Here is the letter that I submitted with a recent refund request. I've been able to get partial leg refunds over the phone with other airlines (AA), but United requires an online form be submitted for review. The request will then be evaluated anywhere from 7-20 days depending on the payment method used when booking the tickets. Yes, really.


Over Memorial Day weekend we met some friends in Burlington, VT for a surprise birthday celebration. The plan was to surprise her at dinner Friday night. I had arranged this over the course of the past 6 weeks with her husband. We were also going to run in the marathon in Burlington on Sunday.

We made and exchanged our flight plans. We flew out of DFW (connecting through IAD), and they flew out of OKC (connecting through ORD).

Our friends had trouble with their reservations being cancelled, but he was able to get them rescheduled and on flights Friday, and they made it in. We made it to IAD, and everything was going great. We checked the board to make sure where we needed to go, and the board read that it was in another terminal and on time. Then, after walking from terminal C to terminal A, just as we got to our gate, I got an alert from TripCase. Our flight was cancelled due to crew availability.

I asked a gate agent who said we should go to the customer service desk a few gates down. As I waited in line with customer service I called to see if I could save some time and find another flight out. There were none, and there weren't any going to other airports in the region. Not Friday, and the next flight we could get was Saturday at noon. While waiting in line I heard a couple of other people talking about how they were on our flight because their flight the day before had been cancelled., Seeing how they were on day 2 of cancelled flights, I didn't have a lot of faith in the flight the next day making it. And we really needed to get to Burlington as soon as possible. We would miss the planned surprise birthday dinner, but we also had the marathon to prepare for.

Someone in line offered to rent a car. We (total strangers) would take turns driving on the 10 hour drive from Dulles to Burlington. The gate agent said that the airline would pay for the rental if we turned in the receipt and also that our luggage would be sent on the next flight out. That was the best option of the bad options that we had, and we took it. We rolled into Burlington at 3 AM Saturday morning after driving through hours of rain.

Saturday morning I called to get the partial ticket refunded, and was told that I cannot do that over the phone. I have to fill out a form online. I don't understand why this is so difficult. Other airlines can offer partial refunds for cancelled legs over the phone. If customer experience is as important as Mr. Smisek says it is in the current issue of Hemispheres magazine, then perhaps these processes should be addressed.

I asked for my luggage to be forwarded to my hotel instead of having to pick it up at BTV while on the phone, and that required a report be filled out. There was also no note about my luggage needing to be on the next flight out. We were able to take care of both things over the phone, and I got a confirmation code. I called later to check, and the flight had departed with my bag on it. It landed at BTV around 1:30, and the luggage was delivered to the hotel by 7:00 that evening. We went all day in the clothes we wore the day before. The clothes we wore for the 10 hour car ride. We walked around town, ate meals, and lived in those clothes for nearly 2 full days.

Sunday afternoon I got an email saying that our return flights could not be automatically checked in, so I went to the business center. I couldn't check in online either, so I called. The agent said there was an error with my reservations due to a leg not being properly cancelled. How many opportunities did one of your agents have to adjust my record? There were at least 2 agents who knew the story. One Friday afternoon at IAD, and one Saturday morning on the phone.

The agent Sunday afternoon said that she fixed my record, but she could not check me in and give me a boarding pass. I would have to just do that at the airport. My confidence in United at this point is not good. I wanted to have that boarding pass. I asked to speak to her supervisor. While on hold I tried online again, and was able to check in.

I saw that the seats that we had selected when we bought the tickets had been changed. My wife and I were not only no longer sitting together, but 12 rows apart. I tried to change the seats, but did not follow the flow that your website wants. The seat changes did not take. So after printing the passes and realizing this, I logged in again to fix it. I had to do this for the outgoing legs as well. Again, if you want to focus on customer service there are several opportunities to improve on simple touch points.

I write all of this as I am in the air from IAD to DFW to return home. I need the refund on Friday's partially used ticked for my wife and me from IAD to BTV. There were helpful and friendly agents alongside the way through this weekend, but their hands were tied with bad processes and bad software. United is not the "flier-friendly airline" Mr. Smisek wishes to have.

non_tech