Tuesday, April 3, 2018

United Airlines Strikes Again: The Silent Treatment

Did you have an enjoyable, uneventful snow day Monday? I didn’t, thanks to another United Airlines foulup due to poor communication. 

My two Omaha-based grandchildren, CJ and Leo, along with their parents Ellie and Donny, were scheduled to fly home nonstop from Newark at 3 pm. The surprising snow storm dumped seven inches on our driveway. Even more surprising, despite being heavy wet snow, it did not clog the chute of my snowblower. 

Prompted by the storm, meanwhile, United decided around noon to delay takeoff until 4:40 as incoming planes had been unable to land. So, instead of leaving White Plains shortly after noon for the one hour ride to Newark, we embarked at 1:30.

We encountered no traffic, not even as we crossed the George Washington Bridge. But, as we motored down the New Jersey Turnpike near MetLife Stadium, Donny received an alert from a travel app on his iPhone that the plane would be taking off as scheduled at 3!

He quickly checked United’s web site. Phew. United showed a 4:40 departure time. Already traveling in excess of the 55 mph speed limit, there was no reason to put more petal to the medal.

A few minutes later, however, United reversed course. Its web site reverted to the original 3 pm departure. Donny never received an email or text notice. He found out only because he was obsessive and checked again on his own.

With two children, CJ 3, Leo 7 months, plus a trunkload of luggage to check, it seemed unlikely they could pass through security and get to the gate before it closed.

When we arrived at the terminal Donny jumped out to seek a customer service agent to explain their dilemma and expedite the check-in process. Helpful though she was, it could not be done in time to make the flight.

She could not explain why United had changed the departure back to the original time.

She could, however, rebook their flight out. Instead of the non stop that would have arrived in Omaha at 6:04 pm local time, where Donny’s mother would pick them up, she offered two alternatives: The earliest non stop was Tuesday morning at 6, meaning we would leave White Plains in darkness at 3:30. But when we would get to Newark, though their tickets would say the flight originated from terminal C, there could well be a gate change to terminal A, she said. It would be a decision United would not make until the morning, most probably after they checked in.

Or, they could fly Monday evening around 5 pm to Houston, arrive around 8 then wait two hours for a flight to Omaha that would get in around midnight. But—always that “but”—she cautioned the flight from Houston probably would be delayed for two hours. They wouldn’t land in Omaha until 2 am not sure if Donny’s mother would be able to pick them up.

Truly a Hobson’s choice: travel with two kids for another 12 hours, eating airport food and hoping their children would sleep at least part of the way, maybe in airport terminals, or overnight back in White Plains, get up at 3 am and return to the airport shortly after 4.

They chose another night at grandma and grandpa’s house. Which meant I was waking up at 2:30 am. Uber was not an option, not while I am retired and still physically and mentally fit to drive.

To and from the airport was uneventful. Less than two hours. Fully clothed I crawled back into bed at 5:30 am for four hours of much needed sleep.