from Bloomberg’s article about United Airlines

United Breaks Luggage*

What to expect when checking luggage with United Airlines.

<rant>
Disclaimer: This article reflects my own experiences, frustrations, opinions, and observations. It’s
not based on thorough research. I wrote this to vent against a clueless corporation, one that claims customers are important to it, all the while treating them and their property like $#!t.

I’ve been flying United (and previously Continental) for years. In my professional services days I was a Platinum member of their frequent flier programs. Until recently, I went out of my way to find a United flight, even when the competition might have been cheaper. But my last 2 flights with United left a bitter taste in my mouth. And it had nothing to do with the flights themselves, or the stale, expensive snacks served on them.

On my last 2 flights United broke my luggage.

This January, I flew from Newark, NJ, to SFO. Since I had time, and didn’t want to struggle with hefting my carry-on into the overhead compartment, I checked it. As I pulled my carry-on off the carousel at SFO, I felt a strange wobbliness within a couple of steps. I looked down, and realized that one of the wheels, and the plastic it was connected to, were totally mangled. 
I went to the United counter, and pleaded with the guy for several minutes. Apparently, they are not liable for wheels; nothing could be done; read our policy, etc. 
After about 10 minutes of fruitless negotiation, I pulled out my “doomsday weapon” — to be used only as a last resort on corporate representatives: “How would you feel if this was your bag?” That got him to go inside and confer with his supervisor. He came back and said they’ve decided, as a one-off, to give me a brand new carry-on — but only because I was such a long time frequent flier. He proceeded to go to a room full of various brand new pieces of luggage, and tried to match mine: size, looks, number of compartments (oh yeah, they have a wide variety), finally settling on the closest piece. I hastily repacked and jumped in a cab. On the way, I told my girlfriend that her beloved carry-on has been killed by United. She still doesn’t like the replacement.

Last month, we returned from a vacation in Hawaii (again, via SFO). We picked our bag off the carousel and jumped into a cab. We probably should have stopped to assess the bag’s status at the airport; but we were dead tired after a red-eye + connection.
Upon arriving home, we discovered that the bag was open, one of the zippers was completely torn off, the other was mangled, and the rubber at the bottom of the suitcase has been torn.

One zipper torn, another gone, bag left open (the top one is a different compartment zipper)

We quickly verified nothing was stolen, and went to sleep. The following day, I called United’s customer support. I got a short run-around, told that it was too late to complain, and finally told I have to go back to the airport and file a complaint. I told the lady I’m not traveling back to the airport. She referred me to their online support form.

Take a couple of minutes to locate the form: count the number of clicks, and number of FAQs about damaged luggage you’ll need to go through. Try to navigate the site with your adblock on. (I’ll save you some time: ignore all the links discussing contacting them about lost or damaged luggage — they all lead to FAQs and articles explaining that they’re not liable. Instead, go here: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/Contact/customer/default.aspx).

Fill in all the details they could have easily pre-filled from your flight ref #, or profile. Take a deep breath, and write a complaint that does not include the expletives bouncing around your head:

Dear sir/madam,
We just returned from our Hawaii vacation. We checked a single bag. Upon getting home, we realized the bag was open, one of the zippers was completely torn off, and the second was mangled — its handle part torn off forcefully. In addition, the suitcase’s rubber lining was torn. Please see attached photos.
Our first thought was that someone broke into our luggage — thankfully it had nothing but cloths and laundry in it.
I just got off the phone with the luggage department where I heard there’s nothing to be done — I’m beyond the 1 day allotted for a complaint. Either that, or I have to drive to Portland airport and complain (I reside in Washington and would not really consider a trip to Portland worthwhile).
This is the second time this year that United has ruined a bag I own. The first time, on Jan. 22 to SFO, the bag looked so mangled, that your guy at the airport gave me a brand new bag to replace it. (This flight also passed through SFO — is there a pattern here?)
I’ve been a United (and previously Continental) avid customer for over 10 years now. I always trusted the company to get me safely to my destination, and handle my luggage professionally and respectfully. I must convey my utter disappointment at this handling and at the fact this is a repeated occurrence.
I’d like to hear how do you intend to address this incident, and what would be your advice regarding checking luggage with you in the future.
Regards

Upload 3 photos. Click continue. Wait 2 minutes. Receive HTTP 500 error. Go back, refill form, click continue. Wait 2 minutes. Receive HTTP 500 error. Open Chrome Developer Tools. Switch to Network pane. Realize page fails to upload images. Decrease image quality. Refill form, click continue. Wait 2 minutes. Receive HTTP 500 error. Try minimizing further. Refill form, click continue. Wait 2 minutes. Receive HTTP 500 error. Finally decrease photo size to < 1MB. Refill form, click continue. Wait 2 minutes. Success!

(For the record: uploading the same photo you see above to Medium took 3 seconds, and was seamless. But then, Medium was not developed by a group of evil trolls, who don’t want you to use their page.)

Receive case ID. Receive automated email, promising you’ll be contacted within 7–10 business days:

Your feedback is very important to us. Your perspective is important to shaping the future United experience.
Our Customer Care team will address your email and respond back to you shortly. Response time is generally within 7–10 business days.

Wait 7–10 business days. Get nothing. Wait another week. Nothing. Respond to the email (CustomerCare@United.com):

Dear sir/madam,
 I’ve yet to receive any reply to my customer support request (Case ID number 12130415) from 5/25 — more than 10 business days have passed.
 My original appeal conveyed my disappointment with the way you treat my luggage. I’m hoping that the line about how my feedback is important to you is not just part of a template, but an actual commitment to good customer service.
 
 Awaiting your reply

Receive another template email:

Your feedback is very important to us. Your perspective is important to shaping the future United experience.
Our Customer Care team will address your email and respond back to you shortly. Response time is generally within 7–10 business days.

This one has a new case ID. They opened a new case to answer the old case… within 7–10 days. 
Wait. Nothing. Find United Airlines on Twitter:

The skies may be friendly, the airline… not so much.

Find a tweet in which they specifically ask for complaints:

Maybe you can afford to ask for complaints when you have just 135 followers?

Tweet @UnitdAirlines with case ID. Nothing. Tweet again:

After a while, I got this email:

*** This is an automated response confirming the receipt of your email. Please do not reply ***
Thank you for contacting United Airlines. Your message has been received and will be directed to a member of our Baggage Resolution team for review and research.

That was a week ago. Since then, nothing.

Airlines keep forcing people to check more luggage so they can collect $35 per piece. Have you tried fitting your carry-on through the metal bracket they provide at the airport? This thing keeps shrinking between flights. 
Add the fact that airline consolidation is leading to fewer, fuller flights. How many times last year have you heard the sentence: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re expecting a full flight today, so at this time, we’ll be asking for volunteers to gate check their carry-ons. If you’re in boarding group 3–5, you may as well check it as your chances of finding free overhead space are slim”?

With more and more checked baggage— by design — airlines should be more accountable for the way they treat our luggage. But even more than that, be responsive once they damage it. Have more customer support representatives. Make your online forms usable. Actually respond to emails, rather than having your system spew out template emails, in the hope that customers will eventually give up.

The Bloomberg article, from which I borrowed the top image, is titled “UNITED’S QUEST TO BE LESS AWFUL” (caps in original title). My advice? Spend less time telling me how important my feedback is, and start acting on it.


* The title of this article is inspired by Dave Carrol’s brilliant United Breaks Guitars. When United broke Dave’s Taylor guitar, and refused to acknowledge their culpability, he took to YouTube with a series of very catchy songs:

Dave’s songs, describing the bureaucracy and stupidity he had to deal with, ended up causing United a significant PR damage. 
Sadly, I can’t write catchy tunes (anyone out there interested?). All I can do is vent on Medium, and tweet the article’s link back at United.
Maybe if you share it, we can shame them into improving.

</rant>

<update>
6–28–2016: Just off the phone with a nice lady from the baggage resolution center. According to her, she just got to my original email (sent 5 weeks ago). Long story short, I got an apology and was offered a refund on buying a new suitcase, or a travel voucher. I consider the matter resolved. 
I neglected to ask if any of them saw this Medium article :)
</update>