Last month, I arrived in Denver on a flight and no aisle chair appeared. We waited. No aisle chair. The crew left, and the new crew came on. At first the new crew thought I was a pre-board who was going to be departing with them, and offered to make sure my wheelchair (“Is that your wheelchair out on the jetway?”) got stowed properly.
Once we straightened out that I was trying to leave the plane, we waited. And waited. And finally (after more than half an hour) an aisle chair turned up. The purser was livid, the aisle chair attendents were two tiny little girls who didn’t even try to do their job, and the purser wound up doing the transfer, the pushing, and (once I was in my own chair) pushing me all the way up the jetway (“No offense, but the sooner I get you out of here, the sooner my passengers can board”). The glare of the assembled (delayed) multitudes at the gate as I emerged from the jetway was intense.
I complained to United. Six weeks later I got this reponse:
Dear Ms. Complaining Person:
Thank you for contacting us about your January 11 travel and customer service experiences. On behalf of United Airlines, I apologize for the dissatisfaction you have expressed in that wheelchair service was not provided as expected when you arrived in Denver on Flight 812. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns and I am sorry for the delay in getting back to you.
All of us at United are committed to making air travel as hassle-free as possible and to doing our very best when it comes to requests for special assistance. We fully intend to have the proper equipment available in order to provide prompt assistance for our customers with special needs. During busy travel periods or irregular operations we may prioritize wheelchair service requests to best meet the distinct needs of each customer. Nonetheless, the wait time you report is not acceptable to you or United. I have forwarded a copy of your e-mail to our Denver Customer Service managers for their internal review and follow up with our wheelchair service vendor to ensure that our service programs are best meeting our customersâ€™ needs and expectations. Your feedback will make a difference.
That said, in reviewing our records I notice that an attendant and wheelchair were pre-arranged to assist you with distances within the terminal. When planning future travel, please know that we offer three levels of wheelchair assistance: passenger can ascend/descend stairs (needs assistance with distances within the terminal); passenger cannot ascend/descend stairs (needs assistance onto/off of aircraft); and passenger is completely immobile (needs assistance into/out of aircraft seat). Even though our employees are trained to respond to day-of-travel requests in the same manner as those that are pre-arranged, it does help us to better plan our manpower and equipment to keep service delays to a minimum. Please help us to help you and advise your travel agent or United Reservations representative of your specific level of ability so we may arrange for the services you need to travel safely and comfortably. You may also make the appropriate selections when booking on-line at www.united.com by selecting â€œSpecial Requestsâ€.
Ms. Complaining Person, your safe, pleasant and dependable travel matters to us. To encourage you to travel with us and to demonstrate our commitment to our customers with special needs, we would like to extend a gesture of good will. I am providing an electronic travel certificate and â€œTips for Travelâ€ information that I hope will allow us an early opportunity to serve you again. Your business and satisfaction are important to United.
Person Who Doesn’t Read Very Carefully
To which I responded:
Dear Ms. Customer Relations Person Who Doesn’t Read Very Carefully:
Thank you for your response to my January 11 complaint.
First, I would like to point out that I do not require a wheelchair (I have my own), an attendent, or assistance with distances within the terminal (I am perfectly capable of propelling myself for kilometers). I require an aisle chair to board and de-board the aircraft.
You ask that I notify United of my needs. My corporate travel agent provides United with this information (SSR WCHC) for every business reservation. My United Mileage Plus profile has this information. Furthermore, I confirm a request for an aisle chair when checking in if I am able to find a human being who will speak to me.
You say that my record shows that assistance was pre-arranged. Therefore “day-of-travel requests” are irrelevant to my complaint, and the only remaining concern is that despite the pre-arrangement (confirmed by your own records) no assistance was available.
Your response implies that the onus is on me to somehow better inform United of my needs. I have already done everything United has requested, so the ball is in your court.