6:18am - after already having changed that itinerary twice at that point. I was already on board my flight from San Diego to Chicago when the email finally came through! After landing in Chicago, I saw that I had received another cancellation email from United - for my short-lived LAX-JFK flight. My 2nd itinerary had me leaving San Diego for LAX at 9:02am, and I received the LAX-JFK cancellation notification at 9:22. Nice.

Poor United technology, as personified by "Alex" from

Anyway, I suppose all's well that ends well - but I was really disappointed in how poorly United's technology  performed under these circumstances. Email / text notification are tremendously important when flights are being cancelled left and right, and should be a pretty basic task to execute as flight statuses update throughout the day. That said, I'm tremendously grateful to the 1K agents who were able to help me make it back tonight. Another colleague who was flying JetBlue won't be able to get back until Monday at the earliest!

Is anyone else traveling to / from the Northeast this weekend? What have your experiences been like?

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  1. very interesting read. i'm not an air traveller, but your story really brought home the frustration and the relief of dealing with the issues caused by the storms. kudos.

    1. Thanks - I appreciate you sharing your perspective on it!