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Flying The "Friendly Skies" of United Airlines

Updated on May 9, 2019
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Our daughter and her husband take a mini vacation to Pensacola

Our eldest daughter and her husband decided to take a mini vacation to Pensacola, Florida, based in no small part on our wonderful trip three years ago. We had such fun that they determined to follow in our footsteps and go there as well. Last year, they had plans in place to go but a hurricane entering the Gulf and taking aim at the panhandle of Florida caused them to second guess that trip. They called us for an idea of what to do with their trip: should they tough it out and go or do something else? We told them in no uncertain terms to not trust a hurricane and do something else. I am a planner, and have multiple trips planned at any given moment. Firing up my trusty decade old laptop I quickly found them a trip plan for Colorado and emailed it to them, They were overjoyed and had a blast on my plan. You're welcome!

Fast forward to this year, last week to be exact. They planned to go to Pensacola once more and had their plans. They flew from Springfield to Pensacola, visited several locations we had told them about, had a blast and then began their travel home.

This, as is often said, is where things go terribly wrong.

Fly the friendly skies

The commercial above is what they had flying to Pensacola...

Flying into Pensacola was no problem; things went smoothly as they are wont to do when there is no pressure. Much as an ant descending into the trap of an ant lion they blissfully flew south for their vacation, never knowing things would "go south" on their return trip. So what went wrong?

In a word, everything.

Weather was moving in, severe storms with tornadoes, wind, hail and torrential downpours which would leave areas flooded and being evacuated. While waiting in the airport at Pensacola, our daughter learned that United Airlines, that purported "Friendly Skies" airline, would be flying into the storm which was approaching Houston. Their destination? Houston. Unfortunately, the airline did not provide any details about the weather or the flight other than they were going. So, they loaded up the plane and then waited on the tarmac for a while. Why, you ask?

To determine if the pilot had sufficient hours available to complete the flight. Yes, you read that right. They loaded the plane, taxied out and waited to learn if the pilot could legally fulfill the required flight time to Houston. Good planning, right? We don't want to find this out before we leave the terminal, no; we'd rather find out AFTER leaving the terminal. No problem you say? Good to know they were intent on determining his legality to fly? And yes, it would be except...

Their connecting flight in Houston to Springfield had less than ten minutes of leeway. They had no time to waste.

Like O.J. through the terminal, running to make their flight.

It was finally determined that the pilot was legal so off they went into the wild blue yonder, winging their way on a wing and a prayer towards the storm and Houston. They arrived in time (miraculously) only to find, after running through the terminal like O.J. Simpson that their connecting flight was already loaded and sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off! It had loaded and left early!!

What about their prepaid seats you ask? Oh, those were double booked and given to other people who were on the flight. Double booking, as those people from a year or two found out, was still something that United evidently continues to do despite the horrible press given them after the fiascoes they weathered previously. Obviously, lessons learned were not learned very well.

Despite begging and pleading by our daughter and her husband, the woman at the counter refused to do anything for them. Now, the kicker was presented to my child's posterior. Ready?

THERE WERE NO MORE FLIGHTS TO SPRINGFIELD THAT EVENING, NOR ANY THE FOLLOWING DAY!!!!

Nothing available for them to fly out despite their having a paid ticket on the flight sitting on its ass out on the tarmac! Then when one is down another kick is going to be delivered and delivered it was.

No, we will not secure you a room to stay in overnight because A) this is weather related so it is not our fault and B) there are no rooms available in Houston due to the weather!

Now follow that line of reasoning: they say this is weather related so it is not their fault yet they knew the flight from Pensacola into Houston was coming, there were seats in their name on the connecting flight to Springfield, and that they arrived in time despite the flight waiting on the ground in Pensacola because of the pilot's hours. The flight out of Houston left early, with their seats given away. But this is not the airline's fault.They knew, they delayed, they flew, they gave away, they left early.

Not. Their. Fault.

There's always options, right? Right??

No flights were going anywhere near Springfield. None. Tulsa? Nope, all full. Branson? I laugh at that! Kansas City? St. Louis? Hah! Oh wait; here's one into Denver, how about that? Denver? Then a connecting flight to Springfield sometime in the near future, oh wait: isn't it snowing right now in Denver? Winter storms going on there right now? No thank you!

How about a refund? Of course, we can accommodate that! We'll just set you up to fly BACK to Pensacola (that flight leaves tomorrow morning) and...wait, you don't want to go back to Pensacola? Sorry but that is the only way you can get a refund. Okay, let's keep trying to get you home!

Atlanta then Springfield in about twenty hours? Oh wait again: that puts you back in front of the storm that deluged Houston so maybe not such a good idea. Wait a minute, here's one to Wichita, Kansas, that's close isn't it? Yeah, just a hop skip and jump away! Only a mere 250 miles, maybe four and a half hours of driving. That flight will get you into Wichita around 1:00 AM and you can just rent a car and drive unless you would like to book a flight into Springfield which will get you home around midnight the next day. You want US to pay for your rental car! Oh, that's a good one! Maybe the best joke I've heard all day!

Oh God, please tell me you are kidding me.

No, I am not kidding.

So they caught a flight into Wichita, arriving around 1:30 AM this morning. No car to go to a hotel, no hotel available, no one even in the damn terminal so they bunked down in a row of seats for a nice comfy four hours of sleep until the car rental office opens at 6:00 AM.
6:00 AM comes... and goes. No one arrives to supply them a car. Finally, twenty minutes late a woman comes in and they get their car. Wait, what? You don't show our rental? We did it online from Houston, asking for a Beetle. It's not there. And there is no Beetle. Give us anything so we can get home!

They finally got underway around 7:30 AM, on the road and heading for home. Around noon they pulled into the airport in Springfield to drop off the car at the rental booth and pick up their own car to drive home.

Did you get all of that?

It ended up taking them over twenty hours to get from Pensacola to Springfield. To drive it would have taken them eleven hours. Barely half as long to drive as it took to fly and a hell of a lot cheaper and less headaches. But the allure of supposedly quick and painless flights drew them in to their great pain.

United Airlines was the airline who dragged the passenger off the plane a couple of years ago, remember? The Asian doctor who refused to get off and come to find out the person replacing him was an employee of the airline who really didn't have to get home quite so quick. If I recall, that was the beginning of the realization of how United and other airlines were double booking their flights and causing major headaches for their customers. All that negative press and they are still doing the same damn thing today. As Forest's mama used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does" and for a company to continue to intentionally harm its customers means it does not care. Friendly skies my ass!

Ultimately, they are home, safe and sound. That is all I really care about but I am furious with United for this fiasco. They should not have been treated as they were, waiting on the ground in Pensacola, having their seats given away on a flight which left early before they could even get to the plane, then not having any way to get home directly and having the clerk at the counter offer flights a thousand miles away from their destination as an option even though these flights would have added another twenty plus hours to their already extended flight.

After the extra cost of a rental car and additional hours spent traveling, I hope my daughter and son-in-law have learned a valuable lesson and will be a bit more aware of who they travel with next time. As for me, United ain't getting a penny pf my money!

Is this the real Friendly Skies?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Mr Archer

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    • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Archer 

      14 months ago from Missouri

      Ladies, thank you and I appreciate your thoughts and concerns for our daughter and her husband. This incensed us, especially after the uproar a couple of years ago with this very same thing. I believed the airlines had halted this practice, maybe even it became illegal to do but I was wrong. Greed is a powerful tool, one used to ignore the common person and make irrelevant their feelings and need, and this airline has displayed enough to be punished yet it will be swept under the rug once more. The only way to combat this is to say "No!" ourselves to allowing it to continue. That is why I wrote this, so others might be forearmed and aware of the potential. As we know, something like this always occurs when we least expect it or can least afford it. Take care Ladies!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      I have also heard of hotels overbooking in the belief that not everyone will arrive to take their rooms. It seems that filling rooms in hotels and seats on planes is prioritised over the comfort of guests and passengers.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      14 months ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      Double bookings should be outlawed. My brother-in-law, now retired, worked for United. My sister worked for Republic.

      I limit my travels to my imagination and videos. Most of the rest if the time I spend outdoors if the weather allows.

      I just flew from JAX to DTW non-stop as part of a round-trip booking with Spirit airlines that cost me only $106 ($53 one-way). At that price, you think there would have been complications, but I had none. I even got a great seat.

      Traveling always involves a certain amount of risk, and it's up to individuals to make the best of a disheartening situation when one arises. Reporting to the BBB and/or the Federal Aviation Authority to protect other consumers is a responsibility.

      I hope your daughter and her family are enjoying happier times. Truly.

      Blessings!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      This sounds like a nightmare trip. Sadly I guess that others will have had similar experiences. My uncle was well aware of the overbooking phenomenon. Each time he travelled to visit relatives in California he looked forward to being bumped off a flight so he could be upgraded on the next one, but it never happened.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      14 months ago from Central Florida

      OMG, Mike. What a nightmare! I'm sure your daughter and son-in-law are happy to be home, but I'd be raising a huge stink with United. There's got to be some restitution for this mess!

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