Category Archives: Rants

United Airlines has a learning disability

Aug. 11, 12:33 PM ET UPDATE:

My travel colleague reports via email to me just now: “I have great news … United customer service came through!! Complete refund of my ticked and reimbursement of Uber ride. Most importantly they showed empathy for our situation.”

Well done, United!

Peter M. Senge famously said “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” This quote was in the context of his excellent book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Senge would take the experiences of myself and my fellow United customers last night as an example of a severe learning disability — one that I can only expect will continue to erode its competitiveness.

United Airline: Come on! Fix this problem

Disconnect #1: When you’re waiting at a gate, clearly hearing boarding announcements and news of schedule changes is nearly impossible — especially when the gate staff are unmotivated and ready to call it a day. I’m sure you’ve been there: You hear something on the PA system and look to your neighbor and go “Did you get any of that?”

Disconnect #2: Because of the above, executives like me and my fellow traveler, who will remain nameless but who wrote the complaint letter I’ve quoted in its entirety below, rely on United’s UPDATE texts and emails. We discovered last night, after two texts about delays, that United will text a notice of a delay but won’t text a change of conditions leading to a boarding time much earlier than last reported.

My colleague, who also wrote “The gate announcements from that location sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher,” summarized our plight this way: “I was scheduled to depart BDL and fly to ORD this evening on flight 1612. Attached is a screenshot of all the text messages I received stating the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm ET so I sat at an unoccupied gate to finish work/calls. I walked to the departure gate at 6:40pm ET to board only to be (extremely rudely) told ‘flight already departed.'”

She and I were stranded, with zero options out of that airport. We wound up taking an Uber from the Hartford, CT airport to Logan Airport in Boston. The title of her email sums up our travail:

Service Issue that cost me a $330 Uber + $150 American ticket + 2 hours

I’m including her excellent email, sent during our Uber, to

Dear Global Services,

I have been a loyal United customer for years and fortunate to be a Global Services member in the recent past. This is the first formal complaint that I have filed but believe it’s well worth my time to inform you of the experience not only I had but also many of my fellow fliers experienced.

I was scheduled to depart BDL and fly to ORD this evening on flight 1612. Attached is a screenshot of all the text messages I received stating the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm ET so I sat at an unoccupied gate to finish work/calls. I walked to the departure gate at 6:40pm ET to board only to be (extremely rudely) told “flight already departed.” Picture of time attached as well. And the rude behavior by the gate staff at BDL continued. I was lectured about listening to gate announcements. In reality, the gate area was completely full so I needed to find a place to work during the delay. Note that the gate announcements from that location sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Rather than assist me with rebooking, the gate agent rudely stated: “this was our last flight. We are going home.” And I think that says it all regarding the motivation of the BDL United gate staff. Absolutely THE WORST I’ve ever experienced. And then at least three other passengers had the same experience (I was able to help two of them call customer service and request/receive a refund). I’ve CC’d one of them [that’s me of course] on this note.

I called American right away and they were able to not only book me on a flight but also my fellow passengers who were stranded as well. They stayed in the phone with us to finalize all of the transactions. I then called United Global Services (who are always amazingly helpful) to request a refund. The agent represented United so very well, apologizing for the service, and giving me the max she was allowed: a change fee waiver as well as finding out the best avenue for me to tell the full story. Amen for her.

That said, I’m out 2 hours and a $330 Uber ride from BDL to BOS as well as being soured on the overall United experience. I am saddened to write this note yet as the leader of a business, I feel it is my obligation to ensure the leaders of your company understand the gate experience of your customers…even the most loyal who make a conscious choice to fly United.

I look forward to hearing back from you within the next day and am more than happy to answer any questions you may have.


[Name Withheld]

Come on, United. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. When I was on the phone, insisting on a refunded ticket price for my missed flight, I reminded both the customer service representative and her manager that United infuriated two of its more frequent flyers, and, since we were both granted the refund for their customer service catastrophe, their flight left with at least two seats they could not fill (there was no standby list) and therefore made far less money on that flight.

United, this is no way to run a business!

FedEx won’t give me my new phone

Dear FedEx: I’ve given you folks many opportunities this week to delight me, or at least not infuriate me. You blew every one of them.

And Dear FedEx customer (who is reading this now): Is what I am about to recount typical for this company? Please leave your comments below or on my Facebook profile. Here is the story:

I was expecting to have my new cell phone delivered on Tuesday, but I couldn’t get home in time from work. Instead, I got a tag saying that it was the first of three attempts. But since I received a phone call from FedEx, I assumed I would get another such call when the delivery person was downstairs. I live in a Chicago apartment building with a locked lobby and absolutely no way to reach tenants other than voice: Either an intercom call, which rings my phone, or use of the phone number that FedEx insists be included for delivery — the phone I have been reached at by FedEx on Tuesday.

I worked from home all day Wednesday, and wondered when I would receive the call to go downstairs. After all, FedEx delivery people must know this is the only way to complete the task they have been given. Basically, the only task they are expected to do … successfully deliver packages to people, including the hundred-plus people in my apartment building.

Having skipped several errands in my neighborhood during the day that could have prevented me from receiving my phone on Attempt #2, I finally, at 4 PM, went downstairs. What greeted me was another door tag. Another delivery “attempt” had been made. I’m not sure what the FedEx person expected of this apartment dweller. I don’t live on Sesame Street, where everyone seems to be outside on their apartment stoop every daylight hour. I was only reachable by phone.

I went to the FedEx website that night, struggling to find a way to get a message through to the folks who deliver packages: Call me when you are outside my building. You want my signature. I want your package. We can work this out.

After spending several minutes looking for a mechanism to get this message across, a guardian angel descended from FedEx heaven. His name was James Carlo M, and he appeared in a chat window: “May I help you?”

Hell yes you can, James Carlo M.

Here’s the [edited for brevity] transcript:

Chat Reference Number : 00663479

Chat Started: Wednesday, September 09, 2015, 17:10:55 (-0500)Chat Origin: US Trk Dex 8Agent James Carlo M( 2s ) James Carlo M: Hello Jeff ,thank you for visiting I am James Carlo and will help you today.
( 10s ) James Carlo M: Hello I have received your concern.I’m on it now.One moment.
( 2m 47s ) James Carlo M: Would it be okay with you if you pick this up today at Fedex facility?
( 2m 58s ) Jeff: no, I can’t get there
( 3m 8s ) Jeff: I need to arrange for it to be delivered here tomorrow
( 3m 25s ) Jeff: If the door is locked (it’s an apt.) I can come down if called
( 3m 30s ) James Carlo M: Sure. I will request for that. May you verify your address please?
( 3m 42s ) Jeff: [Address Provided]
( 3m 55s ) Jeff: Ask the Fedex person to call my cell
( 3m 59s ) Jeff: [Cell Number Provided]
( 4m 5s ) Jeff: I will come down and sign for it
( 4m 12s ) Jeff: I received no call on Tuesday
( 5m 16s ) James Carlo M: Thank you for waiting Jeff . I have already notified the facility that you want your package be redelivered tomorrow. Here is your case number 0909557158. Kindly wait for a call within 2 hours to confirm.
( 5m 30s ) Jeff: Will do. Thanks!

I did receive a confirmation call that another attempt would be made the next day. I again stayed home, working from there, and waiting. And waiting.

When I went down and saw the tag that said this was the last attempt, I was furious. I guess I still am. I called FedEx, explaining the time I have devoted to getting the package, and the efforts I have made to make this delivery a success.

I also explained that picking up my phone from the facility was not an option. She said I would get a call back. I never did.

Finally, this morning, I filled out a Customer Service form on the FedEx website explaining everything as I have here. That was six hours ago. I provided both my phone number and my email address. I have not even received an acknowledgement of receipt of that email. Zilch.

So again I ask you: Is FedEx so oblivious to the needs of apartment dwellers that they will issue door tags whenever people expecting a package they have don’t instantly appear, genie-like, at the locked lobby door, summoned forth by some psychic premonition? Does FedEx truly expect me to know exactly when I am needed by their driver, just as Mr. James Carlo M knew when I needed him?

Let me know.