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United Airlines customer service fiasco: the final chapter

Written by Nell Alcantara

Sometime during my documented exchange with a United Airlines’ customer service representative in Houston on May 19, 2012, the switch from being a customer who had a few questions, to a journalist w

Sometime during my documented exchange with a United Airlines’ customer service representative in Houston on May 19, 2012, the switch from being a customer who had a few questions, to a journalist who needed answers, was turned on. For good reason, I was caught in an unfamiliar situation, and I was determined to get my questions answered to avoid going through the same ordeal in the future. Had United’s customer service agent been receptive to my inquiry, there would have been no incident to report and no YouTube video would have ever surfaced.

The response to the article and video has been varied, though the majority of those who have read and responded have taken the incident to be a customer service agent versus customer situation. Consequently, sides have been taken. Comments that warranted a response from me have been replied to on Others will have to refer to this article as my response.

For the record, I never acted in a way that would warrant security being brought into the situation. Thankfully, there were customers being helped next to me at the time. They saw the entire conversation and they gave verbal confirmation to the supervisor that I was never a threat. The split-second decision to record our conversation was sparked by the agent’s combative behavior and inconsistencies in her response. Why did I have questions? Because I was confused. I thought directing my questions to a customer service agent would solve my conundrum, but it didn’t.

Reading comments led me to an interesting find – this customer service agent has had a run-in with another customer recently. Based on a chatter on, an online community for frequent travelers, I learned that I was not the first recipient of this type of service from this agent. A member who goes by the moniker, Caprebuffalo, in describing my YouTube video (, said: “The video made me laugh – I dealt with this exact CSR [customer service agent] at IAH [George Bush Intercontinental Houston Airport] last month when my connecting flight was cancelled. She was the only one working at the desk, and since I understand how much CSRs have to deal with daily, I always make it a point to be friendly and polite. She never even bothered to look at me during the entire re-booking process, snapped when I asked about hotel options for the night (the cancelled flight was the last flight out), and was aghast when the system ‘forced her’ to give me a meal voucher and a night’s stay after she informed me that such things are never provided for anyone. ‘I don’t even know why the computer is making me give you this.’ I never once brought up my status, never demanded anything, was respectful and nice with all my inquiries, and she obviously just hated her life and the fact that I was standing before her at all. It really cracked me up to recognize her in the video.” (Source:

Of the frequent flyer programs that I belong to, I am most motivated to stick with United Airlines’ MileagePlus. Part of the expansive Star Alliance network, United’s MileagePlus program has truly given me the best value in my air travel experience – rake in 25,000 miles a year, and I’m guaranteed Economy Plus-seating for the entire year. My history with United, as minuscule as it may be compared to others, made me expect better service, especially during this crucial time. The months following the merger will set the tone for United whether it chooses to or not. Before United can convince customers that it is the best choice for air travel, it is paramount that employees must first show that they believe that the “New United” is indeed the best choice. My recent experience and that of FlyerTalk’s “Caprebuffalo” clearly indicate a move towards the wrong direction for that Houston customer service agent, at least. Inevitably, this proves that United CEO Jeff Smisek is not quite in sync with all of his “more than 80,000 co-workers” in terms of behaving like “top professionals.” United in customer service? Almost.

As mentioned in my previous article (found here:, United Airlines has not only apologized for the incicent, but there was talk of compesation as well. I have known since May 25 that the Houston-Las Vegas segment of my itinerary was going to be refunded to the original form of payment, per my correspondences with UAL’s Corporate Customer Care Manager Kimberly Thistle. I also knew that some kind of travel certificate was going to be issued, but I did not know the full details. The answer came today.

“Thank you again for taking time to let us know about your recent experience with United Airlines,” wrote Miss Thistle in an email sent today. Her email also informed me that “an Electronic Travel Certificate has been issued to Nelson Alcantara (Mileage Plus CR387857) valid towards the purchase of one electronic airline ticket, where eligible, on United up to $300.00.”

On that note, I consider this case closed.

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Nell Alcantara

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