United/Continental Airlines Merger May Fail

April/09/2012 16:53PM
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It’s no wonder airlines are going bankrupt. Last year I booked a round trip flight on United from Chicago to Phoenix.  Using miles and money, I booked first class. Arriving in Phoenix in January and returning to Chicago in May.

We decided we wanted to go back earlier than our original return date. Expecting to pay a change fee, I went on line to make the change and pay the fee.  I got a” call the airlines message” and a phone number. The automated voice asked for my confirmation number. After giving it 5 times and having the robot repeat there was no record, please give me the number again, I began hitting the zero button on the phone. The robot tried several more times to keep me on automation, but finally told me it would be 3 minutes before an agent would be available. Three minutes stretched to 33 minutes.

The very nice agent with the very difficult accent gave me a date where there were two first class seats available. It was earlier than we wanted, but I didn’t want to give up the value in the tickets purchased. She said there was a problem and put me back on hold. After 15 minutes more, she came back on line to tell me that the airlines had merged their reservation systems on March 3, 2012 and the new system cannot accommodate ticket date changes when miles and money were used to purchase the original ticket. She said to make a change I would have to purchase two new one-way first class tickets for $3,200.

I asked her to check with a supervisor and inform the supervisor that I would be shredding my Chase Mileage Plus card, selling my 120,000 unused miles on mileage plus, and never stepping foot in a United/Continental flight again if that position held. I did tell her that I always thought Continental was a poorly run airline and it was sad to see they were taking a mriginal airline like United and making it worse. I asked her to pull up my profile and see the 480,000 total miles flown on United so she could see I had been a good customer.

Back on hold for another 15 minutes. She came back on and said my flight had been changed and there was no charge.

I didn’t tell her that United was the airline that dumped me upside down in a cornfield in Iowa in 1989.

If I hadn’t been persistent I’m sure the system problem from the merger would have been the policy and I would have flown home on American with two new purchased  tickets, and Chase would have lost a bank customer through no fault of their own.

When I printed out the e-mail confirmation I got another surprise. What was once a one-page document with the key information is now a 5 page document with 4 pages of legal disclaimers. Did Continental merge with United,  or did the Obama administration?

Perhaps Continental brought some good things to United. Over time maybe the reservation problems may be fixed. Maybe the time to talk to a human will get shorter.  Maybe the robot will be able to get spoken data right.

The only good news in this story is the supervisor who had the common sense not to lose a customer and did the right thing.  I just wonder how many customers are persistent enough to get to a supervisor. And, if I didn’t have the track record with United, would the supervisor have been so accommodating?

Mergers don’t seem to be the answer for airlines, nor is bankruptcy. What is the answer?

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