Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The United Airlines Story

It seems like a long time ago, the end of March, but sadly I'm sure what happened to me and about forty other people is probably still going on............

It's time to bring it to light.

Needing assistance now when flying by having a wheelchair ready when I get to an airport, is a real
negative.  I have been doing it for a few years and it has opened my eyes, a lot.

Two years ago when I flew into Houston and landed, a wheelchair was there waiting for me as I exited the plane.  The attendant took me to a cart which took me to a "holding area" to await someone to take me through Customs and to get my bags. 

It was chaos.  One has to give a ticket, like a boarding pass, to the ONE person who arranges  your movement from the holding area to the elevator and down through Customs.  Those who have connecting flights are supposed to get priority.  That is the theory anyway, and, as it should be.  There was no one in the holding area who spoke any language other then English.

Two years ago it took about an hour for me to get an attendant to take me through Customs and to get my luggage and get to Super Shuttle.

This year was entirely different and NOT in a good way.  First, there was no wheelchair although I always remind the flight attendant when I board that I have ordered one and will need one.  Somehow it did not happen.  The United person outside the plane had me sit on a box until a wheelchair came for me.  In addition, there was a really elderly man who was from Mexico also waiting for a wheelchair.  When the one for me came, I told them to take the elderly gentleman that I would wait for the next one.

In a few minutes, a wheelchair came.  I thought it was a second one.  No, they had taken the elderly man to the terminal where he was left to stand, taken the wheelchair and come back for me!  It wasn't until they wheeled me to the terminal that I saw what had happened.  The man and I waited there for at least fifteen minutes, standing against the wall, until a cart came to take us to "the holding area". 

The cart driver got there, jumped off the cart and never told the man what he needed to do about the ticket to give to the ONE person in charge.  I helped him. 

In this area there were at least SIXTY people waiting.  It was hard to believe.  Very upset people from many countries with no one to interpret for them.  One daughter was trying to let the ONE person know that they had a connecting flight to catch.  Another very elderly lady sat their weeping.  Nothing seemed to be working.  Wheelchair attendants were non existent.

Stressful and sad does not begin to describe the situation.  After about an hour, a United pilot came up to me as he was walking through (the holding area is a hallway) and asked me what was going on.  I told him.  He was furious and said he was going to call someone.  Halleleuia!

Then more attendants began to arrive.  More then the two or three that would come and take one person and then we would wait for two or three more.

After TWO hours of waiting, someone finally took me down the elevator to go through Customs.  There were Custom officers there but it was very slow............Why, I have no idea. 

It took almost three hours from landing to finally get to the Super Shuttle kiosk.  WOW.

In a humorous note, I had needed to use the restroom throughout this three hours and the minute I got to Super Shuttle and they could handle my luggage for me, I took off for the restroom, on foot, with my cane.  I mean I was moving as fast as I could.  It wasn't until I left the enclosed stall and a man was standing with his back to me using a urinal that I realized that I had entered the men's restroom.  I truly giggled when I got outside.

A few days after the flight, I received a survey form from United asking me if I had had a good flight.  I have been a customer of TransTexas Airways which became Continental which became United all these years.  Indeed, I answered the survey.

I received a "number" to my response.  Then eventually a phone call.  The woman who called gave all kinds of excuses why this had happened and that it never happens.  Well, if it had not happened to me two years in a row, I would have probably believed her.  It was not a cordial conversation.

She said she would do further investigation and get back with me.  I explained to  her that it was not myself that I was upset about but all the other people who DID miss their connecting flights and no one could communicate with them!

I never had another call from the woman.  Instead, she sent an email with a voucher for $150USD for my "trouble".  No way to tell you how incensed I was by this...........I deleted the email and the voucher and at this time, have no intention of flying United ever again.

Imagine what those people who were coming to the USA for the first time must have felt and what they must have thought.............



Croft said...

After Norma broke her hip and we were returned to Canada for repairs, we had to return to Arizona to get the motorhome. We had three flight changes and she required a wheelchair for each one. It wasn't until the final wheelchair attendant was taking us to tick up our bags in Tuscon that we were told the attendants were not employed by the airline but depended on tips to make a living. We did not know this and had not tipped the first two attendants. I winder if this situation has changed.

Unknown said...

United is the worst but they are all bad. Customs in Houston wins no prizes either. We leave for SMA tomorrow. We’re driving and will stay at Rancho Los Labradores for three months. We hope to meet you this trip. Bill and Debbie Stuart, Gulf Shores, Al.

Babs said...

Croft - The attendants work for an outside contractor. I always tip them at least $20 USD because they are usually from El Salvador or Honduras. It is my bit to help.

Babs said...

Bill and Debbie - Safe travels. Looking forward to
meeting you when you get settled........It is really
cool here so bring a few jackets and sweaters. I have
on a sweat shirt, long pants and socks today!

Retired Teacher said...

An absolutely inexcusable situation. And I have noticed recently that there are a lot of elderly Mexicans or Mexican-Americans requiring a wheel chair on flights to and from Mexico City. Fortunately I have not reached that stage, but I am now officially a senior citizen, so someday down the road...

My question about who employs the attendants has been answered.

I'll be leaving again for CDMX in less than 3 weeks... and I will be on United. For the last several trips, I have been flying Interjet from Chicago. I really like the airline. However this time around, the United fare was so good that I am going back to my old routine via Houston.

If you need to fly to Houston in the future, you might want to look into Interjet since they have non-stop service from CDMX to Houston. (I know, you probably fly out of Guanajuato / Leon, but it would give you an excuse to visit the big city.)

Contessa said...

How horrible! At least you understood what was going on. There is no excuse for this to be happening. So glad you did bring it to light. Might I suggest a letter to the editor of a few Houston newspapers.

I truly understand how helpless it feels to be in the hands of someone else pushing your wheelchair in an airport not to mention the very through pat downs going thru security. I have only traveled within Canada while confined to the chair before and after my hip replacements. Other than the pat downs everyone was very helpful and polite. I believe that here, those wheelchair attendants are actually part of the airline that you are flying on.

Peter Kouwenhoven said...

Customer service is a thing of the past, sadly every one is in it solely for the money.

Kim G said...

I've always thought, "If only more people flew, the the airlines could be America's most hated industry." Sigh...maybe someday it'll be true.


Kim G
Redding, CA
Where at least the tiny airport is fairly pain-free.

Anonymous said...

Having used a wheelchair my last few flights (because of my knees also), I had great experiences at most airports.
Puerto Vallarta was the best.

Houston Airport was simply a nightmare, with ONE person verrrry slowly taking care of customs for a very long line of people waiting and many other agents standing around doing nothing.
Very disappointing and I was simply pissed. Cannot stand Houston Airport.

United. Horrible service to or from any location.
Most other Airlines care. They do not.

But at an International Airport, there should be person that do speak other languages.

I was trying to get my luggage by using a cart. I did not know what to do with the cart after I offloaded my luggage. The person took my luggage and slammed it hard onto the conveyor belt. Then said “tek yo cot whitchoo”. I replied “what?”.

He just yelled louder “tek yo cot whitchoo”.
I suppose I was needing to take my cart with me. Which was not far.

English would be a good language for Airport employees to learn also.

alcuban said...

I never paid much attention to wheelchairs or other services for the physically handicapped until my mother reached her mid-80s and just couldn't walk, particularly in most airports where distances between check-in and the boarding gate seem to be getting longer, a challenge even for the fully mobile. I sympathize with your problem but don't know what to say except airline service any more sucks and seemingly getting suckier by the day. Recently we ran into the phenomenon of an airline charging extra for the use of overhead bins, for those poor bastards sitting in the rear ten or twenty seats of the economy section. Watch for the airline to start charging extra for cushions on the seats.


Babs said...

Hi Bill - I would fly Interjet, but it is 3 1/2 hours to CDMX and then the 2 hour flight. Otherwise, I would fly them. They are a great airline and I've flown them many times in country. AeroMexico and Volaris are good too and fly out of Leon.....

Sorry, but I now avoid CDMX. The airport is a test of endurance when arriving by bus.

Babs said...

Contessa, Peter and Kim, yes flying is miserable now. I tried to drive up, my preference, but then had the car problems and came back to SMA and flew. Life
sometimes is a test instead of an adventure. Thankfully the Leon (BJX) airport is small and easy to navigate with a cane!

Babs said...

Good grief Anonymous - another horrible experience at the IAH airport in Houston. Sorry that happened to you. Maybe the airport needs MORE signage!

Babs said...

Yes, Al, at least that did not happen, yet. Since I'm in a wheelchair now at the airports, the attendants take you directly to your gate and leave you there. Heaven help you if you would like something to eat. So, the last two times I flew, I asked the flight attendant on United if I could have a little snack box with cheese and crackers to tide me over from the 9 hour ordeal. The cost is $7.75 US. Both times they waved off my paying! Amazing...........(The 9 hour ordeal is from the time the shuttle picks me up in Houston until the shuttle drops me off at my house in SMA) Next time, if there ever is, I think I'll tuck a sandwich in my purse,.......

Dee Tillotson said...

Anonymous said "English would be a good language for Airport employees to learn also." Beach and I had driven down to Fort Lauderdale, FL to catch a Southwest flight to Havana, Cuba last June. The whole airport at Fort Lauderdale was torn up for reconstruction and remodeling, very little signage. We found the Cuban visa desk and no problems picking up visas as we had ordered and paid for them on-line. Next, we got in line at Southwest to check in and deposit our luggage; the lady at the desk spoke marginal English, and we spoke just a few words of Spanish, but I did double check to make sure she had tagged our luggage "Habana." She next gave us our gate number to walk to with our carry-ons; signage was good for gate numbers, but no "live" overhead signage for arrivals/departures or gate changes; this place was primitive at best with all the construction. We got to the gate early (no signage or clerk at gate desk) and took a seat for a while. Then Southwest started a call for boarding of passengers from our gate number to "Atlanta." I almost freaked out. When I hurriedly asked the Southwest employee for the gate number to "Habana," she pointed to one gate over from where we were; we got there just before our flight closed the door to the plane and had to choose from what seats were left. I went through my mind as to how the mistake could have happened; the only things I could come up with was poor "live" signage in the airport and the Southwest employee at check-in with poor English skills reading and giving us the Southwest gate number for "Atlanta" instead of "Habana." Yep, we almost missed our flight, and it was the last flight of the day to Cuba.

Tancho said...

The problem is that our memories of how airline transportation use to be still is etched into our old minds. Overcrowded airports, the traffic, the parking the long lines everywhere have created a unpleasant experience. Sadly half the population is unaware of the way it was, when people didn't jam the jetway door pushing and shoving in order to get on the plane. Crappy service seems to be prevalent now. Each time I go to the supermarket, there are 15 check out stands, with one open, while a line of 15 people wait for one cashier. You would think someone would take those jobs, poor management and greedy corporations I guess are to blame. Sorry for your inconvenience I can certainly relate to your experience.

Michael Dickson said...

Allow me to offer the obvious solution: Quit flying to the United States. And no, it is not necessary. It's simply something you want to do. Truth is, everything you need for life exists here in Mexico. I haven't been to the U.S. in almost a decade. You can live here quite nicely without going to the U.S. Trust me.

Babs said...

Wow, Dee Tillotson, THANKFULLY the Havana gate was near the Atlanta gate. Yikes!
I had something similar happen in Atlanta at least 30 years ago when the ticket agent booked me for Houston Hobby airport when I needed to and assumed I was going to Houston Intercontinental, where my car was parked. It was quite an ordeal to get from one gate to the other, but I was younger then and able to run through an airport!

So, how was Havana?

Babs said...

I so agree with you Tancho! And, the grocery store, I'll never figure out why they have seven or eight checkout stations and maybe two people to check you out causing all of us to wait in lines. A pet peeve.

Babs said...

Felipe, I'll NEVER stop going to the USA as I have a great family and FIVE grandchildren there. Seeing all of them is worth the aggravation, always.

Dee Tillotson said...

Babs, Beach and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Havana because we were "prepared" for it by seeking out information from one of your other loyal readers, Croft Randle from Campbell River in Canada, who had visited Cuba with his wife and son and daughter-in-law. He put me in touch with a friend of his (Roly) who owns a small business in Cuba, "Havana Memories." We at first had planned to stay for two weeks so that we could see more than Havana and suburbs, but Beach had been diagnosed for a knee replacement to be done as soon as we returned to the states. Therefore, he had a cortisone shot before we left to get him through the trip for one week, and that limited us to Havana and surrounding areas. We knew we would have to do without a lot of things we take for granted in the states (like using powdered milk in lieu of fresh milk, etc.) and would see a lot of poverty. But when we were there not long after President Obama's visit and the opening of a US Embassy, the Cuban government had loosened the restrictions on the blossoming of private enterprise and you could see these businesses springing up everywhere. Roly found us a nice place to stay (by Cuban standards) with a retired lady and her son in her house in a middle class suburb. The houses in her neighborhood would have been the top place to live in the 1950s; the architecture was wonderful and just needed a facelift. Every morning I could smell bread baking from the house across the street, and around 9:00 am a small van would leave the house carrying fresh bread to a "store front" to s lol. Cottage private enterprise was thriving. Why did we not stay in a tourist hotel? Well, the US government frowns upon that, because these hotels are run by the Cuban military. Sometimes it's best to fly under the radar. Because of the fast growth of the tourist business and private enterprise, Cuba has had a problem with supplying additional infrastructure to keep up with it all. However, Cuba is throwing most of this new money into revitalizing the architecture and famous squares of its historical past with nice restaurants on these squares, which are drawing tourists like me. Havana's artists are displaying their talents in the markets and not to forget artists telling stories in music and dance. We only had time to see one part of their huge art museum which was a display of artists' works from Spain's occupation of Cuba to modern Cuban art (which took about half a day and it was quite warm in there). Another highlight was that Roly and his driver took us out to Ernest Hemingway's banana plantation; made a tour of the plantation, his home, and separate library and writing room high up and overlooking Havana Harbor; he never used this room much because Hemingway said that the view distracted him too much from his work; therefore, his best writing was done barefoot, standing on an animal pelt rug with his typewriter sitting on top of a chest high bookcase, and facing a blank wall in his bedroom. Over twenty years Hemingway lived in Cuba, he stayed out of Cuban politics; his passions were writing, fishing, and great alcoholic beverages; he was there living as usual during and after the Cuban Revolution and only met Fidel Castro once during a fishing tournament. US officials encouraged him to leave, but he would not. However, Hemingway had to make a trip to New York to see his publisher; unbeknownst to him, he would not be returning to Cuba; he also made a visit to his doctor in New York; the diagnosis was not good, and you know what happened to him later in Idaho. I'm not quite sure he didn't return to Cuba because of restrictions from the US government (however, he was the type who would always find a way) or his health diagnosis changed everything. But the Cuban government has kept and maintained his Cuban home exactly as he left it, and you would think he would be walking in the door any minute from a fishing trip.

Babs said...

Great recollections Dee. Thanks so much for sharing. I have some art from Cuba, small items, that friends have brought to me over the years. I would have preferred to stay in someone's home just as you did....so much more of a connection!

I'm an architectural aficionado, have several books on Cuba and would so love to go there. Maybe some day.

So, did Beach have his knee replaced? And, how is he doing. My email address is babsofsanmiguel@yahoo.com

Thanks for sharing.