Dear United Airlines: It's Over!

United Airlines. It’s the company Denver loves to hate, the one that has caused sky-high stress levels and unhappiness for an untold number of fliers, the company many of us have no choice but to use since it dominates the gates at Denver International Airport.

The latest insult? Charging $15 to check a bag (your second suitcase cost another $25). It’s so annoying that United earned Westword’s Shmuck of the Week designation for doing so.

Back in August 2000 -- before gas prices spiked, before 9/11 – Westword ran a contest called “How United Airlines Ruined My Summer Vacation” that asked readers to submit stories about their worst experiences in the Friendly Skies. The winner won two roundtrip tickets on Frontier, Denver’s homegrown airline.

United has more excuses these days, but that doesn’t change the fact that the airline still ruins a lot of summer vacations and travel in general (For a sad Thanksgiving story, click here.)

Our latest story again comes from one of our own. You can read it below, and be sure to buckle your seatbelt, then click on the link above to check out our eight-year-old contest:

Dear United Airlines:

I don't know how I can thank you enough for ruining my last several trips with you. I know that I'm tempting fate when I book a flight with you, and yet somehow I always convince myself it will be alright and that the convenience of flying direct out of Denver will be worth it. Well, I've learned that it's not. Yep, United, me and you -- we're over.

It was bad enough last year when our Hawaii vacation was cut short by an entire day and we nearly missed my husband's grandma's big birthday celebration (not to mention the fact that we were only allowed to leave Denver after six hours of delays because everyone on the flight agreed to fly on a plane that we were told was missing one of its brakes). But when you mismanaged and generally screwed up just about every aspect of my recent trip to Albuquerque, well that, that was the end.

It was May 23, and my husband and I were getting ready to drive to the airport for our 9:30 p.m. flight from Denver to Albuquerque. But first we checked the status of our flight online, and, lo and behold, it was delayed by an hour. Well, okay, so we were lucky not to be stuck at the airport yet, so we stayed home and ordered a pizza.

We checked again and discovered that the flight is delayed another hour. Fine. We waited some more and finally left the house around 9:30 p.m. (the time our flight was originally scheduled for). Airport security was a breeze. But once we reached the concourse, the extra long line of people waiting at customer service was a foreboding sight. Indeed, our flight time was delayed yet again to 12:30 a.m.

Even then, we were just happy that we still had a flight and that it hadn’t been canceled entirely, although I was starting to wish we had just driven. Even with the cost of gas, it would have been a little cheaper, and if I'd left straight from work I'd be in Albuquerque before the flight was now scheduled to depart. So I asked the woman at the desk if she was absolutely certain the plane would be taking off at 12:30. I told her that if there was going to be another delay I wanted to get a refund and drive. She promised that the plane would be leaving that night (by then it was technically morning, but you get the point).

At 12:30 a.m., we all piled onto the plane, only to discover shortly thereafter that there was no pilot to fly it. Apparently – and just as with my ill-fated Hawaii trip -- the pilot who’d been scheduled would have gone into illegal overtime if he’d flown us.

And with that, our flight was unceremoniously cancelled.

I was mad, sure, especially since no one at United seems to have been trained in how to apologize for their mistakes, or to treat upset and tired travelers with respect. But at least I hadn't checked any bags since there was no one there to unload them, we were told, or a pressing engagement early the next morning, as some of the passengers did.

We were re-booked on a flight for the next morning (which was also delayed, but that's a whole other rant). The worst for us was when we found out that United didn't have taxi or hotel vouchers for us to get back home. We were told to pay out of pocket (and thankfully we could afford that) and that we'd be reimbursed later. We were given a price limit and told where to send the receipts. I did all of that. I even called several times to be sure I was sending the receipts to the right place.

But here's where I get really angry. After waiting two weeks for a reimbursement check of nearly $200 to come in the mail, I instead received two travel vouchers for a "Future trip on United" (that I will never, ever be using) worth $125 each. Oh, and a letter stating that the airline wasn’t going to pay me back after all. Forget about what the employees had told us that night. Forget about what people on the phone said. Nope, United had no intent of keeping their word, and I know I'm not the first since I have since become close friends with -- a site devoted to United airlines complaints.

After several more phone calls and emails to United, I was eventually told that if I mail back the vouchers, United will send me a check. It probably helped that I used the word "litigation" in my complaint (I know how to use small claims court and I'm not afraid to do it). It's been a week since I mailed the vouchers back and three and a half weeks since my cancelled flight. I'm still waiting.

Sincerely, Aubrey Shoe

To let us know how United ruined your summer vacation, write us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes