Tuesday, June 2, 2009

United Airlines and My Bottle of Wine

Anyone who has flown with United understands why they always "exceed my expectations". It is because they are set so low. By these standards, today's check-in process set a new low point.

New Zealand has excellent wines. We bought one rather more expensive bottle to bring to the East Coast. It made it on Air New Zealand to Los Angeles. It made it from Los Angeles to Portland.

Friendly Readers Beware - if you are flying on United Airlines, at least out of Portland, OR, pack carefully.

As we entered the check-in gauntlet this morning at United Airlines, Portland International Airport, there was a man next to a scale asking us to weigh our bags. One was slightly over the 50 pound limit, another under. So, he asked us to move some weight between the bags to ensure that both were under 50 pounds.

While unpacking, we started to move the bottle of wine to the lighter bag. He informed us of a United regulation that bottles needed to be packed in a special styrofoam package available for purchase at a nearby store. We went to buy one. Here is what happened at the store:

The store only sells a 3-bottle packer. Too big for our suitcases. The lady in the shop asked if we were flying United. We answered yes. She replied with a knowing smile and a comment "they are the only ones who do this".

Then the man at the weigh-in suggested that perhaps it was too early to start drinking (6:30 am) but hinted that it was one solution.

We gave the bottle away. Hopefully the recipient will enjoy an excellent New Zealand wine.

Some additional information -

1. We have never been asked to pack wine this way before.
2. The United people we talked with acknowledge that the regulation is only posted internally and not on the internet.
3. The man at the weigh scale did not care in the least about customer service. He even informed me that if I did ever pack a bottle in a bag without the "special container" and it was seen in the X-Ray machine I would be thrown off the plane (a blatant lie).
4. The lady with the name tag "Customer Service" did not care about customer service and walked away from us when talking to her.
5. Another lady did talk but explained that even the Station Chief cannot change any internal regulation. It did not concern her that this "regulation" was not posted on the Internet with the Checked Bag info.

The lingering questions in my mind... How can this company remain in business if it constantly and consistently upsets it's customers? Will we need to bail them out with out tax dollars? It is the next GM?

And finally, after a month in Portland, this is the only time we encountered this level of "customer service" or anything remotely close. Therefore my conclusion is that this is a United Airlines phenomena and not the Portland norm.

Remember the tag line "Fly the Friendly Skies of United"?

P.S. - The next step in the gauntlet is the sometimes dreaded "security check" run by the TSA. This highly motivated team was friendly, communicative, alert, and professional.

P.S.S. - One of our new bags arrived at the destination ripped and destroyed during the trip.

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