A month ago, I had a pretty bad experience with United Airlines. I was going to the US for a month, and my Melbourne to LA flight was cancelled and replaced with a 31-hour odyssey of insanity and terrible customer service.
Still, I got there eventually.
A few days ago, with the trip concluded and successful, it was time to come home. I went to LAX to check in for my flight: UA 839. I typed my confirmation number into the electronic check-in terminal, and received a message telling me there was a problem and I should speak to a check-in clerk. With a heavy sense of foreboding, I did so.
According to the clerk, my booking had been cancelled.
She was very helpful and apologetic about it. Apparently, as she explained while I listened in stunned disbelief, this is a common “feature” of the booking system. When your outbound booking is cancelled and replaced with a different one (as happened on the first journey), your return booking is also cancelled into the bargain.
At no point had anybody on the outbound journey thought to mention this to me. Nor had there been any email, SMS, phone call, tweet, or anything to suggest to me that my entire return trip had been cancelled and that I might, maybe, want to ask someone about re-booking it.
Since we were talking about a 10:30pm flight – which was now completely booked out – I would have to come back the next day at the earliest to try and get home.
But then, in a truly spectacularly ironic twist, I was saved by the fact that YET ANOTHER United flight had been cancelled the previous day. Hence an extra flight (UA 1745) had been scheduled that night to handle the excess passengers from the previous day’s cancellation. This new flight did have some seats free, and after a couple of phone calls the kindly check-in clerk managed to get me one of them.
I guess it’s a valuable lesson learned. While I had double checked that the flight was still on time, and that I had my dates and confirmation codes correct, and that I was at the right terminal at the right airport, in future I’ll also be checking that the airline hasn’t actually deleted my booking.
(Update: after posting the previous article, I was contacted by a United customer service rep who was very apologetic, professional and helpful. Though my travel experiences with United haven’t been great recently, their corporate customer care division does at least seem to know what they’re doing.)