A Pox on United Airlines: Join my email campaign

This miserable airline battered my trusty rolling suitcase into uselessness and then blew me off.  Join my email campaign (see bottom) to let United know that we customers won't put up with this abuse.

They told me they had no liability for wrecking my luggage!

  • It didn't matter that I travel a lot in my business and am a target customer. 
  • It didn't matter that I have been a Mileage Plus member since the 1980s.
  • It didn't matter that I've flown hundreds of thousands of miles on United.

Marketing Lesson No. 1: Treat your long-time clients well.  Don't do things to make your customers hate you.

I knew I was in for a bad time when I landed at the airport and my suitcase was not on the conveyor belt.  I reported my lost luggage and the United Airlines agent, who gave me an 800 number to call if my bag wasn't found soon.  When they later delivered it to my house, the extendable handle was jammed shut.  The suitcase would no longer roll, which was the point of having it.  Plus the metal zipper pull had been torn off.

Marketing Lesson No. 2: Don't damage your customer's belongings.

I called the 800 number, which led to a voice mail maze.  All I could learn were the hours the United luggage office was open way back at the airport.  There was no way to call ahead to find out if they would fix the suitcase.  So I had to drive 45 minutes, park my car half a mile away, and carry the damaged bag to the United office.

Marketing Lesson No. 3: Make it easy for your customers to reach you. Adding a personal touch by not hiding your contact information is what people want.

The moment I showed the United agent the bag, she blurted, "we're not responsible for damage to the luggage exterior."  I asked, "then what are you responsible for?"  She pulled out heavily-photocopied form (click on the image to see it full-size) that said the airline was not responsible for broken wheels or feet, lost pull straps, pockets, pull handles, hanger hooks and more.  It was outraged.  "Just because you say so, now I have to incur the cost of a new suitcase."  Then I added, "I'll be flying Southwest from now on."

Marketing Lesson No. 4: If you make a mistake, take responsibility for it.  Don't tell the customer "that's just too bad.".

If you have ever had a bad experience with United's baggage handling, please join me in emailing

Graham Atkinson
United Airlines Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer
Email: graham.atkinson@united.com

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Comments (18) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mark Robertson - April 4, 2008 10:34 AM

I don't think I have ever had a good experience on United - that is why I stopped flying them 15 years ago!

pd - April 4, 2008 12:07 PM

hey larry, i work for the miserable airline u r writing about...to make our passengers even more miserable, ual is pulling off a flight attendant on 757's on flts under 5 hours...2 flight attendants to work the back of the aircraft...sound like fun?? have a good day!

John F. Stottle - April 4, 2008 12:25 PM

It may be hard for me to be objective since I am a retired (pensionless) pilot but UAL is not the airline it once was. Bill Patterson, where are you now that we need you????

freh fahey - April 4, 2008 1:28 PM

Get over it and grow up !

This looks like another case of someone telling you NO and you just have to stamp your feet and hold your breath

Pissed OFF - April 4, 2008 3:32 PM

I echo pd's sentiment...Larry, please understand that it's not the front line employees that are the problem...it's management! Outsourcing almost most of the jobs to the lowest bidder, in maintenence, cleaning, ramp services and reservations...all while working all of us that are still actual employees to the limit, this is why you have seen a downfall of this once great airline.

js - April 4, 2008 4:33 PM

No need to worry Larry, Glenn Tilton has $40 million dollars of the employees money, I'm sure he'll buy you a new suit case!

sparky - April 4, 2008 7:59 PM

You go Larry! The fine management team at UAL don't give a damn about your suitcase, its customers, its shareholders and its employees! They just want to take the money and run. Why would they care when the top five executives made over $100 million in wages, stock options and bonuses...They are the scum of the earth, so why would they care about your suitcase?! It's all about them and no one else matters!

Rob - April 4, 2008 10:06 PM

Larry, take comfort in knowing that UAL treats its employees just as bad as it treats its customers. At least all of us who have been screwed by Tilton, his buddies & UALs board of directors know that there is a SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL WAITING FOR THEM.

You cheap ass lawyer - April 5, 2008 2:01 PM

I bet the suitcase was broke to start with. Smart passengers don't check bags!!!

Rob - April 5, 2008 5:43 PM

Do you feel like someone robbed you Larry? Glenn Tilton can't steal anymore from UAL employees (blood from a turnip) but he still has to feed his greed so guess who's left. People like you Larry. Too bad you didn't check in two bags...Glenn could have pocketed that extra 25 bucks.

Tommy - April 5, 2008 8:56 PM

I have worked for the once great now miserable airline for almost 20 years, but I would have to take the airlines side in this one, I am sorry about the poor customer service, but do you realize how many bags we would be replacing if everyone that claimed we did the damage got reinbursed. There is a lot of beat up bags that go through check in that should be in the trash, and a lot of people who would say look what you did to my bag when they pick them up.
One more thing, Larry you are a lawyer, you guys live on reading the fine print, I am a mechanic and found the damaged bag policy in about a minute.

dl - April 6, 2008 11:05 PM

Larry, don't bother....i work for this airline, they do not care...period.

ual - April 8, 2008 6:20 PM

Larry, Was your bag a little heavy? I know the employees are so disgruntled that they will damage bags on purpose, especially if they are heavy! I saw this first hand for almost 10 years until I quit. I have a number you can call if you like. It is a UAL inside number 1-773-601-help ask for a service director. Hope this helps.

Brian - April 11, 2008 9:51 AM

A pox on lawyers and "Law Marketing Consultants".

It seems odd that someone who caters to the law profession (probably a lawyer yourself) would complain when he gets screwed. Some UAL corporate lawyer probably has paid money to a big law firm for an opinion that lets UAL belive they are off the hook for your bag.

You and your clients created the system and are part of the problem mate.

Brett - April 13, 2008 2:01 AM

Dear Mr Atkinson,

I am very frustrated with the customer service I have been receiving regarding my lost baggage - report filed on April 5th, 2008. I'm hoping that you or someone can direct your staff to take responsibility in returning my suitcase to me which was reported located on April 8th. Here are the facts below.

4.04.08 - My suitcase was left behind in the airport at Delhi India.

4.05.08 - I arrived in San Jose, California via United Airlines. I filed report to request my suitcase from Delhi.

4.08.08 - United Airlines Customer Representative (UACR) at the 800-221-6903 number told me that my suitcase was located - verified this via contents and appearance - and said my suitcase would arrive that evening via Continental Airlines flight 462 in San Jose. I contacted customer service two more times that evening and they told me they had sent an urgent request to Continental Airlines twice to hand over my suitcase to United Airlines.

4.09.08 - UACR at 800 number said they still did not have my suitcase, and would again request it from Continental Airlines. In the evening after work I then visited the San Jose United Airlines Baggage department. They said that they did not have my suitcase. They told me that my suitcase would travel the following route to get to the San Jose airport location and may arrive later that evening. The route is: Jet Airways fl. 230 from Delhi to Brussels. Jet Airways fl. 228 Brussels to Newark. Continental Airlines fl. 462 Newark to San Jose.

4.10.08 - UACR at 800 number said my suitcase will arrive via Continental Airline flight 462 on Friday evening. I contacted your customer support department to see if I could get better assistance in this matter, and they referred me back to the baggage claim department after offering a 75.00 voucher for my inconvenience. This offer did not alieve my frustration in any manner whatsoever.

4.12.08 - UACR at 800 number said they are checking with Continental Airlines about getting my suitcase from them. I asked to speak to a baggage claim supervisor twice and was put on hold and then disconnected. On my third try I was finally connected to Supervisor Ufhil Kumar. He said that he would contact Continental Airlines to see if it has my suitcase. I told him that based upon my experience so far that I doubted that they had it and I asked him to also contact Jet Airways to assure that my suitcase is put onto the airplane so I can receive it. He said I could contact Continental Airlines myself via number 800-525-0280 and ask if my suitcase is on flight CO 462 and give them number baggage number 569006.

4.12.08 cont'd - I contacted Continental Airlines at the provided number and the person I spoke to said this was the wrong department and gave me a different number: 800-335-2247. I called this number and reached the Continental Airlines baggage claim department. The customer service representative contacted her San Jose Continental Airlines airport office to check if my bag was there. I was told the following: first, they had never received any contact from United Airlines to check for my suitcase on any flight, and second, they do not have my suitcase.

This is where things currently stand. I hope that you can understand my extreme frustration and that you will take the necessary steps to recover my suitcase ASAP. More than likely my suitcase is still in the Delhi airport.



Jolene - June 9, 2008 7:27 PM

I join! They lost my luggage and treated me like crap in a time of crisis, canceled flights and refuse to talk to me.. I am SO completely angry I don't know what to do because they obviously just don;t care. They stole form me and are getting away with it.

DFalarski - August 7, 2008 3:01 AM

I'll restrain myself from using this space to vent all my frustrations with UAL because I could fill pages. I'll just join the chorus of the disgruntled for now. Midsummer storms should come as no surprise to Chicago folks, but somehow United managed to be woefully understaffed during the recent weather crisis at O'Hare. Their waiting lines for customer service were unbelievably long, yet there were no extra agents on the floor trying to help move things along. Word had it that there would be no accommodations or ground transport offered to those who were stranded. All of our flights were cancelled, so we ditched the line and at our own expense took a taxi to a room near Midway Airport. We paid Southwest to get us back to California and swore United off until their management exhibits less greed.

Naveen - December 22, 2008 5:18 PM

I'm also one like you, who was affected by United. I travelled from Austin to Chicago with one cabin bag. From Austin, I boarded Continental flight and reached Houston (transit) without any problem. But while boarding the United flight from Houston (flight# 346) at 5:35pm on 12/1/08, one of the crew members asked me to check-in the cabin bag as there is no space in the flight. But only after boarding the flight, I figured out that there was a lot of space in the overhead locker at the back of the aircraft.

Although I was not ready to check-in my cabin baggage which had my digital camera, I didn't have any other option. So I checked it in and got the receipt. The receipt only had the flight# (346) and my seat. In Chicago-O'Hare airport (8:30pm), I waited for more than an hour but I didn't receive my bag. So I informed to an United official about the delayed baggage and filed a report to deliver it in my home address. I was told that I will receive my baggage within 24 hours.

Next day (12/1/08) evening at 6pm, I got a call from a lady who has come with my bag. As soon as I received my bag, I checked for my Canon Digital camera in front of the lady and found that it was missing. So I didn't sign the acceptance form and sought the help of United's Customer Support.
The only reply I have been getting from the Support is "United is not responsible for the items in the checked-in baggage".

If United has such a "crazy" policy, then what is the use of checking in the baggage and getting the receipt. I think the employees at United are well aware of this policy and making use of it.

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