To No One’s Surprise, United Blames My Non-Weather Cancellations on Weather

Well, that was disagreeable.

This is a minor followup to:

Despite all the weather problems airlines have been a victim of late, it's pretty obvious that my two canceled flights were not canceled because they were directly affected by weather. Heck, the first flight saw the whole route canceled for four days, as if one could magically know the weather four days hence. No, I think it was a business decision to make better use of the equipment they had on hand. Probably a smart business decision, since Chicago (where that first canceled flight went instead of Cleveland) is one of their major hubs, but nevertheless one that hurts folks who had a perfectly good plane yanked from their route.

I didn't complain to them the first time. I have more than 450,000 actual flight miles on United Airlines (equivalent to 84 transpacific flights) over the last 25 years, so I've got somewhat of a sweet spot for them in my heart, and am probably more willing than the average person to let things slide.

But doing it — canceling my flight for their business convenience — the second time yesterday was enough for me to contact them to at least ask whether they'd consider some kind of class or luggage upgrade as a token gesture.

Just contacting them to even try to talk about this was daunting. They offer no customer-service phone numbers on their site, so you must go through a web form.

Okay, so I filled in all the details, wrote my max-2000-character description, and submitted it, only to be met with the error: Your email address does not match. Please reenter. Uh, doesn't match what?. Perhaps they used to have the kind of thing where you have to enter your email twice, but currently there's only one place to enter it (and anyway, I'm logged in to my Mileage Plus account, so they know my email).

A search on the web showed others with the same frustration.

So I left a note on their Facebook page reporting the problem, and asked for a phone number I could use. They actually responded with it (877-624-2660) pretty quickly, but by that time I'd tracked down the number via calling their Mileage Plus office.

So, I called United Airlines Customer Service and talked to Rose. Rose conducted her job professionally, which means to say that she firmly (but politely) told me that all these problems were weather related and that I had no claim. She kept referring to the weather department as a very special department, as if it were some kind of magical place where we can't begin to understand what it does, but its decisions are the holy grail of truth never to be questioned even in the back of our minds.

But Rose, they canceled the flight four days in advance (and conveniently then used the plane to service Chicago and its much worse weather instead of Cleveland). Are you suggesting that they somehow knew the weather in Cleveland four days hence?, I asked.

Yes, of course, it's a very special department, and they take safety very seriously. We take safety very seriously at United., she replied.

(Imagine, if you can, all this said in the same quick no-nonsense voice and cadence of Bernadette on Big Bang Theory, and you'll have a complete picture of my experience.)

I don't like to be a complainer, but I got the short end of business decisions made by United for their own convenience, twice, so I thought a gesture of an upgrade or an extra bag or something wasn't too much to ask for, but Rose, always polite but always firmly rooted in it's a very special department, waved the word weather as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

I asked how yesterday's flight from Akron to Chicago could possibly be canceled for weather 10 hours before the flight, when both airports were running normal operations throughout. "Its a very special department who makes those decisions and we don't question them. United takes safety very seriously."

Anyway, to make a long story just a bit less long, I eventually got bumped to Caroline, a supervisor, who listened much more sympathetically, but never allowed that any of it would seem even slightly fishy. And even if she believed that I was correct, it turns out that there's nothing she could do... I'd have to submit my claim via the (not-working) web site.

Caroline said that she'd report the web-site problem and that I should try it again later, but I didn't hold much hope that it would be fixed nor that even if it were that it would make any difference, considering the weather designation on my cancellations. But I did check the web site later and it was fixed, so I did submit my note. Not holding my breath, though.

So in summary, I just screwed myself out of a couple of hours of my life, and into enhanced frustration and exasperation with an airline that I've used for 25 years. It's not unexpected, of course, but still disappointing.

Continued here...

All 11 comments so far, oldest first...

Ouch. I have also experienced United playing the weather card when the delay was not (according to the captain of the flight) due to weather. So I know how these things go down. There’s a word for it and the word is fraud.

But I’m a very infrequent flier. I am truly surprised to learn that they’ll treat someone with 450K miles on their account with the same basic contempt.

— comment by Malcolm Hoar on January 12th, 2014 at 2:19am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

United was just rated as one of the worst airlines for customer service. Here is the USA Today article:

— comment by Patrick Magee on January 12th, 2014 at 3:44am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I told you before about my experience getting my flight cancelled because of an actual weather problem – a hurricane! I was flying on Cathay Pacific and we got bumped after we had gone to the boarding area. The flight cancellation was based on the fact that JFK was actually shut down because the hurricane was barrelling towards us. Anyway, all of our expenses because of this got paid for by Cathay Pacific and I couldn’t be more pleased with the treatment we got. We kept track of all of our costs, hotel, food, everything, and it added up to nearly $900, which was sent by check two or three weeks after our return home.

— comment by Arthur Brigham on January 12th, 2014 at 8:16am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I would burn down my United miles & then switch allegiance to another airline. Whenever I’ve traveled internationally I’ve always found American-based airlines (Delta, United, American, etc.) to be a step down from their international competition. Personally, I’m a big fan of Korean Air & British Airways.

— comment by Bill on January 12th, 2014 at 9:10am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Here in Chicago today heard in a cab a local radio station talk about United’s last couple weeks’ computer problems which allegedly caused more flight problems than weather. So much for “special department”.

— comment by Vlad on January 12th, 2014 at 10:47am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Rose seems to be very Japanese: we also hear a lot of endlessly repeated nonsense over here too ね. Seems like an effective to make the customer know he’s wasting his time…

I would second Bill’s comment: if I had to fly to the US I would probably use Air Canada (had a couple of good experiences with them). They boast on their website “best airline in North America four years in a row”, and they are probably used to this kind of little weather issues (their home page has clear warnings and indications). Plus, they are in the same ‘Star Alliance’ miles club as United.

Time for a change? (c:

— comment by Damien on January 12th, 2014 at 11:01am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

It’s endearing that you expect these poor people to behave like people. As long as they work for United, they are cogs in a big machine and cannot deviate from the script. Appeals to logic is to fail to realize that no matter what they may think personally, their continued employment depends upon not admitting what both of you know.

— comment by Zak on January 12th, 2014 at 6:41pm JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Ditto to Bill’s statement. US airlines don’t hold a candle against competitions. I flew United from Beijing to US, or US to Japan a few of times, and the flight attendants were among the rudest crew I have ever seen of my flights. I think they all came out of retirement unwillingly or something.

Service level from the Korean or Japanese airline is just top notch…

— comment by david wong on January 13th, 2014 at 12:24am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink
— comment by Patrick Magee on January 13th, 2014 at 6:28am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Hey, I went through the same issues with the ” ! Your email address does not match. Please reenter.”

I was using Firefox when I got this issue. When I switched over to Chrome, I didn’t get the problem. Just a heads-up in case you want to submit feedback without having to call-in in the future.


— comment by Marc on May 21st, 2016 at 6:17am JST (7 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Interestingly, I had the same problem but it worked using Firefox and not using Chrome (!?)

— comment by Cat on July 19th, 2016 at 4:43am JST (7 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
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