Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Burned by United Airlines

Ever flown with your bike to a holiday/training camp? Would you pay $430 to do so? Read on.

I had a terrible experience flying to and from Phoenix this month. I had a booking with Air Canada, but it was a "code-share" flight, operated by United Airlines. When I arrived at the airport, they said that:
1) my first bag to check in was going to cost $15. -> It's hard to compare flight prices when you get extra charges at the airport.
2) the second check-in item was going to cost $25. -> Lame. See point #1.
3) because my second item was a bike, it was going to cost an additional $150. -> What the...?! Okay, that's ridiculous. Now my bags have cost MORE THAN MY TICKET! My bike would like an in-flight beverage, please.

Low blow, United Airlines.

I don't have another road bike, so when it was time to return from Phoenix, I couldn't wait several days for my bike to be shipped back. So when I arrived at the airport in Phoenix to return to Calgary, yes, another $190 charge for the priviledge of taking my bike with me. Oh, and that was US dollars! $240 Canadian this time!

And what do I get for my money? Well, no insurance, that's for sure...I had to sign something saying that if what came out at the other end was a mangled wreck, too bad. If they lost it, they weren't paying for it, either.

I plan to vote with my feet, and take my business elsewhere. But I figured I'd at least let them know that $430 for taking a bike on a plane is outrageous...so I called customer service. I don't plan on ripping into some poor soul working at the United customer service centre in India, I just want to let them know I'm unhappy with the outcome and wont be flying with them anymore. But apparently they have an array of time-wasting measures to avoid actually dealing with anybody...tranferring from department to department, putting me on hold to "verify information", even saying they'd refund one of my charges and never actually doing so...wow, if I had to actually negotiate through that maze to find lost luggage or anything else, I'd be worried. Luckily I wont be risking that, I'll be flying with another airline, of which there are many.

So be warned, and if you think that gouging cyclists with exobitant fees and charges is wrong, or if you just think that airlines should act in a responsible manner with half-way decent customer service, don't fly United.


Bruce said...

I had a similar experience going over to Hawaii at christmas, luckily I discovered United's new policy beforehand and convinced my brother to take my bike for me instead (Westjet $40 flat fee). On the way back I flew Hawaiian Airlines connecting with United and for some reason our bags were not checked right through (as I requested) and we were subjected to United's blood sucking fees, but the icing on the cake was they would not seat a family (think small kids) together unless you paid a fee...

I complained and got $75 in future travel vouchers (that are for sale if anyone is interested) and you should to.

United Customer Relations,
P.O. Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666

Dennis said...

Air Canada charges $50 each way for domestic/intl flights unless you have elite or super elite status or of course fly in executive class. According to the AC agent, I was the only person she's ever seen to actually use that perk. Gone are the days of being able to count your bike as part of your checked in baggage allowance.

Thomas said...

You have to be careful though as in Lachlan's case; it was a shared ticket with UA. I was looking for flights to Costa Rica and I had an Air Canada employee get mad at me for asking what the bike charge would be on a shared ticket flight. After I got her to chill out she was certain that I would have to pay the $50 each way for Air Canada and then plus what the other airline would charge which she thought was around $100 each way.

Lucky for me I found a flight on Mexicana and it was about $60 each way for the bike and no weight limit. My box was packed with a bunch of other stuff and came to a whopping 60kg.

Dan Sigouin said...

You guys are freaking me out! I am trying to figure out how I am going to get my bike and myself to Tempe in November for Ironman Arizona, it almost sounds like it is better to plug in the iPod and drive the 2 days straight and not deal with the hassles of bike and planes.

Lockie, I think you should go for more emotion in your stories. Next time I want to hear how you threatened the clerk and then put them in a rear naked choke or something. I could give you lessons on exaggerating stories for blogging purposes.

Dennis said...

Yes, airlines don't always make it obvious it's a code share flight... although when you book on the AC website it has multiple warnings about possible "excess baggage fees" when one or more of the segments is not AC metal. If in doubt, check your flight segments on www.staralliance.com which will only show the primary carrier (UA in Lockie's case).

Anonymous said...

In Europe and other continents, they charge by the Kg...I've almost been charged $33/kg for a 28kg bike box on one trip (I'd been travelling for 5 months at this point). You do the math! I managed to talk them down to $350 only to miss a connecting flight and have to pay another $150!

Travelling with a bike is getting more and more expensive! Do your homework before booking flights! I went out of my way to avoid UA bike fees on my next trip! Shipping may be the best option...

I still think it should be TOTAL weight of you + luggage, my weight+25kg of luggage is probably far less than most people weigh themselves!


Anonymous said...

I don't know what "rear naked choke" is, but it sounds terrible.

Rod M

polishbaba said...

I had the same experience over Christmas. I actually booked Air Canada and a week before my departure was switched to United by Air Canada. So I got dinged big time. In the end my luggage and bike cost me more than my ticket. In addition, they lost my bike and luggage so I did experience the nightmare of United and lost luggage. They would not help me as my flight, in their eyes, was with their partner Air Canada. I actually had to call someone in Calgary, as I was in San Diego, to deal with Air Canada as United would not help. Also, the 1-800 number that Air Canada has for lost luggage would not work from California. The staff of United were horrible to deal with. One guy said "to bad you are Canadian and you do not have many choices as far as airlines." I lost it!

I do not think that Air Canada had a right to change my flight to United without telling me that luggage charges would now be applied. I did not book with United but I got moved to a partner.

Both Airlines suck!

Darcy G said...

OK, one good story here. In 2006 a friend and me did part of a cross-country charity ride. We rode from Victoria to Caronport, SK. So, we flew out (with bikes) to Victoria with WestJet. I think the excess baggage fee was $30 to $40, or something like that. Pretty low, anyway.

Once the WJ folks at the check-in counter in Regina found out what we were doing, they pretty much treated us like rock stars. I think one took us to the oversized baggage check-in and explained to the guys what we were doing. They treated our bikes like gold.

Now remember, this is Regina: two flights leaving at the same time means the airport is really, really busy...

Anonymous said...

Fly Westjet or forever pay too much.

Overseas? Read the fine print on the website before booking.

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