Let’s review my experience with United Airlines and my baggage, shall we?
- I check my skis in Denver for a flight to O’Hare. For this service I pay $25.
- The friendly gate agent in Denver tells us it’s going to be a full flight and asks for volunteers to gate check their bags. Since I’ve already checked a set of skis, I volunteer. (At O’Hare, gate checked bags are delivered to baggage claim, not placed on the jetway.) What the heck, right?
- Two and a half hours later, I’m asking the woman who works at ORD’s baggage claim where my gate checked bags might be. “Oh, those often don’t make the flight. If you want to fill this out, we’ll deliver them later.” Now I’m asking why someone in Denver wouldn’t have mentioned that when asking for volunteers to gate check their bags. Or why they wouldn’t have said something when we landed so we wouldn’t waste time waiting for bags that they knew weren’t there.
- Bonus discovery at the same time: all the skis from the flight are in a container that no one seems to be able to locate.
- A few hours later, I receive this voicemail from United Airline’s courier. (Truncated to cut out the ph#.) Caller ID reads only “Customer Service.” I am hopeful that it’s United, but about 8 seconds in, I realize it is clearly a wrong number so I hit delete. If I had only waited until 10 seconds.
- 9:10pm. Where are my bags? I call United’s baggage number. Apparently I don’t have the right information to use the system. I hang up and go to their United’s baggage website. I learn that someone is supposed to be contacting me between 5:30pm and 9:30pm.
- My heart sinks… I go back and play that deleted message all the way through. OMG, it was from United!
- I call the number leave a message. I call back and leave another message.
- I call United. The system asks me three times for a number I don’t have. “Look on the first page of the form. There is a shaded blue box… The number you need could be hand written in the blue box…” Thank you, I am not a moron. I know what you’re looking for and I don’t have it. All that is written in the blue box is, “Rec’d 0 of 2.” Stop asking me for something I know I don’t have and get me an agent!
- Here’s me at 9:45, giving a very friendly agent my information… and being told that her system says I will be contacted between 5:30 and 9:30… And now here’s me interrupting her to remind her that I was contacted… and going through the story a second time… “I originally deleted the message… it started off so unprofessionally I assumed it couldn’t be from United.” Big time user error on my part, I guess; how dare I expect professionalism from my airline!
- I’m on hold; she’s calling the courier. She’s leaving two messages for the courier. Great. United and I are going to bury them with phone calls. Great plan. I hope it works. I’ll cross my fingers, too—just in case.
- I’m escalated to a manager who apparently studied empathy at the Robocop & Spock School of Human Emotion.
- At 10pm, United calls. They reached the courier, who is locating the driver. Might I receive these bags tonight after all?
- 10:10pm The driver calls. He tells me he had called my cell, I tell him he didn’t. He argues with me. I ask, “Look, do you have my bags?”
- 11:10pm My bags arrive. The driver warns me, “If you have a problem, take a picture and send it to United,” I look him in the eye and ask, “Am I going to have a problem when I open my bags?” I take a small measure of comfort in not tipping him.
- For United: (a) There is a clear expectation by passengers that gate checked bags will be the first bags off the flight at the destination. These are bags with medicines, computers, clothes for the day, and other critical items. Having gate-checked bags not make the flight is unacceptable. (b) Allowing passengers to mill about for half an hour waiting for bags that aren’t going to arrive makes an already bad situation worse. (c) Demand 100% professionalism from your couriers.
- For couriers: Always be professional.
- For me: Good people can’t fix a broken system if it lacks leadership. Four years ago, United took a bag of mine that had been delivered late to Los Cabos and sent it to St. Louis instead of to my hotel; nothing’s changed. I spoke with a number of good people today: one who politely asked for volunteers to gate check their bags, one who suggested I have them delivered, and another who agreed to keep calling the courier until she got an answer. These were good people… in a deeply flawed process at a company I have no respect for. Also, lock your doors after not tipping a courier. Just in case.
- For you: Vaya con dios. You might just need the help if you want your bags.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.