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UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

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UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

Just the facts man:

- Arrive at LAX 08:30 for 10:05 flight

- 10:05 flight postponed to 12:00

- 12:00 flight postponed to 18:00

- Told that food vouchers are available from Customer Service Centre

- Line up for an hour, told there are alternative flights, get a $10 food voucher

- 18:00 flight postponed to 19:00

- Flight takes off at 20:00

- Plane turns back to LAX at approx at 20:45. The problem (auxilliary engine worked on all day, fails).

- Arrives back at LAX at 21:35, fire engines accompany plane back to airport

- Captain assures us that agents have been assigned to the Customer Service Centre to help with alternative flights and overnight accommodation.

- We line up from 22:00 with what seemed like every other passenger on that flight (around 300?)

- We were about half way down the line and waited, standing up in line for 2.5 hours. For the first hour there were only 4 staff dealing at the Service Centre. After that there are around 8.

- When our turn came we were told that there was no more accommodation on offer but that we had a flight (to SFX then to Honolulu) early in the morning.

- Pointed to a pile of blankets, pillows, water and a biscuits (I think we got the last of the blankets and pillows) and told we'd have to camp the rest of the night in the airport.

- Chose chose a quiet waiting area nearby. After one hour that chldren on a school camp arrived and made difficult sleep impossible.

- Moved camp to the gate number of our flight. Cleaners very active in that area. Sleep not possible.

- Boarded the 08:00 flight.

- At 08:00 the captain announces something about fog, instrument landings, and a delay in takeoff.

- At 08:35 the captain also adds that somehow the catering not been loaded but that should only take a few minutes.

- The plane ltakes off at 08:50.

- Half an hour into the flight the informs us that we'll only new 20 minutes late.

- The plane touches down with flight assistant asking passengers to wait for those who had connecting flights to 'de-plane' first.

- We pushed through and ran around 500 meters to make the connection. As we got closer we were relieved to see that boarding hadn't started yet. As we got even closer we could hear over the PA that they would have the plane fixed by 11:00.

- Straight away we got on the queue at the boarding gate to see if there wes an alternative.

- Customer Service Agent booked us on the 16:00 flight as a contingency.

- PA announces that plane is not airworthy, 11:00 flight cancelled.

- We checked the departure screen regularly, quite a few cancellations due to 'aircraft maintenance'.

- We misread the departure screen, it seemed to be saying our new flight was cancelled.

- Back on another, even longer, queue.

- Spoked to an agent who assured us that our booking was OK and all we had to do is go to an automatic kiosk to get our seat allocations.

- Both machines were out of order.

- Same lady kindly helped us again and sorted out our boarding pass.

- Eventually get on the 16:00 flight.

- Plane is moved out of the gate ready to taxi to take off.

- Another delay.

- Captain announces 'maintenance issue'.

'We'll take the plane back to the gate and get it fixed as soon as possible, just as well really, because they forgot to load 'catering' in First Class.

- Eventually the plane gets into the air and we have relatively trouble-free flight to Honolulu.

We'd planned to be in Honolulu for 2.5 days. One night was lost and we effectively had one full day, but we were too exhausted to do anything much.

Trying to keep the emotions out of this, I think there are serious questions about UA and the way it handles customers when things go wrong:

- Totally inadequate staff numbers.

- Standing in a queue for nearly 3 hours. How hard would it be to organise a ticketing system so that we could have at least have sat down? As it was, staff (who were mostly pretty good) had to perform under pressure with a 'hostile audience', getting crankier and crankier, in front of them.

- No form of prioritisation in process. Someone at the front of the queue could have had 2 weeks in Honolulu and got a good alternative flight and accommodation. Someone in the back of the queue could have been making a connection to another flight or have some other genuine reason to be in Honolulu asap. Didn't matter.

- LAX is surrounded by huge hotels. Was the lack of accomodation because there really wasn't any, or because the hotels THEY DEAL WITH had run out?

- Why are there so many cancellations due to 'aircraft maintenance' issues?

- The announcement 'Someone forgot to load catering' occured on 3 or 4 occasions in this period.

- A flight attendant told us that the auxilliary engine problem was a known issue with the particular model of aircraft, yet it took 10 hours to fix it and even then, it failed.

- Are customers entitled to any compensation?

South Pole
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1. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12


have been flying united regularly for a decade and have never experienced anything like that. and hope to never.

really the whole thing is murphy's law on steroids!

a short letter (well as short as possible taking all that happened) to united detailing all the incidents/attempted resolutions (avoid any emotion) may extract some compensation.

i have found that usually comes in the form of miles however and i suppose right now another united flight is far from your mind.

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2. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

I've been noticing a lot of reported problems with people getting to Hawaii from the west coast on UA and other airlines. Your experience sounds awful. Do report back as to how they handle your letter.

Dominical, Costa...
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3. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

O.M.G. You must have the patience of Job. What a nightmare

Portland, Oregon
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4. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

Ouch!! That's a bad (if unfortunate) experience.

Verified that both the LAX-HNL and first SFO-HNL flights the OP mentions were indeed diverted and canceled respectively, and that the second SFO-HNL flight was delayed 69 minutes.

As to compensation, I would expect that, contractually, United does not owe you compensation for canceled or delayed flights. But, with your experience here I would expect them to provide you with something. So write a letter, be factual (as above), concise, and explain what you feel you would reasonably expect in recompense.

I don't know if this would have helped in your case, but the first thing I do if there's a delay like this is to get on the phone to the airline to get a rebooking that way, then (if necessary) find another way to get a hotel (another agent somewhere else in the airport?).

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5. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

I feel your pain and admire your perseverance and patience.

If it were me I'd certainly try and escalate the matter with letters and emails.

I'm sure someone on this or another flyers website can give you an email address that will get to the right person.

It seems that you should be given some sort of compensation and, as lien quite rightly said, miles are not what you would be looking for.

Sorry I cant offer more concrete advice but good luck!

Honolulu, Hawaii
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6. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

sorry to hear about that nightmare. sounds hellish. hopefully i don't have a problem as i'm heading from HNL to mainland next month with a return a few days later, both legs on UA.

if possible, try to fly hawaiian. i've NEVER had any problems flying to-from HNL on a hawaiian flight to SFO, OAK, SJC, LAX, or LAS.

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7. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12


I agree with USBT.. Write a short polite letter ASKING for help.. Do remember that on a contractual basis, they'd don't *owe* you anything.. So to have the best chances for a positive outcome, try to frame your letter as a request for help-- not a demand..

A few insights.. Maintenance is a tricky thing.. The FAA sets what is and is not airworthy.. There IS a series of things that can be inoperable but still render the aircraft flyable... These are called deferrable items.. Naturally, the Captain, or Pilot In Command, does retain a great deal of discretion to "accept" or not an aircraft with what s/he feels is unacceptable deferrable items, but in the end, there is a list and that's been the case for quite some time.

I think when you talk maintenance there's some luck involved.. and by luck I mean, like your car, you can do all the required preventative maintenance on it that you, the car maker and your mechanic feels is right, and still things can break-- despite all the preventative work.. It just happens..

Does it happen a lot? A lot is of course a subjective look, but from an objective basis, I'd look at their DOT recorded cancellation rate-- that tells us what percentage of all their flights are cancelled for ANY reason-- maintenance included..

A look at the DOT's data (June 2012 report) shows that for the current period, they reported a total of 210 cancellations, out of 44,098 operated sectors-- or a rate of 0.50% cancellation..

The industry (which for DOT purposes includes only the top 15 carriers) shows an average of 1.00% as being average..

So, on a objective, statistical look, the reality is for this current reporting period, UA's rate of cancellations is in fact low-- actually HALF of what is the industry average..

It doesn't make it better for those on any one of those 210 cancellations-- but in the end, it does say that your odds of being on one are 0.5%.. or conversely, your odds of not being on one 99.5%



Catering... While it seems like a simple thing, when you start to move aircraft around (that is changing the aircraft that will be used for flight 123 from aircraft X to aircraft Y) it can start to get tricky..

It's not that moving it from X to Y is hard-- it's not.. It's largely due to while this move from X to Y is going on, the airline still has all their other flights operating... and catering does not have a 1:1 catering truck/staffing ratio..

So, when these matters do come up, it kind of becomes a juggling act to keep all the other flights running and catered on time, also find staffing/resources to move your flights catering from X to Y... and built into all of this is the question of "did the passenger load change?" Airlines don't over cater due to costs and such, so while the move from X to Y takes places, they're also looking at the passenger load..

Did First Class just go from 20 to 24 due to operational upgrades? If so, now you also need 4 more meals from the kitchen.. Did economy drop from 180 to 165? If so, they need to pull 15 trays before the move..

One of the ugly unmentioned operational truths is this.. Largely, once a flight becomes late, it tends to get lower priority over other flights that can still leave on time.. There really is no degree of lateness for DOT reporting-- and that's what most all US airlines shoot forl; DOT airline scorecard results-- only on-time or not..

So, once you're classified late, you tend to get a lower priority for ground handling staffing and other resources, over another flight that is still on-time or can still possibly be an on-time departure.

Travel Safe,

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8. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12


White Plains, New...
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9. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

I would so write a letter, return receipt to CEO of airline. Simple, state facts as you ave just done.

This happens all the time. To all of us who fly. I carry food from home, buy water when I can, try to travel now with carry on only, so I am free.

I send return receipt, and do not care who reads it, want it signed.

Travel safe...

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10. Re: UA -- LA to Honolulu -- 20 June 12

>> I would so write a letter, return receipt to CEO of airline. <<

Rather than the CEO, I would direct the letter to their Senior VP of Customer Experience, Martin Hand. Apparently, he's been responding to complaints and "threats" to leave the airline by contacting customers personally. I would direct the letter there, and complete the online complaint report on united.com



ps - include your email address in the letter, as they may make contact with you that way.

Edited: 30 June 2012, 04:01