Always read to the end. The very end.
That’s my takeaway from today’s failed case, which involves a woman who was denied boarding on a United Airlines flight because she hadn’t paid a mysterious fee.
Kelsey Doorey was flying from Los Angeles to Ancona, Italy, with stops in Newark and Munich, in May. She made it to Newark without incident. But when she tried to board her flight to Germany, she ran into trouble.
The agent at gate 74 told me that United had changed my reservation to a later flight in anticipation of me missing my tight connection.
I was told to speak with customer service across the hall change my reservation back to my original flight.
The customer service agent I spoke with was rude and unhelpful. She told me that I was not going to make my flight, despite the gate agent holding the gate open.
She then informed me that I owed $552, but failed to provide any explanation why. I offered my credit card and paid but it was too late for my original flight so she then booked me on a later flight.
I was flying to Italy for a four-day weekend family obligation and the new flight I was put on resulted in me losing an entire day in Italy. Instead of arriving at 11:20 a.m., I arrived after 5:30 p.m.
That’s as far as I read before I sent a note to my United Airlines contact, asking if he could look into this case. I should have kept reading. (Sorry, United.)
Let me skip to the end: The $552 charge was correct. The agents did the right thing, although they could have been a little nicer about it.
But at that moment, after I got done reading the last line of Doorey’s letter, I thought United had screwed up big-time. Maybe it had something to do with the disastrous cutover. Or maybe it was just overall incompetence, I thought. I was wrong.
The response from United was right to the point:
Our records indicate that you were charged a $250 change fee and a $286.66 fee for the difference in the fare.
This was due to the changes made to your ticket on February 25th. Because these fees were not collected during the change, you were denied boarding until the fees were paid.
Huh? I reviewed the entire document.
Here’s a little detail in the note that I had glossed over: Back in February she had changed her flights. And for some reason — it’s not entirely clear why — United never collected the change fee and fare differential.
To be fair, that fact was buried near the bottom of the document she sent me.
Had I continued reading, I would have seen a more detailed account about how United mishandled her ticket at Newark. The agents were not that nice. (The part about the ticket change didn’t come until much later.)
After being re-booked on a later flight, I sought out different United Airlines customer service agents.