A Surprisingly Painless Interaction with United Reservations

Anyone who has had the pleasure of dealing with United’s reservation agents since they shipped the majority of calls overseas knows that it’s generally one of the most unpleasant experiences imaginable. I’ve had countless problematic interactions with some Indian agent conveniently named “Mark” or “Mr Smith” or anything else generically American in the past, and I’ve rarely left the call feeling satisfied. In fact, I consider it a victory if I find an agent that I can actually understand, so when I had to call the reservations line this week, I braced for the worst. Shockingly, it turned out very well.

I only called into reservations because I had no other choice. When I decided to hit the road for a cross-country trip last November, that left me with a $242 United ticket that I wouldn’t need to use. Subtracting the hefty $150 change fee, I still had a meager $92 left. And thanks to a phone call I received this week, I was able to put that $92 to good use and even have some credit left over.

How is that possible? Well let me back up. I received a call from Southwest saying that I was actually one of the two winners in their contest to build the best schedule. (Seems unrelated to United, I know, but stick with me) They offered to fly me out for a celebration, and considering that I would have the chance to meet founders Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett, I certainly couldn’t say no. (“Giddy like a school girl” is probably a good way to describe it.)

But after Dallas, I still needed to come back to Phoenix for the aviation symposium. Southwest would get me to Dallas and back to Phoenix, but I had to get back home to LA at the end of the week. That would be the perfect way to use my United credit. I looked and they had a ticket for a mere $59 one way (thank you, slowing demand), so I was ready to go. Just one problem. You can’t use your old credit online. I had to call reservations and that always means trouble. Would they charge me the $25 phone reservations fee even though there was no other option? I braced for the worst.

The agent that answered the phone had a slight accent and tone that led me to believe he was Filipino. First victory: I could understand him. I told him my situation, and he surprisingly didn’t have to ask for clarification. He pulled up my reservation, said that the $25 phone reservations fee didn’t apply, and quickly took care of it for me. Then he took my address and said the remaining $32 of the credit would just be sent to me in the mail for future use.

Let’s forget about how ridiculous it is that United can’t handle this transaction online and just appreciate the fact that the airline actually, adequately served me via their phone reservations team. Good work. It’s amazing how well low expectations can frame something as a win even though it should be routine, no?

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