Dear United Airlines, thanks for the migraine.
I have spent countless hours on the phone with United Airlines over the past 2 months. Why? My migraine began when United Airlines took $69.00 from my bank account without my authorization. When I first noticed the strange charge on my Chase Bank online statement, I expected it would be taken care of fairly quickly by simply calling United’s customer support phone number and telling them about their billing error. I was wrong… very wrong.
My first call went something like this (April 1, 2012):
Myke: Hi, I booked a flight a couple weeks ago and noticed an extra charge on my bank statement. I purchased a round trip flight and selected your $69 ‘extra legroom’ seat for one of the two flights. However, my bank statement shows that you charged me $69 TWICE. After seeing this charge, I took a closer look at the United Airlines receipt from my account on your website and you indeed charged me $69 twice, the second charge being for a non ‘extra legroom’ seat. My email confirmation however, only shows the one charge. Could you please return $69 to my method of payment?
Support Rep: Sorry sir I am not authorized to give you a refund at this time.
Myke: Okay, I understand - so can you escalate this call to your supervisor or manager?
Support Rep: Okay, please hold while I connect you.
This was no April Fool’s joke. My next 2 calls went the exact same way. These calls happened to be around the time in April 2012 when United and Continental’s websites began to merge into one. Despite my anger and frustration, I tried to make some sense out of this in my head. Could 3 people REALLY hang up on me after being asked to be transferred to a manager? There must be something wrong with the phone tree system because of the merger. Right? I allowed myself to cool down and decided to call back in a couple of days. In the meantime I attempted to reach someone on Twitter and Facebook. No response.
A couple of days later I was finally able to get through to a supervisor over the phone. That call went something like this (April 5, 2012):
Myke: [explained the situation, yet again] Can you help me with this issue?
Supervisor: I’ve never heard of this happening before. This has never happened before. You must have done something wrong when you were booking your flight online. Are you sure you didn’t select the ‘extra legroom’ seat by accident, then clicked ‘back’ on your browser?
Myke: No, I’m quite certain that I did not do this. In fact, I remember consciously making the decision to only purchase the extra legroom seat on my return flight home.
Supervisor: Well, this has never happened before so you must have done something for this charge to have occurred.
Myke: Isn’t it possible that this might be the first time that you have personally seen this error occur?
Supervisor: No. And even so, I would at least know about the possibility of this error occurring.
Myke: Okay. Regardless, you charged me an extra $69 for a regular seat and I did not authorize this payment.
Supervisor: I can move you to an ‘extra legroom’ seat, but I cannot issue you a refund because this is not an error on our part.
Myke: No, I want my money back! I don’t want to upgrade my seat, I just want my money back. This is clearly an error on your part because my email confirmation and the receipt on your website don’t even match up. The receipt on your website shows two $69 charges, each with a unique transaction number. I only purchased ONE seat upgrade.
Supervisor: I’m sorry sir, there’s nothing I can do to help you.
Myke: I’d like to speak with another supervisor please. It’s clear to me that you don’t understand my problem.
Supervisor: Please hold.
(10 minutes of holding. Same supervisor returns to the line.)
Supervisor: Okay, what is it exactly that you want me to do?
Myke: At this point, I would like an apology. I’ve been hung up on multiple times, and then today you accused me of being responsible for YOUR billing error. After the apology, I want you to give me my $69 back.
Supervisor: I can’t apologize for something that is not our fault. But what I can do is go ahead and issue you a refund of $69, as a one-time courtesy.
Myke: Okay, that’s fine.
Supervisor: Please hold.
(10 minutes of holding. Same woman returns.)
Supervisor: Okay, I have submitted a request for your refund to our refund department. Your refund will take up to 10 business days to process. It may take even longer due to a high volume of requests at this time. You will also receive a written apology letter in the mail, along with a $25 credit to use toward your next United Airlines reservation. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Myke: No, that will be all. Thank you.
CUT TO: April 11, 2012 (about a week after the last phone call)
I received an apology letter in my mailbox. It included a $25 travel certificate toward my next United Airlines purchase:
I waited a few more weeks for my $69 refund, but nothing showed up in my Chase Bank account. I called United a couple more times, had to explain everything over again, and was told multiple times that my refund is on the way and that I should expect it soon.
To add to my bad luck, my future travel plans had changed and I needed to make a change to the 2nd half of my round trip flight. At this point, it had been over a month since my call with that supervisor who submitted my refund request. I called United and explained the situation about the refund that I was still waiting for. Then I explained that I had to make some changes to that flight as well. The support rep told me that because my refund is still processing, it would be in my best interest to purchase a brand new flight to avoid any further issues with the previous booking. I was told that I could simply cancel the 2nd half of my original flight after I received my $69 refund, without affecting the new flight. I took his advice and booked a brand new return flight home, on separate reservation.
CUT TO, TONIGHT: May 22, 2012
It’s been well over 5 weeks since I was told by a supervisor that a refund will be heading in my direction. It has been over 2 months since my original ticket was purchased online, and my bank account was double-charged. Seeing that my original flight is only a few day away (scheduled for May 25), I thought I should go ahead and call United again to cancel the 2nd half of that flight, despite the fact that I still have not received my $69 refund.
Tonight’s call went like this:
Myke: [explained the situation] I need to cancel part of my flight. I would like a full refund for the 2nd half of my roundtrip flight, including a refund for the $69 extra legroom seat that I actually did purchase.
Support Rep: I cannot issue you a refund on a non-refundable flight. You will actually have to pay the difference if you want to cancel the 2nd half of your flight because now the prices have increased since you originally booked. I will have to charge you a $150 cancellation fee, then rebook you on a one-way flight at today’s current price which is actually more than your original roundtrip flight. This will cost more because one-way flights are more expensive than roundtrip flights.
Myke: Wait. Despite all of the issues I’ve experienced with you over the last couple of months, you are saying I have to pay more money just to board one half of my flight, and not the other half? Your own support rep is the one who advised me not to keep my roundtrip flight and to book my new return flight separately. Also, can you look into the status of my previous $69 refund that I’m still waiting for?
Support Rep: Sorry, sir, that is the policy and I’m not authorized to issue any refunds. However, let me take a look at your previous refund request. Please hold.
Support Rep: Sir, it looks like your refund was never submitted. According to our refund department, your $69 refund was authorized by a supervisor, but it was never submitted. I went ahead and submitted that for you now. You should be receiving your refund in about 10 business days.
Myke: What?! I’ve called numerous times and was told that my refund was being processed and is on the way. What’s going on?
Support Rep: I’m sorry sir, I don’t what what happened. But your refund has now been submitted, as of today.
Myke: I guess there’s nothing else I can say about that. Thanks for finally putting that through, I’ve been waiting over a month. Now, can you submit another refund for my return flight? I already purchased a brand new return flight - in fact, it’s for a multi-destination itinerary and cost me over $1800. I followed your colleague’s recommendation and booked it separately. I would just to like to cancel that original return flight and get a refund for it.
Support Rep: I’m sorry sir, I still cannot authorize that.
Myke: Okay, please transfer me to a supervisor or someone who can authorize a refund.
(on hold for about 15 minutes. same support rep returns.)
Support Rep: Thanks for your patience. I spoke to my supervisor and I will not be able to issue you a refund because this a non-refundable flight.
Myke: I asked to speak to your supervisor, not for you to ask them on my behalf. Will you please transfer me to your supervisor?
Support Rep: Of course, sir. Please hold.
(hold for another 15 minutes. Supervisor is now on the line)
Supervisor: Hello, thanks for holding. I’ve taken a look at your notes here and because of the issues you have experienced with us, I will go ahead and waive the $150 cancellation fee for canceling the 2nd half of your roundtrip flight. I will go ahead and rebook a one-way flight for you at no additional charge, but I cannot issue you a refund.
Myke: Hmm. So this means I basically paid for a roundtrip flight but am actually only flying one-way? What’s the point in calling to cancel? Shouldn’t I just get on the outbound flight, and skip the return flight altogether?
Supervisor: Yes sir, you are correct. It’s up to you if you want to cancel or just not board your return flight.
Myke: What about the upgrade that I actually did purchase, for the return flight? Will you be able to refund me for the $69 upgrade that I purchased on that cancelled flight? Or can you move that upgrade over to the outbound flight?
Supervisor: I cannot transfer your seat upgrade to another flight. However, as a one-time courtesy, I will issue you a refund for $69.
Myke: Okay, great. In that case, I should probably cancel rather than skipping my original return flight. Also, just to be clear - I should also be receiving an additional $69 refund from the original billing error from 2 months ago, right?
Supervisor: Yes sir, you are correct.
Myke: Okay, I will accept your offer to waive the cancellation fee and the refund for $69. However, please make a note on my reservation that I am not accepting this offer as full compensation for the issues that occurred and the confusion caused by your own support reps. I still feel that I deserve a full refund for the 2nd half of my round trip flight that has been cancelled today. I’m very shocked at the level of customer service that I’ve received from your company over the last 2 months.
Supervisor: Yes sir, I will make a note on your reservation with exactly that.
Myke: May I have your name? And if you an employee badge or identification number, I would like that also.
Supervisor: My name is Tooma, and my ID is ‘0N’ (zero, followed by the letter N).
Myke: Thank you, Tooma. I will be in touch again if I don’t receive those two $69 refunds within the next couple of weeks.
UPDATE (5/25/12): Heading to EWR (Newark) airport to board the first leg of my multi-trip flight. Still have not received either of the refunds mentioned. In fact, I just paid United more money during online check-in for my baggage ($25).
To be continued…