I am just back from a two-week vacation in Venice, Italy. It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime. We have been planning it for over a year. A villa was rented along with friends and family, plans were made, reservations for museums and historic sites made, etc. Last March I had our travel agent book our airline tickets. Now in case I haven't mentioned it before, I am a tall person. I am 6'5" tall, and I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and therefore I do not fold up easily or comfortably. And if I hate one thing about air travel, it is when I have the head of the person in front of me in my lap for most of the trip. So I instructed our travel agent to either get us Business Class seats or, if those were unavailable, bulkhead seats in Economy Plus. We had tons of time and lots of notice, and our agent booked us with United Airlines. It was great. We had a direct flight to Marco Polo Internation Airport in Venice -- no changes, no layovers. Although we were not able to get Business class reservations, we did -- for a hefty extra fee -- reserve two bulkhead seats in row 16. Confirmed. I still have the e-ticket, and if it didn't have other personal information on it, I would share it with you right here. "Seats 16 A/B ECONOMY PLUS BULKHEAD--CONFIRMED."
We try to be good travelers. We pack our liquids properly; we have our electronic devices charged and ready to be shown to TSA agents; in short, we waste nobody's time including our own. So we arrived at the airport three hours before our flight was scheduled. And that's when the vacation started to go to hell.
United no longer has as many human agents for baggage check-in as they once did. They now use electronic kiosks which scan either your e-ticket or your passport. We scanned our passports, checked our one bag, and the machine spit out our seat assignments. They were not together. They were not even in Economy Plus. They were in Coach.
I had brought all the necessary receipts, so I found a human, and showed them that I had paid extra for bulkhead seats, and had seat confirmation. They treated me like a shoplifter. Eventually a supervisor deigned to actually look on his terminal and saw that we had indeed paid for Economy Plus. He found us two seats in Economy Plus, but they were not together. And they were not bulkhead. His suggestion was to "contact United customer service when you get back."
SERIOUSLY??!?!??! When I get back? I paid for these f--king seats TODAY, pal!
He DID do us the "favor" of arranging for us to sit together on the trip home. In Plus. But not at the bulkhead. Not at the seats for which I still have the piece of paper telling me were confirmed.
We decided we would have better luck with the gate agent. The first agent told us he'd look into it, but never touched his keyboard. You know how sometimes when you're dealing with someone, you get a vibe that they have absolutely no interest or intention of helping you? This guy was giving it off in waves. After twenty minutes, we asked him again. He said he was still looking into it. He must have been using his psychic abilities, because he never looked at his terminal. A second agent, a blonde woman, showed up. We asked her. Same crap, different person. She was looking into it for us. Again, using a crystal ball perhaps, but not her computer terminal. Another twenty minutes, another agent. We asked her. She actually tried to use the computer, but her password didn't work. It was rapidly descending into absurdity.
Finally, our angel of mercy, a middle-aged woman named Martha Green, came over to the gate. We told her our story from scratch. She couldn't help with the bulkhead seats, she said, but she was able to get us seated together. She did it in less than two minutes. All it took was finding a solo passenger, and switching him with my wife. She paged the guy to tell him about his new seat and when he didn't show up, she gave his new boarding pass to the lady at the gate and said simply, "When Mr. XXXXXX shows up, give him this."
So we left for Venice (two hours late, but that was a whole 'nother clusterf--k) but what should have been a joyous departure full of anticipation was instead full of anger and resentment. And of course, I had some a-hole fully reclined in my lap for the trip, albeit with a bit more room thanks to our Plus seating. And we had the same problem for the return trip looming over us for the entirety of our vacation. (And indeed, on the trip home I once again had a short woman in front of me who felt the need to fully recline her seat for the entire 9-hour flight. Awful.)
Our travel agent is trying to get us a refund of the bonus we paid for the seats we never got. She did get the United agent she spoke with to admit that there was no earthly reason for us to have been bumped from our bulkhead seats.
United, if you are reading this (ha!) all I can tell you is that I don't want any coupons or miles, because I plan to never use your airline again if I can possibly avoid it. I don't want any crappy merchandise with your logo on it, because I don't want to advertise anything but your lousy service. I might accept free first class tickets to any destination you serve, but I think I'll see that only if hell freezes over.
No, what I really want is an apology. And your assurance that the next poor slob who tries to reserve himself some comfort in advance isn't bumped because of greed, or stupidity, or to accommodate a friend of someone on the crew, or to butter up a loyal 100,000 mile United customer. I don't know how it happened, and I don't care.
United, you effing OWE ME AN APOLOGY.