So, you might remember my original and then my follow-up rants about United Airlines and how it wanted me to give my credit card billing information to a friend for whom I was buying a plane ticket or they wouldn't let her check in.
She ended up having to cancel her flight, leaving us with a credit with United to use up, so last night we made a reservation. This time we:
- Made a three-way call to United reservations instead of using the website;
- called from my home billing number;
- paid with my United Airlines Mileage Plus Visa card;
- gave them my and her United Mileage Plus numbers
Did the guy who made the reservation tell us that there would be a problem with me paying for the ticket? He did not. No, only after the email came with the confirmation number in it did they tell me, in big red letters, that she'd have to have the credit card at the time of check in.
We were still on the phone with him at the time, so I pointed this out to him and told him he should have warned me of this, and asked what I was supposed to do, since the credit card and my friend live in different cities -- hence the trip, yo.
Don't worry, he rushed to assure me; in fact, even if she had the credit card in her hand, and all my billing information, they wouldn't allow her to check in. No, I simply had to go to the "nearest airport" and present my card at any United counter prior to her departure and it would be fine.
Now, since I live less than half an hour from San Francisco's airport, this isn't the end of the world. I can only imagine, however, if this had happened when I still lived up in Sonoma County, three hours in each direction from the nearest airport. But I digress.
I complained, firmly but politely, that this was the most ridiculous policy on earth. I was supposed to spend an hour on the road, pay for parking, and stand in line at one of the nation's busiest airports, just to hand over my credit card to a human being?
It was certainly safer, albeit less convenient, than the earlier policy, now not available at all, of having to give your billing information to someone, such as your deadbeat drug-addicted teenager that you're flying home after he was released from a Mexican prison, but on the other hand, the bait-and-switch of not letting me know about this minor little detail prior to finalizing the ticket purchase, plus the excuse that this is to protect me from fraud, is too much.
Hello United Airlines, do you think I'm stupid? I'm already protected from fraudulent use of my credit card by what few remaining consumer protection laws still exist. This regulation is to protect you from claims by your customers that they didn't, in fact, purchase a plane ticket for someone else after the fact. It's not like you can repossess a flight that's already been taken.
The thing is, plenty of companies have to deal with purchases that can't be repossessed. I've spent more money on a single meal at an expensive restaurant than this flight cost. I've spent more on shoes, including shoes I've sent to other addresses than mine as gifts. And I've bought many, many plane tickets over the years, including from United, without anything like this. The reality of the world we live in now is that people buy things online and over the phone, and we use credit cards. When your own regular customers can no longer do that, they will also no longer use your company. It's that simple.
There is no other option, he said, to verify my card. It doesn't matter that we have nearly a month before the flight, that I was calling from the billing address and phone number on the credit card, that I was using my United Mileage Plus Visa card, the billing information for which lists that phone number, that both of us had United frequent flyer memberships, nothing.
Because we wanted to use the credit from the canceled ticket, we went ahead with the reservation; I don't even know if we could have canceled it at that point or not. But I'll tell you this: I will never, ever fly on United Airlines again. I suggest you not fly with them, either, because if they have one idiotic customer service policy, they surely have a hundred.
The only silver lining to this whole saga is that someone told me about gethuman.com, a website that tells you how to bypass pretty much every corporate automated phone system on the planet, and get to a real person. I used it to make this reservation, and thus, my blood pressure started out considerably lower than it normally does.
So, the takeaway message is this: GetHuman.com yes, United Airlines? Never again.