Not all that long ago, I dreaded being seated on an airplane in the general vicinity of a small child. They scream, they don't understand cabin pressurization, they kick seats, they're sticky, they squirm...in general, they're a blight on the passenger experience. Now that I have my own little seat-kicker, I just try to minimize his negative impact on those around us. We make our travel arrangements ahead of time, pack plenty of toys and distractions, and try to keep him contained and out of others' way.
United thwarted my best intentions.
Back in May, my husband's grandfather passed away after a long and fruitful life. We immediately booked our bereavement fares through United and were dismayed to learn we could not choose our seats at that late date. We called United to see if they could help a family with a nursing baby over the phone and their recommendation was to get to the airport early and hope for the best. This worked out perfectly in Chicago. The gate agent was an understanding mother of four and we were seated together. On the flight, we even offered up our infant ibuprofen to a screaming baby in First Class when asked for assistance by a nurse on the flight. The flight crew "bought" me a glass of wine as thanks.
The way home was another story altogether. The gate agent (again, we arrived extra-early) wouldn't even attempt to assist us (or the two individuals on crutches requesting an aisle seat as they could not bend their splinted knees). The flight crew said our best bet was to ask our seat mates, none of whom would assist us. I was seated next to two women who didn't seem altogether pleased when I tried to nurse the baby to make sure he stayed calm through take-off. But take-off did not happen. We were informed that due to mechanical problems, our flight was cancelled. Our best bet was to make arrangements by calling United as there were only 2 gate agents: one to serve the six first-class passengers and another to help the 200+ coach passengers. We called United and got on the flight the next day, but in order to get food/hotel vouchers, we'd need to get in that line.
We obtained a voucher for $20 in food (only valid at the airport) and for an overnight stay at the airport Holiday Inn. So much fun with a 10-month-old. We had to order in food as there weren't any restaurants within walking distance and wake up at 3 for our 5am flight. At least we were seated together. We missed a half day of work, a half day of day care, and paid an extra night's parking costs at O'Hare.
For all this, I obtained $150 in flight vouchers for my inconvenience. I wrote back to United because I found this insulting and scarcely covered our out-of-pocket expenses. I got another $150 voucher.
Fast forward to my final United booking ever.
Out of disgust for the six weeks it took United to issue our vouchers, I decided this would be our last United trip so I could cash in all my miles and vouchers. Because United's system can't handle multiple methods of payment, I had to book one round-trip flight for Kristian and me (plus $250 in taxes/fees) with miles), one segment for my husband with miles (plus $47 in fees), and one out of pocket segment. Three separate itineraries. I accidentally clicked Kristian's name instead of Jack's in the last one which meant we had to call United (they give you 24 hours to make changes), which is where our five-hour phone battle begins.
United kept us on hold so long trying to get this sorted out that we were disconnected twice before we finally switched to a cell phone that was plugged in. During this time, we were treated in a condescending manner by foreign customer service agents, told we were not able to be seated together, the flight we originally booked sold out, were encouraged to pay extra to bump up to business class, etc. Finally, after five hours on the phone (and a Xanax for me), we are now flying out, seated together, on a non-direct flight. And we still have a $150 flight voucher their protocol did not allow us to use.
I want to be loyal to United. My cousin is a pilot for United, my great Uncle was a pilot for United, they're based out of Chicago, and we have a United Mileage Plus card for which we have paid an annual fee for 10 years. However, after this experience, I would never book another flight through United and would caution other families against considering them for their next flight.