Thursday, July 19, 2012

Part Two: Why doesn't a RESERVATION with UNITED mean RESERVED seats?

Thank you, Spouses, for your sympathy and empathy regarding my previous post about United reservations and reserved seats!  At least we know we are not alone.  Unfortunately, no one had any advice.  There seems to be a vacuum with airlines when it comes to retrieving information that would alleviate a passenger's anxiety (re: a parent sitting with her small children; why a plane is delayed; whether or not a flight will be cancelled; you know only too well).

 Right after my post, we contacted our travel office and asked if they could reserve seats together for myself and two small children for our three upcoming United return flights in a month.  Well, we were able to get them for the 1/2 hour flight to Chicago (oh, goody!), but not for the 8-hour transatlantic flight, nor the flight from Germany to Belgrade (since United can't book a "partner's," Lufthansa's, seats.  Do they, by chance have the phone number for Lufthansa? HA, fat chance!).  The transatlantic flight plane had not yet been assigned, so they couldn't assign seats.  Lovely.  So, we asked when the airplane would be assigned so we could then reserve seats.  Logical inquiry, don't you think?  Quite typically, the United agent had no idea.  No advice.  No idea.  Silence.  Heard that before?  Click.

I  wasn't very concerned with the Germany to Belgrade flight since the passengers are predominately from Serbia, a place where  chivalry has not died, and mothers with children are given a status just under Novak.  I decided to focus my energy on United, my new nemesis.

The next foggy morning, I scoured the Internet, looking for advice outside of the network.  Amid the moaning and the groaning, I found one piece of advice.  Call a couple days before your flight and try to reserve your seats then; you have a better chance of getting them.  Okay.  Not a diamond, but worth a pick.

So yesterday morning I called United Customer Service (1-800-241-6522); we head to Belgrade on Friday.  I prepared to put on the speaker phone and pack while I waited for a human to answer the phone.  Lo and behold, 30 seconds after the robot interview, a human, a very nice human, who I'll call Laverne ( I like her so much that I don't want her to get into trouble), answered the line.  Was this a premonition of success?  30 seconds.  That never happens.

I politely explained to Laverne my predicament and history of my seven United flights this last month with not a single one with a seat with my two small children.  I asked her if I could reserve seats now.  I heard keys clicking and then a long pause.  A very long pause.  "Well, for some reason," she said, "they have your kids in row 36B and 36C and you back in 48K.  Why they did that, I have no idea."  Click, click, click.  "I'm sorry, mam, but there are not any three seats together.  I can put you in 34H, a bit closer?"  Now it was my turn to play the pause game.  I let my seething silence burn for as long as I could (probably 4 seconds) and then flames spewed forth from my mouth.  At least they did in my dreams.  In real life, I knew that the fate of this trip was in Laverne's hands.  Don't you hate that?  I pleaded with her.  I stated the obvious safety issues with the oxygen bags.  I told her about having to barter with our three middle seats on our last United transatlantic flight.

"I can't give you seats that aren't there.  If you want to pay the Economy Plus fee you could have reserved seats together earlier,"  she replied.

"How much earlier?"  I asked.

"I have no idea," she said softly.  Ah.  No idea.  Silence.

Wait!  What about advice?  My heart was racing.  It couldn't end here.  I couldn't let my buddies down!  I begged her, if she couldn't get us seats, could she at least tell me how I could get seats together the next time I flew?  Where did I go wrong?  I listed all the ways I had tried.  My voice trailed off.  I was despondent.  I had lost.

"You should have gotten seats together when you reserved the ticket.  You must have gotten it too late."

In monotone I stated, "Nope.  We bought them April 3rd."



"Well, if you call exactly 24 hours before your flight the blocked Economy Plus seats open up and you can maybe get three together then."

"But, there's no guarantee, is there?" I sniffed.

"No, there's not,"  she sighs.  "Well, next time, have the agent make a note saying, 'traveling with small children,' at the top of your reservation.  So, if you do have reserved seats and special situations arise where they have to move people, they will be less likely to move you.  You see, on the agent's computer screen, the birth dates are in tiny print at the bottom of the page; whereas, this message is at the top."

"Thank you, Laverne.  I'll do that, but still no guarantee that we'll end up together?"  I sniffled.  At least I would have some advice to pass on.

"No.  I'm sorry.  No guarantee"


"You know, I know how it is," Laverne softly said, "I've had to travel separated from my kids before too.  They are grown now, but I haven't forgotten."  Click, click, click.

I hold my breath.

"I think I can get you seats together.  I'll put it into the system, but it won't show up on the roster until 24 hours before the flight is to leave.  I'm also putting, 'traveling with small children,' so, hopefully, they won't move you."

I did not question how or why.  I just gushed with gratitude.  "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Laverne!  Oh!  You just made my day!  My week!  My month!"  I could just envision our flight.  No groveling, no bartering, no hunched-over waiting with our carry-ons sitting in our seats for a Good Samaritan to cross our paths.  No yelling reassurances to my kids scattered in two different parts of the plane.  "Oh, Laverne!  Thank you!  You have a great day!"

"You have a better one!"  she chirped.

Laverne, if you only knew.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Postcard Poem: My Serbian Mayfield