My May 2013 visit to the former Soviet Union was ten months in the making. That vacation nearly collapsed, on the literal eve of my departure, when I learned that due to an error for which United was solely at fault, the flight reservations that I’d booked ten months earlier had been canceled with no notification to me. Compounding its initial failure, United treated me very rudely, and although it eventually rebooked me, it did so kicking and screaming. This is the story of the atrocious service I received at the hands of United.
July 2012: I book my flights and receive a confirmatory email
On July 13, 2012, I booked round-trip airline tickets from my home city of New York to Moscow for a voyage that was to take place in May 2013. I’m a member of United’s frequent-flyer program, MileagePlus; and to purchase the tickets I redeemed some of my accumulated Mileage Plus points to reserve seats on United’s Star Alliance partner, Lufthansa. My outbound itinerary involved a departure from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 11, 2013; a connection at Frankfurt International Airport on May 12; and an arrival at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, also on May 12. For the return itinerary, I was to depart from Moscow, connect again in Frankfurt, and land in New York — all on May 27. For the outbound flights I cashed in a sufficient quantity of points to purchase business class seats, while for the return flights I opted for seats in economy class. At the time of the booking, United’s website allowed me to select my seats for both of my outbound flights as well as for my return flight from Frankfurt to New York (but not for my return flight from Moscow to Frankfurt), and I selected my desired seats for each of those flights. (Based on my prior experience flying on Lufthansa, there was nothing unusual about Lufthansa not permitting advance selection of seats for certain of its intra-European flights. Thus, the fact that I couldn’t choose a seat in July 2012 for my May 27, 2013 Moscow to Frankfurt flight didn’t raise any concerns. For that flight, I merely expected that I would need to pick my seat when I checked in online on the preceding day.)
Upon the completion of my booking I received an email from Lufthansa dated July 13, 2012, providing a reservation code and identifying the seats that I’d be occupying on the three flights for which I’d been able to secure my seats in advance. Continue reading