United in Misery — A United Airlines Christmas Story

Published on 2023-12-21 on Sebastian Mellen's Blog

I would hope that you, my dear reader, have not had the extreme displeasure of flying on a United Airlines flight recently. If you have, perhaps you should turn away now, such that you might avoid triggering any latent traumatic memory material. This story is about a wonderful adventure with the ever-helpful airline, which commenced on Christmas Eve: December 24th, 2023.

Sleepwalking into a horrible fate

4 A.M. rang my alarm. On a mere 30 minutes of sleep, I rolled out of bed and drearily stumbled my way into my car. I then frantically drove to the airport with my girlfriend, and we spent 30 minutes waiting in line to check our bags and get through security. After security, a long wait at our gate to board. We finally boarded flight UA1240 from DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) to SFO (San Francisco), set to depart at 7:40 AM.

UA1240: A broken radio altimeter

We sat in the plane for an uneventful hour, until it was announced that due to a discrepancy between the readings on the two radio altimeters on our Airbus A139, we would need to wait on a replacement part. One hour later, it was announced that the replacement part was coming, but we would have to to deplane (which we did not want to). By now, it was around 9:30 AM, and we sat at the gate for about 20 minutes until we were informed that a replacement part would need to be flown in from Houston. Our United app updated our departure time to 12:30 PM, the flight attendants informed everyone that each of us had been provided a $15 meal voucher in the United app, and we wandered across the terminal to go eat.

At around 9:55 AM, our departure time in the United app was updated to “10:15 Estimated”, and we scrambled to quickly close out our meal order and run back to the gate. We arrived at 10:11 AM, and even though the plane still sitting at the gate, we were denied boarding. The gate attendant, in a rather impolite snarl, told us that it was our fault for arriving late, as they had just closed the gate one minute ago, and that if we had arrived a moment earlier we may have stood a chance at boarding. ß “What do you want now, huh?” the gate attendant barked, and our exasperated faces seemed to win us no favors. You see, we had been forced to check both of our carry-on bags at the gate, and the carry-ons had many presents and health-critical items inside. No worries, they had assured us, you’ll be able to pick them up at baggage claim right when you land. The only problem was that we had now been separated from our dear luggage (two forcefully-checked carry-ons and one willfully checked bag), and our baggage was set to land at SFO without us there to pick it up. We asked if there was any option we could be rebooked on the next available flight, and we were told that we would have to on a connection through DEN (Denver), which departed at 1:08 PM and arrived at SFO at 8:00 PM. With three hours ahead of us, we found a somewhat open bench, and slotted ourselves in for the wait.

“$481.86 charged to your American Express card.”

“$481.86 charged to your American Express card.”

Strange, but true. $963.72 charged for the rebooked flight path, which we had been assured would be free. I looked at the last-minute American Airlines option. $1,582.00 for two people, round trip, less than the $1,630.00 we had now paid to United Airlines for our miserable experience. I still had the option to cancel through United for a full refund, and purchase the American Airlines flight (which would have arrived 3 hours earlier, on a direct flight), but I was sure the rebooking fee would be waived. We set our alarms for noon, and nodded off while sitting at our gate E9, waiting to board flight UA1380.

UA1380: A missing engine generator

After asking to be moved to seats next to each other, and confronting our gate attendant after she openly lied to us about our seat assignment, we finally boarded UA1380, ready for our long trip to be over. Although we had been given boarding passes with the wrong names, which caused considerable confusion while finding the correct seats, A Drexel University Emergency Medicine Professor sat in the row ahead of us, furrowing his brow while reviewing some medical paperwork. At last it seemed we were where we needed to be. The flight taxied to the runway, and we calmly closed our eyes, waiting for our deliverance.

20 minutes later we awoke, still sitting on the taxiway. Strange… No matter. At least this flight had no mechanical issues. Probably an issue with the DFW airport.

Another 20 minutes passed, the completely full plane growing warmer with discontent and

DEN: A scramble from B to A

SFO: Mysteriously missing baggage