I booked my trip to Japan through United Airlines. My itinerary was to go from Philadelphia to San Francisco via flight 187, then flight 831 San Francisco to Nagoya Japan, and finally flight 9727 from Nagoya to Sendai. I was to depart Philadelphia at 8:55am on September 14 and arrive in Sendai on September 15th at 7:30 pm.
Flight 187 began boarding around thirty minutes before scheduled take off, and we were told that we were leaving on time. Due to the earliness of the flight, most passengers began dozing off. However, around 10 am or so it was announced that there was a fuel tank issue. One of the tanks was not showing up properly and we could not legally take off with this problem. The plane went back to the gate and mechanics were called. This so called fix took about twenty minutes and we were told that all was well. After about 30 more minutes, it was announced that the fuel tank had failed completely, possibly as a result of the rain of that morning seeping into the tanks. Once again the plane returned to the gate. Finally the passengers were offered the chance to deplane. The number of passengers coming off the plane continuously grew until there was a huge line at the ticket counter.
For an entire plane of irate passengers there were only two people at the counter. Rather than making an official announcement, they individually told passengers that they could not change flights until this particular flight was cancelled. At about 11 am they announced that there would likely be a decision at noon. They did not cancel the flight, but the sheer number of people must have forced their hand since a fraction of the plane did not ultimately return. I too demanded different accomodation since I had now missed my connecting flight due to the four hour delay.
I did ultimately fly out on 187, but my itinerary was changed to arrive in San Francisco at about 3p.m, fly out to Los Angeles at around 10:30 p.m, from there fly Air China to Beijing, and then from Beijing to Sendai. I was extremely unhappy about this, not because of the circuitous route but because the woman doing the booking did not seem to know how to do international bookings.
Once I arrived in San Francisco I went to the United customer service counter, which only had one man working. A large line of people who also missed connecting flights but did not have the chance to rebook before flight 187 departed were in line. About 10 minutes into waiting, the employee simply walked off claiming that he was off. It was about 3:40 p.m. It would be another 25 minutes before another employee came to the counter. This was due to people in line flagging down employees until one of them finally called enough times to get new employees up at the counter.
When I finally got to the counter I was told once again that the employee was not sure how book international flights. I was booked on my initial itinerary except for September 15th. I was placed in the Westin hotel overnight as a courtesy. I then went off to find my baggage.
At the United baggage claim desk, I ran into yet more problems. They could not locate my luggage. After about 30 minutes a manager looked up the call numbers again and told me that at 1:13pm my baggage had been given to Air Nippon and United was no longer responsible. United was denying culpability after handing my luggage off to the carrier of the last leg of my initial flight after my itinerary had been changed, routing me through China. Had I gone with the new flight schedule given to me at about 12:15pm that day, my luggage would still have been missing. United did not offer me any options nor phone numbers to get in touch with Air Nippon. An employee from U.S Airways did give me the number due to the fact that Air Nippon was not operating out of San Francisco airport that day.
Thus far United had delayed my trip four hours, cost me my connecting flights, trapped me in San Francisco, and handed my baggage off to Air Nippon a full hour after my itinerary had changed to another third party carrier and had no idea where it was. Luckily I had changed my itinerary to merely one day later or else I probably would not have seen my luggage again.
My stay at the Westin hotel was nice however, a call home to Philadelphia cost me $38 and the calls to Air Nippon and United cost $2 each to connect as well as about 10 cents a minute. United never offered to pay for the calls to the airlines which were only necessary due to their sloppy baggage handling policy.
The flight from San Francisco to Nagoya went off without a hitch. However, United caused me to miss my flight to Sendai since my luggage was floating around Nagoya without my knowledge. Air Nippon also had no idea where my luggage was and did not understand why United had sent it through them. They told me to assume it was in Sendai, well it wasn't. In addition to failing to check luggage that I did not know was there, the boarding pass for the flight was no good. The stewardesses at Air Nippon in Nagoya went out of their way to locate my luggage after the baggage claim was closed and checked it for me. Additionally they got me a new ticket for a flight only 50 minutes later than my first with JAL.
Despite the language barrier, the stewardesses refused to allow me to be stranded and went out of their way to help as much as they could. They too were baffled by United's policies.
I finally made it into Sendai on September 16th around 8p.m, despite United's horrible customer service. I'm going to attempt to change my return flight so that I can avoid United at all costs. Never again will I pay good money to be treated as if my trip is not a priority. Never again will I fly United.
Here's a small photo album documenting some of the goings on