United We Stand . . . Still

Epistle

by Rick Blum

DEAR UNITED,

I just wanted to drop you a note before you tried to get in touch with me, as I know you will, to let you know that I don’t hold you personally responsible for any of the minor glitches that occurred on my recent trip out west. After all, as you say, your skies are friendly, and with the number of flights dwindling daily, no reasonable traveler would get upset just because everything didn't go perfectly.

Certainly, when my original plans had to be adjusted, causing me to rebook my outbound flight, why wouldn't I expect to pay an extra $100 for that privilege? Sure, I wasn’t really looking for a refund, just a different flight. But I want you to know that I fully understand the havoc this caused to your pricing algorithms on two flights – the old one and the new one - so please consider the C-note a token of my appreciation of your willingness accommodate my travel flightiness.

The flight to San Francisco was very comfortable, considering that it was fully booked – right down to my seat next to the toilet. So I understand that the idea of finding a pillow would have been completely out of the question. OK, rumors circulated among the passengers that several first-class pooh-bahs did manage to locate these small amenities, but given the outrageous cost of latex foam these days, I of all people would not expect you to waste your precious cash flow on such luxuries for the rabble in rows 7–33. Besides, a rolled up coat works nearly as well, and there’s no fear that the preceding passenger used it as receptacle for an especially full-bodied sneeze.

Despite the full load, the flight started off even better than could be imagined, with the pilot announcing in a loud and enthusiastic voice that we should be arriving at our destination 15 minutes early. We all cheered at this news, especially those of us without pillows . . . or blankets.

Unfortunately, things didn’t actually go quite as well as first thought. Oh, we did touch down five minutes before scheduled arrival, which the pilot claimed as being "early," though we were not actually at the terminal. So I want you to know, that I fully understand how this small mistiming could completely throw off your system, and that although we had been expected for six hours, there was not a single gate available for our aircraft. Now, I don’t know if the FAA counts on-time as being on the ground or at the gate, but I want you to know that I felt like we were on time, even if we didn’t actually get to a gate until 20 minutes after the time written on my ticket.

So maybe you could understand how, after disembarking, I was in a bit of a hurry and, thus, immensely relieved to see that the passageway from the gates to the main terminal (which could have doubled as a marathon course) had one of those wonderful moving walkways. This is a welcome sight for someone with a gimpy leg and who just discovered that one wheel on his "rolling" suitcase had broken, turning a simple stroll into a swamp-like trek. And, although at this point I was a bit piqued at my suitcase's malfunction, I surely wouldn’t hold it against you that the moving walkway went in only one direction — back toward the gates. Who could have reasonably anticipated that passengers would want to go both ways!

My stay in San Francisco was wonderful, but one that I had to cut short by a day because my father-in-law suddenly took ill and landed in the hospital. That’s not something that either of us could have foreseen — so you’re more than welcome to the additional 100 bucks you extracted from my Visa account to allow me the privilege (again) of changing flights.

The good news is that I truly enjoyed the moving walkway on the way to my return flight. Of course, I don’t for a minute hold you responsible for my flight being delayed because of rain in Seattle, its origin. Rain in Seattle, who would have guessed?

But all's well that ends well. The Seattle flight arrived only 2 1/2 hours late, and your crack team of cleaners and flight crew – inspired, no doubt, by lowered salaries negotiated by the bankruptcy court – had us on the plane in no time flat. That we spent no time in that air for the next two hours is not something I would lay on your shoulders. I as much as anyone always err on the side of caution. So when the pilot announced that a warning light suggested that the battery charger was kaput, I said, let’s replace it forthwith. Turns out, the pilot's idea of forthwith (10–15 minutes, he said with assurance) and the actual forthwith (55 minutes) were not quite the same. But I guess that will have to be between the pilot and me — nothing to do with United, for sure.

But, I must let you know, that the pilot seemed to be a bit of a slow learner, for when the battery-charger repair failed to solve the warning light problem, he predicted the battery monitor replacement would take the same amount of time: 10–15 minutes. Lo and behold, another 55 minutes later, it suddenly dawned on me that you might think I'd be mad at United.

That's when I realized I had to write to allay your fears, for my attitude is that little foibles actually make one’s life richer for the experience. Besides, I fully recognize that most of the responsibility for these minor annoyances rests on me. After all, I could have flown American.

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