Day 1: Getting to BA and Why United Airlines is Really, Really Mean

Our big adventure began on Mar 19th about 12:00pm with Grace and Erin taking off from school at lunchtime so Grandma Cindy could drive all four of us to the airport in a smallish snow storm.  The snow had arrived early in the morning, but up to that point, it hadn’t been sticking.  We made it easily enough, checked our bags, meandered through security and hung out at the gate.  Our first leg was a flight to Washington Dulles to make our connection to Buenos Aires Ezeiza.  The plane boarded on-time and we figured we were home free.  Not so fast, my friend.  About 15min after our scheduled pushback from the gate, the captain announced we were holding at the gate to wait on baggage for one of the passengers.  We later learned the missing cargo was also some stuff for the US Mail.  20min later, we finally pushed back, but by then the snow was really coming down, so off to the de-icing pad we went.  An eternity later, we finally took off: 2hrs after our scheduled departure time.  And what was our layover duration you ask?  2hrs 6min.  Gonna be tight.

We ended up touching down about 1hr 45min late.  Our connecting gate was on the same concourse and we sprinted to the gate figuring the worst that could happen would be bags arriving a day late.   When we got to the gate, there wasn’t a soul in site.  Not even a gate agent.  As we wandered the boarding area, we noticed the gate agent walking back up the Jetway from the aircraft.  We explained what had happened, presented our boarding passes and he told us to hustle down to the plane.  When we got to the door we were greeted by a person in plain clothes (very, very weird) who indicated the aircraft was full and the door was summarily slammed in our faces.  The gate agent shooed us back up to the boarding area just as another passenger raced into the boarding area.  The five of us were told to find our way to United Airlines customer service center.  And have a nice evening.

There we were.  10:00pm at night.  Julie is crying.  Grace is crying because Julie is crying.  Erin is standing there going “Eh. Whatever.”  I am furious.  We marched to customer service where we were greeted with the following options:

  1. We can get you a flight to Miami, then on to BA on American Airlines.  At 6:00pm the next day.
  2. We can get you on the same flight we were supposed to be on, but 24hrs later.

Some options.  We chose door # 2. and decided that if we were going to be stuck in Washington, we may as well make the best of it and enjoy the sights.  There are way worse places to be stranded.  Once re-booked I inquired about lodging for the evening and was told that our delay was due to weather and not United’s problem.  Excuse me?  We would have made it in time had they not sacrificed the first 35min waiting on bags and US Mail.  All around me in customer service were other passengers that had been on our flight that had also missed their connections and were looking at a long night because there are not many flights to Scranton, PA or Knoxville, TN at 10pm.  After 45min of haggling and arguing, I finally convinced the shift supervisor they were being totally unreasonable.  Apparently, my United Premier Executive status tipped the balance.  (What a dubious thing to have an elite status on an airline that is so clearly out of touch with customer experience.  Don’t get me started on what they did to us on our last trip to Maui.)

United ended up giving us a pair of hotel room vouchers and about $50 in food vouchers.  Then the supervisor asked if we wanted our luggage brought to the baggage return.  It was perhaps the most ridiculously rhetorical question I have ever been asked.  We are stuck here for 24hrs and are sweaty / smelly from running all over the place and arguing with airline people.  Um, no, we don’t want our stuff.  We’ll just wear these clothes for another 36hrs.  Gosh.  I found a rental car quick on and we prepared to head out to get our bags.  As we did, we noticed the other stranded passenger (an Argentine man) from our flight sitting on the ground with his laptop trying to figure out a place to stay (he was apparently unworthy of the “courtesy” we had received).  Julie and I decided to offer him one of our hotel vouchers and told him he could go sightseeing with us the next day, but he must have thought we were a family of American-style ax murderers or something and declined.  I gave him my business card in case he changed his mind, we said hasta mañana and off we went.

By 11:30pm, we’d made it to the very nice Landsdowne Resort in Leesburg, VA  where United had sent us (no kidding… it was really nice and we were very surprised), ate some Panini sandwiches Julie had picked up before we left the airport and everyone hopped into bed.  12:36am.  End of Day 1.  Yikes.

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Dave Fuller

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