In Which I Ask, “Do I Have a Tattoo Across my Forehead That Says, ‘Please Make Travel Difficult for Me.'”

I knew United Airlines has a reputation for being incompetent. Today, I got first-hand experience with their level of incompetence.

After my troubles entering the United States, and now this latest event, in a long history of having some sort of issue while travelling, I can’t help but to ask if I have some sort of mark on me that states, “Please make travel more difficult for Jules.” Sure it is going to cause a lot of stress and aggravation. But, man, it does make for another good chapter in Only In The Life Of Jules.

Today’s story requires that I rewind to last Wednesday.

After looking at Andrew’s work schedule, it was decided that my original departure date of August 3 would not work. So he asked if it was possible for me to reschedule my flight. I looked at my flight itinerary, and saw that it was possible to change my flight, for a fee. The fee being reasonable, we decided to re-book my departure for Monday, meaning today.

We re-scheduled my departure date and time. I received a confirmation e-mail saying that my flight had been successfully changed, with my new travel itinerary attached.

Great! That was quick and painless, AND I get to spend three more days with my future spouse. YAY!

Last night, I received an e-mail from Air Canada saying that I can now check-in to my flight from Toronto that will eventually get me to Nanaimo.

Great! It was nice to have another confirmation that my flight change was indeed successful, as I could now check-in to my Canadian flights. But, as I cannot check-in to my first flight, the one that has United Airlines as the carrier, I decided not to check-in to my Canadian flights, because I was not comfortable checking-in to a flight, when I had no way of checking-in to the previous flight.

I forwarded my online check-in e-mail to my iPad. I printed of the confirmation of change in travel itinerary. Packed my bags. Went to bed.

This morning, I woke up hours before the ass crack of dawn — 0330 EDT — and got ready to leave for Dulles. Before we left the house, I made some joke about how, knowing my luck, there would probably be some sort of stupid thing that will cause my day to not go smoothly.

Guess what? Yeah… that.

We arrived at the airport and proceeded to the United Airlines International check-in counter. I had my passport and travel itinerary in hand. The lady at the counter took my passport and scanned it. She could not find my name in the reservation system. She then took the confirmation number on my itinerary. Again, my name was not found in the reservation system. She entered my ticket number. Guess what? Yup. Not in the reservation system. She then tried, with the help of, we’ll call him dude #1, at least five different ways to pull up my reservation, holding my confirmation e-mail in her hand. Nothing.

At this point, she told me that I had to get out of the line and proceed down to the very end counter, where some special customer service person would get this sorted.

We get to the other counter and another lady takes my passport and my confirmation e-mail, and attempts to find my reservation. It is at this point that I’m informed that my reservation was cancelled. The reason she gave was — this is the first lie from United Airlines — when I changed my reservation, Air Canada neglected to cancel my first reservation. This resulted in me being booked on two separate departure flights: one on Friday, and one today. Since I cannot be on two flights at the same time, and Custom’s issues, yada yada, the system automatically cancelled my flight. She then proceeded to write down Air Canada’s 888 number, told me to step out of the line, phone Air Canada, as according to United it was Air Canada’s mistake, and have them re-book my flight for one later in the day. She also told me that if Air Canada is unable to help me, that I’m to get back in line, and she’ll see what she can do to get me on an afternoon flight — which I try to explain will not work, but she would not listen.

We step out of line. I phone Air Canada. I tell them what the United Airlines lady told me. The Air Canada guy, with a tone of WTF, to paraphrase, said, “No. Your reservation was not cancelled. I can see it right here. I do not know what is going on. Let me re-book your flight. However, because the flight you are wanting to be on is now full, so you’ll have to fly via Ottawa, and not Toronto.” He gave me a departure time from Dulles of a couple minutes after 0800. I responded with, “That is too early. That is just over an hour away. I was told that I need to check-in two hours before my flight. And, it is because of that, that they were unable to fix my current flight, as, by the time the second lady could see me, it was less than two hours until my current flight was due to depart.” He said, “They are lying to you. You need to check-in one hour before your flight. You have plenty of time.” He also told me that United has a history of cancelling reservations when flights are overbooked, making up some lie and blaming it on an Air Canada mistake. I told him I thought it sounded fishy to me as I had received the e-mail last night saying that I could check-in, but, whatever. Nothing I can do about it now. I just need to get on a flight home, then deal with having to reschedule my shuttle once I’m in Canada.

New flight numbers and reservation in hand, and confirmation e-mail on my iPhone, we get back in line. Dude #1, knowing I’m in a hurry, calls us over. He took my passport, scanned it, and asked for my destination city. Guess what? Yup, my reservation could not be found. At this point, dude #2 steps in, having overheard the first time we were in line and remembering our situation, says, “The flight to Ottawa was cancelled over half an hour ago. Looks like Air Canada screwed up your reservation again by booking you on a flight that doesn’t exist. You need to phone Air Canada again.”

Frustrated, and now laughing at the absurdity of the situation, we step back out of line. Again, I phoned Air Canada. This time, a lady answered the phone. I told her the story. She looked up my reservation. Sure enough, it was in their system, just like the first time I called. I told her that United Airlines has said the Ottawa flight has been cancelled for at least half an hour. Guess what? United Airline failed to put the cancelled flight into the booking system. It was still showing up as on-time for departure. Strike two, United Airlines. She asked me to repeat what the second lady had told me about the double-booking and, as a result, Air Canada cancelling my flights, just to make sure she was understanding me correctly. I repeated what I was told. She then said, “Yeah, that isn’t what happened. We didn’t cancel your flight. They cancelled your flight this morning. The note on the reservation history says that you failed to show up for your flight. But obviously you haven’t, as you are there and tried to check-in an hour ago.” I said, “Yeah… considering I received another confirmation e-mail from you last night, saying I could check-in to my Toronto flight, that didn’t sound right to me. I even asked her about that, and she shrugged her shoulders.” Strike #3 and lie #2.

The Air Canada lady was also very angry on my behalf because it should have been United Airlines phoning them, and not me. She said, had this happened at an Air Canada counter, they would have made the phone calls as part of good customer service, and not make the customer step out of line, twice. I thought to myself, “Of course they can’t call when I’m listening. Then they’d have to admit to their mistake. They wouldn’t be able to blame it on you!”

At this point, it is too late to get on a flight this morning. The next available flight is too late at night. I can’t fly out tomorrow because I have a phone interview scheduled tomorrow with Paul Darrow. I explained to her my current schedule, and asked if was possible to book me on a flight home for Wednesday. There were none available leaving Dulles. She asked if it was possible for me to fly out of Washington National on Wednesday. I said, “Yes.” Being a good Canadian, she apologised for United Airlines incompetence, booked me on a morning flight on Wednesday from Washington National, and e-mailed me yet another confirmation.

An hour and a half later, tired from getting up early, and not as angry as we probably should be at United Airline’s incompetence, we left the airport, and returned home. On the way out of the airport, Andrew joked, “American government didn’t want you to enter. American corporation doesn’t want you to leave.

I will be phoning United on Wednesday morning, BEFORE we leave the house, as we need to get up even earlier than we did today, to make sure my flight is good to go. If it isn’t… well, I may transform from laughing-at-the-absurd-friendly-Canadian to I’m-going-to-rip-off-your-head-and-shit-down-your-throat-angry-customer.

The upside to all of this is I get two more days with Andrew.

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