Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

My Air Canada United experience

with one comment

United  N496UA at YVR

I am going to Chicago tomorrow. Following the advice given on the documents I printed off from the Air Canada booking I made, I went to the Air Canada web site to check in, using my Air Canada booking reference. The documents warn that the flight is a code share with United but nowhere do they inform me of the United flight number or, even more importantly, the booking reference used by United, which is different from the one given me by Air Canada. Both airlines are members of the Star Alliance, but apparently the degree of integration between Alliance members is far from complete, or even adequate. I wait on hold for someone from Customer Care listening to AC tell me all the exciting things I could be doing instead of listening to the adverts.

When I finally get through I am given the United booking code, and the person I am talking to even waits while I use that to log in to United’s check in on line. Once I know that has recognized me, I hang up, and start re-entering the information about my booking that the booking reference ought to have provided and then go through the on line check in process. Now I know that they do like people to use their app and get the boarding pass sent to their cell phones, but since I am not a United frequent flyer I am not really happy with that process. I have used cell phones for such things in the past and frankly the paper document seems to be much more likely to work first time with most gate readers. Though even then I have stood and watched while gate attendants type in my data manually. So I opt to print my boarding pass at home.

No, that won’t be possible. In fact, I get a message to tell me that I am not actually checked in. United says that it doesn’t have my passport number on file. So until a United representative can actually see my passport or I use the self service check in at the airport to scan my passport, I cannot have a boarding pass.

If United actually kept track of who flies on its planes, this might have been avoided. Since I have flown United. In fact my family has a store of United stories. Most recently I flew to New Orleans, via Chicago, on United: that was in May last year. So I would have used my current passport then: and none of my information has changed since. But, once again, because I am not a United Frequent Flyer I get treated like a second class citizen.

I used to think that maybe the treatment I got on United was something to do with how much I paid for the flight. Perhaps there is indeed even more market segmentation that is apparent from their loading preferences. Since my outbound flight on United to New Orleans was so grim, I actually upgraded to “better” seat for the return journey. That seat was actually in the row in front of the emergency exit, and would not recline. I cannot imagine how United could justify charging me the higher price for that seat and no-one has ever even tried to.

There is now a direct Air Canada flight between Vancouver and Chicago – though not at a time which I find acceptable. United, of course, will grimly hang on to its gate slots. There are clearly differences between allies and the extent of their co-operation is limited.

I remember a time when flying was enjoyable. When the journey was a fun part of the trip. When the skies were actually friendly.

Crepuscular Rays over MSY

POSTSCRIPT After posting this I heard from AirCanada on Twitter – who prefer to keep their conversations with customers private by using Direct Messages. Which I shall respect. But I will note that this DM thread extended back to last year, and I saw then that I raised exactly the same issue. I thought then that it had something to do with me paying for the flight with AirMiles, who of course handled the booking. I had rather expected that if I booked through Air Canada this time the experience would be different. I was wrong about that. I also think the problem lies with United and not Air Canada. I have never had any contact from United other than speaking to their employees during my travels.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2016 at 10:52 am

Posted in Transportation

One Response

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  1. Obviously some effective climate action going on here, if terrible service actually prevents people from flying.

    Eric Doherty

    July 8, 2016 at 7:21 pm


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