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Heaving on a jet plane

United Airlines sucks. You know it. We know it. Even the people who run United know it, but they won't admit it -- at least, not to their customers. And this summer has been especially sucky. Just as Congress was realizing its mistake in dumping last year's airline passengers' bill of rights (in June, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that customer service was still terrible for the industry as a whole; customer complaints were up 74 percent in the first four months of 2000; and, among other things, airlines continue to lie about why they cancel or delay flights), the numbers came out ranking United at the bottom of the heap in terms of on-time arrivals, canceled flights and lost bags.

Then United -- which controls about two-thirds of the flights at Denver International Airport -- began canceling flights in the midst of its busiest summer season ever, citing problems with various employee unions and other obstacles, such as "weather" (see lying, above). As a result, DIA is awash in United horror stories.

For example: A Westwordstaffer recently returned from London via United. At Customs in Newark, she attempted to collect her luggage and found that her garment bag had been mutilated, and her grandmother's century-old, hand-stitched linen coasters and lace doilies, which had been carefully packed in the bag, were now strewn all over the baggage area and covered with black grease. Shocked, she complained to United personnel and was told to file a claim when she landed in Denver. She surrendered the damaged goods at DIA and filled out a claims form, hoping to get enough money to pay for cleaning the linens. When the damage assessor called, he said she'd been cut a check for $139 -- but that the irreplaceable linens had been tossed, per United policy. Our staffer complained. Loudly. A few hours later, a chagrined United employee called to report that he'd personally searched the DIA dumpsters and had found her heirlooms.

She's since received the grimy linens -- but is still waiting for the check.

Few United sagas have endings as close to happy as this one, however. And so we want to know: What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you while flying (or trying to fly) United? Vent some spleen, share your woes and enter our What United Did to My Summer Vacationcontest. You can enter by e-mail (editorial@westword.com), fax (303-296-5416), on the Web (at westword.com/unitedairlines -- where you'll also find full contest details) or, if you're stuck at DIA waiting for your delayed flight, by phone (303-296-7744). Whoever tells the absolute worst story (with verification in the form of ticket stubs, correspondence with said airline, etc.) wins a round trip on...Frontier Airlines.

Which, by the way, has no official role in this contest, but was picked for the honor because it's Denver's homegrown airline. And quite often on time.

 
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