Sunday, July 16, 2006

man vs. "The Man" vs. the machine at United Airlines

I want to fly San Francisco - Carlsbad, which involves a little commuter hop from Los Angeles to Carlsbad, then return from Los Angeles to SFO. Online ticketing gives me a much cheaper price flying round-trip between San Francisco and Carlsbad, so I buy that e-ticket from United Airlines. To my mind I've paid for
  • SFO - LAX flight 979
  • LAX-CLD flight 5752

  • CLD-LAX flight 5752
  • LAX-SFO flight 1170
and I figure I'll just "throw away" the Carlsbad-LAX hop.

I'm one of those enviro-weenies Rush Limbaugh warns you about, I'm compelled to reuse and recycle. So on the day of my return I phone United to tell them I won't be on the Carlsbad-LAX hop and they can sell the empty seat to someone else. I can barely hear the Indian customer service representative over the babble of people around him. He leaves the phone to check but instead of putting me on hold he just drops his headset and I listen to voices laughing and yelling for 20 minutes. I can't tell if the call center is having a party, the cubicle partitions haven't been delivered, or he's working from home.

I hang up, call back, and get an American woman. She says I cannot simply not show up for the Carlsbad-LAX hop and just get on the LAX-SFO airplane, that would void the ticket. I will have to pay United to issue a new ticket for just the LAX-SFO flight I already have; otherwise I must drive back down to Carlsbad and take my unwanted seat. So much for trying to do the right thing! She has to talk to a supervisor to find out the cost, to her credit she puts me on hold and checks in on me every few minutes. The cost to buy what I already have is $100, which matches the "NONREF/CHANGE100PLUSFAREDIF" penalty on my confirmation. She tells me I cannot pay this at EasyCheck-in kiosk, I must go to the counter and be reticketed.

I arrive at LAX late and the line for human assistance is long. I decide to ignore her instructions and try the EasyCheck-in kiosk. It confirms I'm on the flight and prints my boarding pass. No penalty money! No voided ticket! No worries!

So United Airlines' EasyCheck-in machines aren't up to enforcing their policies, to my advantage.

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