On our way back from Asia last week, my brother and I split up at JFK, with him flying to SFO for work and me flying home to LAX. His 5pm flight appeared full in the newly refurbished BusinessFirst cabin and upon check-in he was not allocated a seat. An agent in the United Club told him not to sweat it and to check back later on for a seat assignment (the flight was overbooked by one in business).
His flight departed before mine and about 30 minutes prior to departure, he left the club and headed down to his gate. Only 27 of 28 passengers had checked in, so it appeared his seat was secure. Only it wasn’t…
He texted me that there was a problem–that the gate agent told him there was no room on the flight and that he never was confirmed on it! He added that the agent was rude and barked at him to get out of her way. We exchanged some messages and it soon became clear that big brother had to come downstairs. I stopped at the desk on the way out to confer the with the agent we had earlier discussed the lack of seat assignment with.
She was flabbergasted and picked up the phone to call the gate. Meanwhile, I pulled up the flight on my mobile and saw that a passenger had been upgraded–there was the problem. The lounge agent hung up with a frown on her face. “She was snippy and asked me if I was trying to tell her how to run ‘her’ flight. You better head downstairs.”
I proceeded downstairs where the aircraft door had been closed and my brother was standing at the podium. He said that a supervisor was on her way.
The rogue agent emerged from the ramp and ignored us, not even making eye contact as she closed out the flight. A few minutes later, her supervisor showed up and I told her succinctly what had happened, pointing to the flight status screen behind her and then presenting her with my brother’s boarding pass for the same flight in business class.
She called up the club agent to confirm our story and after verifying what had happened, gently set the phone down and softly apologized, stating the agent’s conduct was out of line, that the seat should have gone to my brother, and that she would do her best to make this right. Her attitude was compassionate and caring–it was clear she was genuinely concerned about what had happened.
It was too late to make the 5pm flight, but she issued a $500 travel certificate on the spot for my brother and confirmed his seat in business class on the 6:30p flight. She again apologized and we both returned to the club, where we were ushered into the Global Services lounge (formerly the United International First lounge).
Later on, the supervisor was standing at the boarding door as I boarded my flight to LAX and again apologized. I expressed gratitude for her amazing handling of the incident but also a hope that she would work with the other agent to particularly address the rudeness and deceit. She stated that she had already set up a meeting with the agent and would work through exactly what happened and how it should have been handled.
It is one thing to make a mistake and clear someone onto a flight by accident–that happens. It is quite another to yell at a customer and then lie to him, telling him he was never on the flight in the first place when he was holding a confirmed boarding pass for the flight.
The generous compensation more than made up for the delay, but what a shame that United had to fork out a $500 voucher because of the pride and ineptitude of one agent.