United; good grief

I wasn’t going to do this, I really wasn’t, and I take no real pleasure in doing it now but I am fit to burst about the “customer service” provided by United. Basically, they delayed my luggage but that’s just life – what followed was just the most dreadful customer service I have experienced.

Letter 1

A covering letter to the claim form I sent them on 17th Feb 2015.

Dear Sir

Re: Lost Luggage Claim

The attached claim is not for much money but I still considered it worth going through the process.

Despite the inconvenience I was not so much annoyed at the loss of luggage, despite the security claims of carriers these things happen as I was truly angered by the customer service I received from United – an airline I had always rated very highly.

Many years ago as Mileage Member 00597 298 447 (a number no longer recognized by your system as I have not flown with you for a while) I always insisted on taking United across the Atlantic. I can see no reason why I should fly with you again after my recent experience.

As I say, it was not so much the loss of the bag as the response to it that left me feeling so frustrated and angry – whilst your liability is limited by such instruments as the Montreal Convention your ability to ruin a holiday in ways that do not result in direct, claimable, expenses is not!

The problem started at Newark Liberty airport. We arrived around 7:30 and the place was packed. We hadn’t been able to complete check in online as it said we needed to be confirmed so we used a kiosk at the bag drop. After scanning our passports it told us to call a representative which we did and she “confirmed” us then she went through the rest of the screens for us stopping only to get us to pay $50 to check our bags. I presume those other screens she flicked through contained baggage information (such as excess value) but we didn’t get a chance to read them.

We were then handed the printed baggage labels to attach ourselves. Which we did. Two checked bags one 50lb and one 48lb . I took the bags personally to the drop desk and the labels were scanned and a piece taken from the label and stuck to the bag then they are scanned again and weighed. I was then told to take them to “the man in the grey shirt”. I did but he just said, over his shoulder, “put them there” and pointed to a seriously overfull roped off area of floor.   Despite my trepidation I left them there, shoving them in as best I could. It felt a bit “third world” except that no third world airport I have visited handles bags as badly as that!

Although not United’s fault we found getting through security was a nightmare. We headed for the security next to our gate (up two lots of stairs) but were sent elsewhere despite that security area being only lightly loaded. This meant up more stairs then across a concourse and down some stairs to join a very full queue.

On the aircraft we were delayed awaiting “missing baggage” according to the Captain. We waited. Then an announcement that the seven pieces of missing luggage had been found and were on route. We waited. Then the captain announced that all was ok and we were “buttoned up below” and so we took off.

At Bonaire there were, as far as we all could tell, seven pieces of missing luggage – a curious coincidence?

Seven couples who had each received one bag and not the other. For us, the missing bag was all of our dive equipment – the sole purpose of our holiday being to dive. Two of the people who had lost luggage had experienced identical problems on previous United flights to Bonaire with delays up to seven days and tales of finding their luggage in other carrier’s storage areas having been told by United that it had not arrived. The United employee then started taking details, on badly photocopied forms using carbon paper – she had to move her keyboard out of the way to make space and kept saying she couldn’t check anything till she was back at the office. She was uninterested in the additional bag descriptions we offered and would only take our hotel details not direct contact information.

We left the airport and phoned the United office that night as we were asked to. Apparently there was no update on the online trace and we should call again the next afternoon. I said that this was ruining my holiday to which her response was that it was ruining her day too as she had lots of angry customers and 30 pieces of missing luggage – an interesting customer relations statement.

As each piece of luggage is numbered and scanned then you must have known when we took off that our luggage was not on board. Why then did the Captain tell us that all the luggage had been found and stored and why did neither the passengers nor the United staff in Bonaire know? I presume you do know what luggage is on your flights otherwise all your other security measures are futile. The open area at Newark is a recipe for lost and untraced luggage and something even Bonaire’s tiny airport doesn’t have to do. It would appear that lost baggage on this route is far from rare. According to our discussions with other holiday makers few regular visitors appear to have escaped it at least once and the hotels barely raise an eyebrow. Our tour operator even warmed us that lost luggage on the Bonaire flights was commonplace before we left.

I repeatedly called the local United office which occasionally answered but simply said that no trace information was on the system and I should call back. In frustration I tweeted your twitter account. I got a reply that way and was asked for the luggage tracking code. I sent that by direct message as requested but heard nothing so tweeted again. A different responder was on this time. I said that the additional description information I had offered had not been recorded and was asked to provide it again. I did and it was suggested that I phoned this through to your baggage team. When I pointed out that this would be an international call from a hotel and suggested that they passed it on for me (it was, after all, your problem!) they said “ok”. Good job one of us was on the ball because lo and behold my bag was suddenly found … in Amsterdam. I was assured that your team would do everything to get my bag back to me as quickly as possible and would contact me further with updates.

Apparently not. On either count. I heard nothing. My attempts to call your local office were unanswered. I was getting nowhere and getting no information. So. Back to twitter.

It transpired that those nice people in KLM had ferried the bag straight to Bonaire for you and it was at the airport. … had been for a day but no one had bothered to tell me … in fact at no point through this whole sorry process did United tell me anything unless I badgered them with questions – not a single attempt to contact me was made.

So there I was, Wednesday evening with half my holiday gone, diving rented equipment when I have much better equipment of my own. No log books, no camera equipment (so no underwater holiday photos) or torch as my kit is in my dive bag. Now United tell me that their office is not open till Saturday and they’ll contact me then so I can go and get it – apparently it can’t be released to me without one of your representatives present to close the paperwork and you can’t send someone in till Saturday. Really? Does this constitute making efforts to return my bag to me swiftly??

From here on in I heard nothing from United but I did head off to the airport, speak to a very nice KLM lady, show her my baggage receipt and recover my bag. Presumably your paperwork is still open and you are still waiting to contact me? Or apologise?

At the end of my holiday the hotel waived my equipment rental bill – I didn’t want them to as it was letting you off the hook, why should a small hotel subsidise the incompetence of United? They said it often happens and they just want people to have a good holiday.

Letter 2

In response to their letter dated 20th March which arrived today in which they say they have been unable to find my bag (they apparently “regret” it but still no apology is forthcoming) and request that I post off further information to them … which they already have, and phone them on a number I am supposed to know as they wont tell me …

Dear Sir

Re: Luggage Claim BONxxxxxM / ref xxxxx

Thank you for your letter dated 20th March which arrived today. It is a shame that you do not provide any non-paper means of communication that might speed matters up and simplify processing but then I suspect that is intentional, to put as many people off claiming as possible. Curiously you explicitly invite me to call you in the letter but fail to provide any contact details.

Your letter regrest delay in responding saying that you have been looking for my luggage and have been unable to find it. No apology. Mind you, had you bothered to read either the form I submitted or the covering letter you would see that the baggage was not lost but delayed – you might like to looks these words up as they have unsubtly different meanings although you provide only one form for both eventualities.

The reasons, therefore, that you were unable to find my luggage were

  1. You did not read my letter or form so you could have had no idea what you were looking for
  2. The luggage is sitting in my loft and you didn’t look there
  3. Your tracking is so poor that you had no idea that you had already found and arranged the (pitifully slow) return of said luggage

In the letter you then went on to ask me to send missing proofs; interim receipts and a phone list showing all calls I had claimed.

The only claim I have made that requires a receipt was the $50 to charged me to check my baggage in. You know I paid that as if I hadn’t then you wouldn’t have been able to lose it! Anyway, I have already sent you that receipt (original, not copy) with the form as requested on the form. The phone list, with the calls that I made from the hotel highlighted, was included with the form as required by the submission details provided. Looks like you have lost this too.

It costs quite a lot to get all the documents copied and dispatched to you over in Texas so it would be nice if submissions were treated with some respect. I am out of pocket, the hotel was good enough to waive some charges that I should claim and the KLM staff were great at fixing your mess. Frankly I cannot be bothered to pursue this any further as it will cost me far more in time and money than the claim is worth and I doubt very much if you will make any effort to apologise for either the

As I explained in the original letter. I was claiming, not so much for the sake of the money as to highlight the appalling customer service responses I received – what I did not expect was that things would get worse!


I went back to twitter to complain and got a response – “Glad to hear you have your bag. We can inform our bag team your item is with you” kind of misses the point 😉 Twitter is definitely the way to complain, the people are more on the ball and respond quicker but in the end can only push you back to a painfully turgid paper-based system ….