How United Airlines nearly shat on my dreams.

“To be the airline of choice, worldwide.”-United Airlines

Traveling is the only way to connect one culture with another.  To cross a border is to educate.  To walk a mile in a foreign land is to walk 1000 in your homeland.  Airlines connect all of us with the beauty and ease of flight.  The traveling enabler, and my lifeline to adventure. Nearly ruined.

November 27, 2013.  Just north of Washington, D.C. is a ritzy little community known as Bethesda, MD.  A town centered around heinous stop lights, high rent, and a hospital; nestled in a breakfast nook the dim glow from the window lighting my back and the dim glow from the computer lighting my face is where this story starts.

My then girlfriend and I solidified some exciting new years plans to fly from Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) to Sioux Falls, SD.  I bought both tickets one for myself and one for her for a total of $738.

Fast forward two weeks later, when “girlfriend” evolves into “then girlfriend” and now I have two tickets that I don’t need.  After a short phone call with United Airlines I cancelled both tickets and confirmed that I would have a credit with United Airlines of $738 to use for a flight anywhere in the world in a years time, before Nov 27, 2014.  Tumbling like your poop streaked underwear on a spin cycle through the wake of my breakup, I found solace in my traveling dreams.  I was going to turn this negative outcome into the most positive life experience.  At that point I decided I would use that credit to get myself to Patagonia the following year (now).

I spent the next month and a half traveling to Alabama, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.  After a sabbatical from cell phone tower work I found myself back at it in Texas with one goal in mind, Patagonia.  I was constantly looking to the future, staring at google earth, reading up on the climbing, researching border crossings, bus fares, etc.  I centered my whole existence around this “one day” that I would fly to Argentina.

I bounced around the fringes of bankruptcy for one too many months and after my climbing gear was robbed and my cousin in the hospital too many stressors finally pushed me out of the tower world.  I gave up my half of my sinking company and walked away, tarp flapping in the window of the F-150.  There was just one thing, my accounts receivable was enough to make my trip, but I had no idea when that money was going to come in (typical contract industry).  In order to ensure my departure I took an entry level carpentry position at Dahle Construction in Sioux Falls, SD.  The only thing on my mind was Patagonia and how to make the money.

I have now moved back in with my parents to dodge rent/living expenses, I’ve started collecting scrap wood from the construction dumpsters to make and sell small furniture items, I’ve began gathering up all the aluminum waste from job sites and making scrap yard runs, all the while scouring the interwebs for cheap tickets and waiting for the perfect window of paychecks and ticket cost to cash in my refund.  With the $738 I could get a one way ticket to Buenos Aires from Minneapolis for around $269 about three weeks ago, or $1007 total.  The price was finally right so I made my call.

United Airlines’ mission statement is “To be the airline of choice, worldwide.”

Wouldn’t you think that an airline would want to touch something on customer experience, or elaborate on their mission to connect people all over the world? Creating positive traveling experiences? Uniting cultures across borders and waters?  Nope, they just want to beat everyone else.  They want to sell more tickets, make more money, be better than you are.  I found this out first hand through nearly losing a year of my life, a year of preparation, a year of excitement, a year of research, a year of anticipation, a year of hard labor, a year of saving. A year.

I was shaking with excitement to be finally buying my ticket. I simply said, “Yes I have a $738 credit I would like to use towards the cheapest flight from Minneapolis to Buenos Aires.”  Her response stopped me in my tracks, “Okay, that will be $638.”

“What?! I just did the math before I called, I should only be paying $269!, I have a $738 credit and the ticket is $1007 correct?”

“Oh I’m sorry sir you must’ve assumed you could use the whole credit, you can only use the ticket that has your name on it, or $369, only the other person can use the other $369 ticket.”

Of course I “assumed” that! For a year now, between two different phone calls United Airlines customer service reps told me I had $738 to use for travel anywhere in the world.  During that time they never mentioned I only had access to half.  But they’re right.  That is the United Airlines Policy.  Tickets are non transferrable even though I paid for both with my own personal debit card.  Even though they could see that I purchased both, they made no exceptions.  They urged me to submit a “feedback” message online.  They had me ON THE PHONE and instead of trying to solve my problem immediately they referred me to an impersonal feedback message feed on the website, which also failed to produce useful results.

They’re excuse was that, breaking up my with girlfriend was not reason to refund the ticket for my use.  I’m sorry United Airlines, I wasn’t aware that none of your employees have experienced any sort of social interactions. I’m sure they’re all so busy with all the extensive customer service training you’re not providing.

I even suggested they just discount my flight to Buenos Aires the amount of the other ticket, circumnavigating the problem of not being able to change the name as they explained to me.  I suggested they simply refund the amount of the ticket to my debit card and I could then use it for the ticket.  The refused both.  THEY HAD MY MONEY! They had 738 of my dollars and I was trying to keep that money with them and they weren’t allowing me to use all of it. No matter how rational it sounded.

I was crushed.  Some of you may be reading this and thinking, it’s a $369 difference dude, just buy the ticket.  But look at it this way.  I can live in South America for $20 a day or less. Losing $369 is like losing nearly 19 days of travel. Or 2/3 of an entire month. I was mortified and incredibly off put by United Airlines and their unwillingness to make an exception to maintain a positive customer experience. That $369 nearly sent my budget into a tailspin and forcing me to reevaluate my entire plan, to literally change everything. Travelers, fliers, humans.  Take heed to the blasphemy of this policy and the atrocity of United Airlines customer service and quit using them!

I was able to use the $369 credit to buy a ticket to Miami free of charge.  Spend one night in layover, and got a ticket from there to Buenos Aires, for $344.  I found a way to save the situation, but the point of this story is that I pleaded and explained myself blue in the face and was denied a simple solution.  After harassing United Airlines relentlessly about the retardation of their policy they finally conceded to giving me a $150 credit consolation prize to use towards A DIFFERENT ticket.  Utilizing some money I had already given them to purchase another ticket that they will profit off of.  Dirty bastards. Quit using United Airlines, I know I have.

End Diatribe.


Plus side. I’m going to Patagonia.


reeds ticket photo