Tag Archives: united airlines

Reporting live from Newark Airport yesterday

25 Nov

I’m writing this from American soil — Newark Liberty Airport. I was not supposed to have time to sit down and bang out a blog post. But I sailed through customs, dropped my bag off again, then gazed at the board to double check my Cincinnati flight, and there it was in red letters — CANCELED.

Up until then things were going swimmingly. My bag was 53.1 kg (.1kg overweight) and they didn’t bat an eye. No one gave my clearly overexpanded wheeled carry on a second glance. And to top it off, there was only one empty seat on the entire flight, and it was next to me. What did I do to deserve such blessing from the travel gods? Sure, the entertainment system and movies were rubbish, but as far as long-haul flights go, it was a relatively good one.

And then I got to America. After waiting for an unusually long time at the service desk, they informed me I was booked on the next flight to Cincinnati — leaving in over 4 hours. They told me because I was delayed for more than 3 hours I could get a free meal voucher from the service station. But they did not bother to tell me where the service station was. So I went up to a random United employee and asked. She directed me towards the exact agent who issued me my ticket. So I asked another guy. Same thing. But he said he would try to help me, and put his lackey on it. I have no idea who that guy was or what his job title was, but apparently he was a big shot. We chatted about London and the Bengals while his colleague struggled to get my voucher.

“It’s not much, like $7, but it’ll get you a free cup of coffee,” he told me.

His colleague finally returned with the voucher — and there were 2 of them.

“There’s two?” I said, thinking there was a mistake or reprint.

“Now you can get a whole cup of coffee,” he said with a wink.

Whoever that guy was, he was a shining example of what an airline employee should be. Friendly, helpful and efficient. And then I headed to security and met his exact opposite.

“Bag,” the guy said, pointing at my overexpanded carry on and then gesturing to that metal “will it fit?” guide.

“I know, I know,” I said, “but I’ll just gate check it.”

“No gate check.” he said.

“I’m going to Cincinnati and the plane is small so they always gate check all the wheeled bags,” I tried to explain.

“No gate check.” he said, motioning again to the metal guide.

“Just zip up this expander,” his colleague finally said, stepping in to help.

I knew it wouldn’t zip with my coat in there, so I opened the bag, took out my dressy coat, put it on underneath my puffy coat, zipped up my bag, and had a mental breakdown.

I have no idea what happened. One minute ago I was fine — I had $14 airport dollars burning a hole in my pocket and just got off a transatlantic flight in which I had two whole seats to myself. But something about that guy, the whole TSA charade and the thought of killing 4 hours in the airport after killing 8 hours on a flight just got to me.

I trudged through security, stripping off my two coats, trying to keep it together because if there’s one place you don’t want to appear mentally unstable its in airport security. I somehow got TSA pre-check (maybe because I already cleared security at Heathrow?) so I didn’t have to remove my laptop, shoes or liquids, which is good because I was such a mess I didn’t even think to. I wheeled my bag over to an empty gate, pulled myself together, and stuffed my coat back into my carry on and re-expanded it. I then got out my laptop, started watching a movie, put on my proverbial big girl panties and sucked it up. There are far, far worse airport situations to be in and being that it’s almost Thanksgiving and all, I should just be thankful that my coats, jumbo bags and I are safe.

Update: Half cup of coffee guy wasn’t kidding. I’m convinced Newark Airport’s food prices are based on the fact that at least 80% of their customers are using airport vouchers or company expense accounts. For $15 I got a small cup of berries, Greek yogurt, a small bag of popcorn and a chocolate bar.

Update 2: My overexpanded bag fit in the overhead. Suck on that “no gate check” guy.


Always pack clean underwear

27 Apr

My stomach is full of Mexican food and Lucky Charms, which can mean only one thing — I’m back in the USA!

I realized this trip that the “American experience” doesn’t begin when we touch down at O’Hare — it starts the minute you step on a United plane, which I’m convinced is always full of 90% Americans, many of whom speak in Chicago accents. There were these two women behind me, who by their voices I guessed were in their early 20s. They were gossiping, laughing obnoxiously loudly, and flirting with the Rugby team on board. (Yes, there was an entire Rugby team on the plane, who spent the entire flight standing in the aisles, whooping and hollering. It’s a good thing I don’t sleep on planes.) I got a glimpse of the women when I got up to use the “toilet cubicle” and was surprised that they looked in their 40s. Ah, American, where you’re never too old to talk like a Valley Girl.

I was still in London mode when the beverage cart came by. I told the flight attendant I wanted “still water with ice.” She looked at me puzzled. “So you want water, then?” Right — when you say “water” in American, still and ice are implied.

I always fly United because of their Mileage Plus program, which is probably called something else now that they merged with Continental. I used to have a high status which meant that I could check up to three bags weighing 70 lbs and got to go in the airport lounge. I didn’t fly as much last year so I lost that status, which means I got to check one bag and it had to be under 50 lbs. “Challenge accepted,” I said, and proceeded to weigh my bag using Wii Fit before I left. When it was only 48 lbs, I threw in an extra book. According to the airport scale, it was 22.6 kg, which is 49.8 lbs. I packed a lot of clothes that I want to sell or donate here, which hopefully means I will still be under 50 lbs for the flight back. I do make the same mistake every time I come back here, either from Chicago or London — I pack an outfit for almost every day, knowing full well I will go shopping and then want to wear all those new clothes. I never seem to learn.


When we landed in Chicago, I had to recheck my bag. It took forever to come onto the carousel because I no longer get the “priority” baggage tag. I got to speed through immigration because I had a connecting flight, but I still had to recheck the bag and go through security again, and I only had an hour before my flight to Cincinnati left. I think I burned off my in-flight meal power walking.

While on the tram to terminal 2, I overheard a United flight crew talking. “Ever since the merge, things have been a mess,” one flight attendant said. “They’re making everything Continental, and it’s so much worse.” I was surprised she was talking so opening about it in public, especially fully dressed in company uniform. Call it a coincidence or blame Continental, but when I got to Cincinnati, I found out my giant suitcase did not. I knew something was wrong when the baggage carousel shut off. I filed a delayed baggage report (I like that they use “delayed” instead of “lost”), and they told me it was on the next flight to Cincinnati and would arrive around 9 pm. I couldn’t believe that I was able to transfer terminals, queue for security, run through the airport and still make my flight, while my suitcase could not. I called the number they gave me last night and the message said “Your bag has left the airport and is out for delivery.” “Great,” I thought. “I can take a shower and put on clean clothes tonight!” But then another hour passed and there was no bag. Then another hour. Eventually it was midnight and I felt like I was going to die. When you’ve been up for almost 24 hours and just spent all day on a plane sitting next to a sick guy, the last thing you want to do is wait up for a bag that isn’t coming. So I gave up and went to sleep, hoping the doorbell would pull me out of my coma. Of course there was no doorbell and it’s now past 11 a.m. and I still don’t have my bag. And because I was so concerned about my luggage weight, I filled my carry-on with shoes, jeans and a blazer — absolutely nothing useful except for my glasses and hair brush. Luckily I had a toothbrush and some toiletries here or else I’d be really hurting. I guess there’s a reason they tell you to pack a change of clothes and necessities in your carry-on…

United is the best airline in the world*

4 Jan

Well, friends, either United read my blog post, listened to my calls, or has an unwritten “gimee” policy its customer service reps don’t know about. Whatever it was, I logged into my Mileage Plus account and saw I have Premier Executive status for 2011. Thanks, United, I really appreciate it and look forward to flying with you throughout this crazy year.

Why do I care so much? United, like most airlines, is very status-ist. I notice they treat me significantly different than Stephen, Mr. 1K, whom they greet by name. One time a ticket agent even asked him why he had so many more miles than me, as if people of his mileage status should not be hanging out with us wee just-plain-members. That was before I hit Premier, and now that I’m Premier Executive, I’m looking forward to the royal treatment. I hope that means turning a blind eye if my luggage weighs more than 50 lbs, which may just be the case when I head back, at the rate I’m shopping.

Now if only I can convince Chase that Paypal counts as a direct deposit, I’ll be set.

(*In my previous post I promised to write nothing but good things about United if they gave me the status. Just keeping my promise.)