Yesterday morning I had an unpleasant experience with United on my way to SFO when I was upgraded to business class, went to take my seat, and was rudely told I needed to get back to economy because I was never upgraded. If you missed the full story, you can read it here.
24-hours later, I want to follow-up with the incident and offer some of my reflections about what happened.
- I’ll first start by saying that I was definitely involuntarily downgraded. Once I had a boarding pass with a seat assignment in the front, I was considered a business class passenger.
- I do recognize that maintenance issues happen, and since I was the last person to clear, I was the lowest priority for the seat assignment in the event that one of the seats were taken out of service.
- I was not defiant in any way, and had no problem accepting the downgrade and taking a seat in economy, but the real issue wasn’t about me sitting up front or not, it was the way the situation was handled.
- Instead of acknowledging that I was a downgraded-passenger at this point, the agents chose to cover up their mistake and act in a way if I was never upgraded in the first place. They chose to brush me off, hurry me into my seat, and act in a way that does not exemplify good customer service.
In life, basic respect goes a long way.
For instance, if the agent said something along the lines of, “Ms. Aucello, we are so sorry but it looks like we processed your upgrade and then we discovered there was an issue with another seat. We understand that this is disappointing, but we have to accommodate another passenger, who is prioritized ahead of you. Since you are being downgraded, we’d be happy to offer x in compensation or give you the option to take a later flight if you have flexible travel plans today.”, there would be no issue at all, and frankly, there’d be “friendlier skies” on all United flights, and I’m serious.
Despite my upsetting engagements, I did have a pleasant flight with friendly service from the flight attendants on board, and I’m thankful for that. My reservation was still showing as “upgrade confirmed”, so I made sure to take some pics on board in case it ultimately came down to disputing if I was actually in economy or not.
When I landed at SFO, I went straight to the customer service center. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t expecting much, especially after feeling defeated by the interactions I had previously at EWR, but to say I was pleasantly surprised by the customer service rep who helped me is an understatement.
Kate Barnett at SFO was the most amazing United employee I’ve ever engaged with. Not only did she immediately understand what happened, I felt valued, understood, and listened to. She communicated with me from a very empathetic and warm place. Kate took her time to make my situation right not only as a customer service employee, but as a human, and that goes a long way.
As far as compensation, she issued me a $500 United voucher on the spot, which she explained was standard for involuntary downgrades for a typical trans-con route, and also encouraged me to reach out to customer care if I wanted to. We ended in a long hug. Believe it or not, my interaction with Kate restored some of my faith in United. There needs to be more Kate’s at SFOs in the customer service world and less people who don’t like engaging with others in a pleasant matter. It’s really that simple.
Other than Kate, I’m still waiting for a response from United, and I will follow up again when/if I do receive one. At the end of the day, I really don’t care about the upgrades or being compensated after the fact; what really matters to me is putting an end to the disrespect that happens on a daily basis.
The bottom line is that mistakes happen, but United needs to take a step back and really understand how to engage with passengers from a human level. I understand that gate agents have stressful jobs and may feel overwhelmed at times, but if you can’t handle working in a customer service position, it may be time to move on. After all, “fly the friendly skies” comes with a lot to uphold.
Thank you for all of your comments and support. Happy Friday and safe travels!