South East Asia – Chapter 1 – United Flight Cancelled

I worked overtime this weekend and stayed later than planned on Tuesday to finish up client work before leaving on my South East Asia trip. I was pretty anxious by 4pm on Tuesday when I was supposed to have finished up work at noon. I felt like I had a million things left to do and such a short time. I rushed around doing final errands and then home to do some photo work that needed to be tidied up before I left.

Around 9pm I felt like my to-do list was under control and went to United Air’s website to do my online check in for my flights scheduled in 12 hours.

That’s when it all fell apart.

I entered my confirmation, but it denied my check in and told me to call reservations. I get the automated man who wants to ask just a few questions to help serve me better, but Mr. Automated man must speak another language because he couldn’t seem to understand any of my words, like Tucker or Halifax or August … Eventually he got tired of repeating himself and I was put on hold for about 10 minutes. That’s not really all that bad for an airline queue.

The man who answered my call, however, was no sunshine on my rainy Halifax day! The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: Hi, I just tried to do my online check in for my flight tomorrow and it advised that I needed to call reservations.

… provided booking details and personal info.

Him: Ok. I see. You can’t check in because that flight has been cancelled. (note the period at the end of that sentence)

… silence …

Me: Ok. So, what’s next?
Him: Well, it’s cancelled.

… silence … (except in my head where I’m screaming no kidding!)

Me: Ok. And how are you going to help me out with that? (Because I should totally have to ask for assistance when an airline cancels a flight … it’s totally my responsibility to figure all of this out).

Him: Well, I guess I can have a look to see what other flights there are.
In my head: Gee thanks for that!
Me: Ok.

**Side note: For those of you who aren’t aware, if an airline cancels a flight it is their responsibility to get you out on the next available flight. If that causes you to need hotels / meals or miss tours etc, that is where your interruption insurance kicks in, depending what you are covered for.

After five minutes or so he explained that he was checking flight routings, but there were not a lot of options on such short notice. (as if I had cancelled the flight on short notice, not them!)

Me: It’s ok. I’m a travel agent. I completely understand it takes awhile to look through flight options. Can you take a look at options through Chicago or Toronto? Maybe there’s a direct Toronto to Bangkok flight?

Him: I’m looking at everything.

(ok!)

Another five minutes passes (and no, I’m not exaggerating).

Him: Can you fly another day?
Me: Sorry. Not really, I have connecting flights in Asia and a tour that I would have to be caught up to. I’m not sure what United is going to do about that.
Him: Well there aren’t a whole lot of options.

Another five minutes passes.

Him: I’ve found you something leaving tomorrow morning with Air Canada to Toronto, to Newark, to Hong Kong and then on to Bangkok. You’d arrive around 10pm on August 15th. Will that work for you?

After getting him to repeat the full details of times etc, and double and triple checking that all of the 1 hour or 1.5 hour connections met minimum requirements for the airports I was going to, I decided that if there were absolutely no other options, I would take the flight with three stops (instead of my two original stops) and that it wouldn’t affect any of my other plans going forward. So, not so bad. That is, if all went according to plan and I was able to meet all of my connecting flights!

He puts me on hold this time to go take care of the ticket.
10 minutes later he comes back and advises that they have to call Thai Airways directly to ensure there is still room on the last leg of the flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok. He advised it would be another few minutes, but asked me to stay on the line. So, I did. After all, it was going to all be taken care of … right?

At approximately 49 minutes into the call (close to 10pm), we got disconnected.
(really? are you kidding me?)

So, back to Mr. Automated Man I go. My frustration has increased significantly at this point and Mr. Automated Man still can’t understand me! I ask for help, speak to an agent etc and he just keeps saying ‘I’d like to ask you a few questions to serve you better.’ This time he understood ‘Tucker’, but asked if I was Stephen. When I said no, he asked if I was Dorothy. When I said no, finally I was put in the hold queue again … Another 10 minutes …

A lady answers and I explain that someone else was looking into the situation. She checks the notes on the account and reiterates everything that the other guy said. Well, at least there were notes on the account!

Her: Are you ok with this option?
Me: It was the only option I was given. Are there other options?
Her: Let me have a look.

Five more minutes …

Her: That’s the best option I can find. It says here that we have to call Thai Airways for confirmation on the flight. Can you hold while I do that?
Me: I can, but that’s how I got cut off last time. The other guy was supposed to be calling Thai Airways. Is there a note on the account? Maybe he got through to them?
Her: No ma’am. I will have to call them for confirmation.

Easily another five minutes passed. (well, not so easily for me!)

Her: Thanks for patiently waiting. I’m still working on your file and trying to contact Thai Airways to confirm that ticket.
Me: Ok

Repeat …
Repeat again …

Her: Thanks for patiently waiting Ma’am. I’m sorry but Thai Airways isn’t open this evening. They re-open tomorrow. Can you call back then to confirm that segment of your trip?
(Seriously? It has taken two staff members and me being on hold a good 20-30 minutes under the guise of them checking with Thai Airways, just to find out that they aren’t open? Seems like that could have been relayed a little earlier.)
Me: Actually, no I won’t be able to, seeing as I will be flying all day with short connections in between all of my flights.
Her: Well, Ma’am that is the only way that you’ll be able to confirm that portion of your ticket from Hong Kong to Bangkok.
Me: And if I don’t confirm it, what will happen when I arrive in Hong Kong?
Her: They will have to check then to see if there is room on the flight for you.
Me: And if there is not?
Her: Then you would have to call us to see if we could find you another flight.

Alright … so at this point after a full hour and a half (or more) on the phone with United, I have become incredibly frustrated. No yelling. I was still mostly nice, but honestly!

Me: I’m not sure you are hearing what you are asking me to do. Based on the flights you are rebooking me on, I will be on a plane when they (Thai Airways) open and I can’t call them from a plane. I will not be able to call and confirm that flight.
Her: Let me put you on hold and I’ll see what we can do.

Her: Thanks for patiently waiting. I have noted the account and we will call Thai Airways to confirm that segment for you tomorrow. Can I get your contact number so that we can call you?
Me: Sure, but again, I will be flying nearly all day tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll be able to reach me on an airplane by phone. Can you email me and I’ll try to get WIFI if I have time between connections?
Her: We can leave a message on your voice mail.
Me: That’s fine, but I’m not sure if my phone will even be working in these other countries, so can you email it to me?
Her: Yes, we will do that as well.

After two hours of phone conversations and a lot of horrible hold music, I was now scheduled to leave at 8:50am on an Air Canada flight from Halifax to Toronto on August 14th, 47 minutes earlier than originally scheduled. Toronto to Newark. Newark to Hong Kong. Hong Kong to Bangkok (to be confirmed).

I got my confirmation number, reconfirmed that United would call Thai Airways the next day and finally got off the phone. I logged into Air Canada and did my online check in. Phew!

I called my mom. Talked to a couple of friends. Tried to breathe and then went to bed for my early morning rise at 5:30am.

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