Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How United Airlines Made Me Cry...Again

Consider this an unwelcome "Part 2" in the Series.  I can only hope there won't be a Part 3 ever.  And warning...this is a long one.

We've been back in Cairo now for two weeks, and I've still been seething over the treatment we received from UNITED AIRLINES.  NOT ONCE (delayed and cancelled flights), NOT TWICE (lies about when our lost luggage was sent to us --- gone for a week!), BUT THREE TIMES (you'll read about this one soon enough...).

Remember our travel saga from the beginning of our R&R?  If you missed it, click RIGHT HERE, and you too can relive our first United Airlines nightmare.

In summary, on R&R from Cairo, we decided to take the kidlets to Orlando.  We cost-constructed our travel as follows: Cairo --> Orlando ---> Pittsburgh (we're from NE Ohio) --->Cairo.

Our first leg was a UNITED AIRLINES codeshare with Lufthansa (4AM flight out of Cairo) which was cancelled 2 hours before takeoff.  Not cool.  Rebooked on another airline, we made it to Orlando eons later than initially planned.  Our checked baggage and stroller didn't arrive with us, but US Airways (which I now have a lot of love in my heart for) gave us a rental stroller, toiletries, and information about how to submit claims for expenses due to delayed baggage.  Our baggage arrived to our rented condo 48 hours later, our stroller 72 hours later, and US Airways kept in contact with us daily with updates until it all arrived.  In fact, US Airways is so awesome, that they have already sent us a check for the costs incurred due to our delayed luggage.  If only we could have flown on US Airways for all our flights!

Fast forward one week.  Our flights were booked Orlando to Dulles to Pittsburgh. To make a very long and painful story short(ish), United delayed our first flight by so much that nearly missed the flight in Dulles.  But the flight in Dulles to Pittsburgh was cancelled, so it ultimately didn't matter.  UNITED AIRLINES offered us this:  rebook 48 HOURS LATER (as in 11:00PM on a Saturday night) and a 10% coupon to an airport-adjacent hotel.  Wow. Just. Wow. 48 HOURS.  A worthless 10% off the hotel rack rates.  No way to get home.

So we decided to grab our luggage and rent a car and drive to Ohio.  But if you remember, they sent one of our bags RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.  Why? They had no idea and told us so.  I went to Colorado (for the military for my annual training) two days later with not a stitch of personal clothing.  I can only say, thank goodness they didn't send my military gear to Richmond.

Honestly, I kinda sorta thought that when we came to the end of our R&R, the Universe (or at least UNITED AIRLINES) owed us one.

When the fab hubby's parents dropped us off at the airport in Pittsburgh, I was ready.  I'd already checked the flight status --- On Time!  *Happy Dance* Toddler strapped in Britax on rolling cart? CHECK! Big kids loaded up with electronic goodies and sugary snacks? CHECK!  We were headed to Cairo.

But, of course, disaster, also know as UNITED AIRLINES, strikes.  When the fab hubby tried to check us in at the counter, we were in for a shock.  They had no record of our itinerary.  NO FREAKING WAY.  We pulled out our travel info and the ticket dude frantically looked for something in the computer, anything, about us.  He said "Were you on a flight from Dulles to Pittsburgh three weeks ago that we cancelled and tried to rebook you two days later?"  DUDE.  WERE WE EVER. "Ummm...someone deleted your tickets to Cairo."

This was where I became a wee bit psychotic.  I stepped up to the counter.  "Listen. We had tickets to go to Cairo today.  I don't care what YOU have to do to get us home.  But you're going to get us home and I don't care how.  I don't care if you have to fly us from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to China to CAIRO, but you are getting us home and it's not gonna be next week.  It's going to be today."  The poor kid.  He was actually nice and trying his hardest, but he was obviously frightened of me.  I had *that look*.  Plus, my left eyeball was twitching uncontrollably.

*typing*typing*typing*typing*franticphonecall*typing*franticphonecall* -- that was the United guy trying to help us out.

Ultimately, he wasn't able to get us out of the airport that day.  Instead, he booked us on nearly identical flights (Pittsburgh-->Dulles-->Frankfurt-->Cairo), but with a 9 hour layover in Dulles (shoot me).  I was waiting for an offer of help from United (one would think they would put us up in a posh hotel for this error), but no.  No offer, no assistance.  How very UNITED AIRLINES of them.

We called the fab hubby's super fab parents and they came and picked us up.  I felt pretty bad, because we'd already said our goodbyes. What an emotional roller coaster.

Plus, I was already mentally checked-out.  I was ready for home.  Our own beds, our own stuff, our car, our dogs, our jobs.  Our life.  It's in Cairo.  Hmmm...considering how I was feeling about Cairo just three months ago, maybe I should thank UNITED AIRLINES for helping me to see just how much Cairo had become home.  I didn't realize how much I loved it until I couldn't get to it.  So I guess in this muddle, there was a little silver lining.  But I think I would have preferred to have found out a different way.

In any case, we returned back to Ohio, did our best to enjoy the day and then readied for a different day of travel.  We arrived back at the airport bright and early the next morning.  As we checked in at the counter, we were told to "hold on, we might be rebooking you on different flights."  I looked at the fab hubby.  I quietly said "I can't take it.  If anything happens today, I'm just warning you, I'm gonna lose it."  And I stepped away.  The ticket counter girl retuned after a long phone call and said we were remaining on the booked flights.  She handed us our boarding passes - we noted that none of the seats on the Frankfurt to Cairo flight were seated together.  Not even close.  But we decided that we'd deal with that issue once we got to Frankfurt.  We found our terminal.  Sat down.  And waited and waited.  And waited.

DELAYED flight.  ARG!!  Of course.  An hour late, but still with the layover scheduled in Dulles, we had time.  The fab hubby took the kids for a walk; I sunk into the chair to play some Words With Friends.  And then it happened.  An announcement.  "Attention United Flyers.  Flight XXX to Dulles has been cancelled.  Please step up to the customer service counter in a single line.  Thank you."

That was it. I was done.  I grabbed all of our stuff (because the fab hubby was walking the kids) and hauled myself over to the line as fast as possible. I know the game - you gotta get in line up front or you'll be waiting for hours.  I could feel it.  The pin pricks behind my eyes.  The tingle.  Blink blink blink.  Don't let it happen.  Don't be that girl.  Don't.Cry.

The fab hubby and the kids were walking back - I saw them in the distance.  Jason mouthed to me "What's Wrong?" And like that, I was full-on insane.  My voice boomed across the terminal, "THEY CANCELLED THE FLIGHT".  It came out of my mouth in a deep, throaty, demon-like pitch.  I had no idea my voice could even sound like that.  Everyone around me moved about 10 feet away.  You could hear a pin drop.

My uncontrollable left eye twitch was back and with a vengeance.  Jason came up and calmly looked at me.  "I'll take your place in line.  Go with the kids."  I nodded.  I would not cry I would not cry I would not cry.

About 45 minutes went by and the fab hubby was back.  We were to be put on a flight to Newark and then to Frankfurt and then Cairo.  Two issues though:  1)the flight to Newark had the potential to be cancelled (it was currently delayed) and 2) we were on standby.  I wish I could say I was an awesome wife and I hugged him and told him he was so awesome getting us a new flight, even though it had issues.  Nope.  Instead I directed all my raging psychopathic anger on him.  I coolly looked at him (with my twitching eyeball) and said "and you left the counter?!!??  I wouldn't have left the counter.  You idiot.  You just got screwed.  Because either they are going to cancel that flight or we just won't get seats."  Damn.  I hate myself.  (Just now, typing out what I said is painful.  I now realize I was full-on crazy and I can't believe I treated him like that.)  But the fab hubby?  He went on being extra fabulous, sat down and started reading.  He refused to fight with me about it.  He took the high road, and with grace.  *More pin pricks at my eyes.* I could feel the tears coming.  I took a walk through the terminal and managed to brush them away.

I just wanted to go home.

An hour later, a miracle occurred.  The flight to Newark wasn't cancelled (they brought in a different plane, since the originally scheduled one was having 'technical difficulties' and was unflyable.  BTW - that's why the flight to Dulles was cancelled.  The plane didn't pass the pre-flight checks.)

And then about fifteen minutes later, another miracle occurred.  A really nice, really helpful UNITED AIRLINES employee brought us boarding passes to the Newark flight.  Three tickets for first class and two tickets for the row just behind first class.  Bona fide tickets.  I nearly cried, but out of happiness.  Of course, since I was so awful to the hubby, I desperately made sure he (and the big kids) sat first class; the toddler and I took the seats behind.

But then.  I looked out the window.  I saw our checked bags and the stroller on the tarmac from our originally planned Dulles flight. I knew immediately that we would get to Cairo but that it was incredibly questionable as to whether or not our bags (and the beloved stroller) would get there.  I asked the person who had helped us with the tickets and she said they were keeping them there to board them onto the Newark flight with us.  I didn't want to push the issue.  Gawd.  She could take our tickets away. (Really.  UNITED AIRLINES had already proven how easy it is to delete tickets.)

We subsequently made it to Newark and then Frankfurt.  In Frankfurt, my husband checked at the counter about our flight.  Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that when we were in Pittsburgh, UNITED AIRLINES had been unable to print one of the boarding passes for our Frankfurt to Cairo flight for Jason.  They told us it was because they had booked him first class and that they couldn't print first class boarding passes out.  When he checked in at Lufthansa, they told him that UNITED AIRLINES couldn't even issues first class tickets out!  And because of this, he, along with two of the kids' tickets had been cancelled (no idea why two of the kids' tickets were cancelled, but they were).  ARRG!!!  Lufthansa was able to fix the errors and issued us all boarding passes - and in roughly (and I really do mean just roughly) the same area of the plane.  *sigh of relief*

We found our terminal and sat down to relax.  While waiting, we saw three people from Cairo we knew!  Ah, the small world of the Foreign Service. I love it.  We were going home!

The flight home from Frankfurt was pretty uneventful.  Three of us were seated beside each other (and only because someone was kind and switched seats with Abby).  Owen was seated in the middle of a row behind me (with a very kind women who was happy to talk with him during most of the flight).  The fab hubby had a seat right behind Owen.  Truly, we were just happy to have seats.

Next thing I knew, we were in Cairo.  As I watched the conveyor belt spit out only one of our checked bags, I was pretty resigned.  We filed for the two lost bags and the stroller.  Inshallah, they would show up in a few days.

(And miracles of miracles, they did.)

Home. Home. Home. Home. Home.  We were home.

So, recap.  In a nutshell.  Our R&R travel nightmare. UNITED AIRLINES and our codeshare flights:
*Originally seven booked flights
*FIVE delayed/cancelled flights
*An attempt by UNITED AIRLINES to rebook us 48 HOURS later on a crappy late-night flight
*No help for hotel or rental car
*Luggage lost three times (only two related to UNITED AIRLINES), Stroller lost twice (only once related to UNITED AIRLINES)
*An ENTIRE DAY lost because UNITED AIRLINES deleted our tickets
*No offer of hotel even though it was UNITED AIRLINES that deleted our tickets
*Two flights affected by faulty planes (but thank you, UNITED AIRLINES, for not flying them.)

The flight from Pittsburgh to Newark.  Happy Bubs.
He's actually become a super traveller.

Love this.  Abby snuggled up to me on the flight to
Frankfort as best she could.

Exhausted.  Flight to Frankfort.


  1. Trust me...I remember your first posting on this and it has never left me. I am in the process of booking tix to CA for a Disneyland trip and I cringe when my Kayak results show United flights. Your recent experiences have me wanting to steer as far away from flying with them as possible! But I luckily, as a civilian, have the choice. My hubby (Army) always gets stuck with United and it's never been anything but pure awfulness. And it disgusts me that they have an "in" with the government in the form of a contract--I feel that that leaves them ZERO incentive to be customer oriented whatsoever.

  2. My baby flew United from Paris to Wyoming, and because of a plane problem, was delayed 9 hours in Paris. he got to Chicago way to late for his flight to Wyoming, so they put my child (aged 15) in a lounge to sleep on a couch all night because he was too young to send with the adults to a hotel. then, because his flight from Chicago to Wyoming was missed, his return flight to Cairo had been cancelled, so when my sister showed up to send him off to Cairo, back to us, there was no flight. She did a Heather on them, and somehow they managed to get him on his original flight to Denver, and then to Frankfurt, but with no confirmation of the Lufthana leg. But Lufthansa took care of him, and he got home fine.

    And we thought our story was bad...ha! If he's sworn never to fly United again, what does Heather say? And flying with kids is not the easiest thing.

    How have you made it up to fab hubby? you need a vacation away, just the two of you, no kids, and no United Airlines getting you there.

  3. Your story reminds me why we don't fly United anymore... Luckily we haven't had nearly the issues you all did, but I think we have just been lucky! Fortunately we are able to fly KLM/Delta from our current post in Romania, we'll see what the future holds though...

    PS: Loved the photos from Animal Kingdom!

  4. So I fly a lot. And I have to tell you that delays happen. Checked luggage is lost. And by the itinerary you took, you were destined for delays and missed flights regardless of the airline.

    Your main issue was with IAD-PIT, which would be on ExpressJet or SkyWest or one of the other smaller feeder airlines, not United directly. They always have poor on-time ratings, even in good weather, and you were flying during the summer storm season. For second tier airport, its usually easier and faster to fly into a hub and just drive - yes, even if its 4 hours. You can thank airline deregulation and the gutting of the FAA by tax-cut politicians for that inconvenience.

    Once you broke your flight legs by driving to PIT (I would've done the same!) United automatically cancelled the remainder of your flights. Its standard if you skip a leg - regardless of which one - without long talks with their customer representatives first. And that's across all airlines.

    On the rebooked seats - finding 4 seats together only happens months in advance. Best just to get on the plane and ask around. Folks generally are happy to move to unite families. I've done it often.

    As to luggage. Never check. Yes, that means packing less and it means never watching your flight taxi away with your bags on the tarmac.

    So overall, yes, United did mess up a few times. Yet you assign them too much blame. Travel is not seamless, which you should know from your own travels. Best is learn the tricks and roll with the punches. I've found http://flyertalk.com forums to be wondrous in learning how to navigate it all.

    One little trick - never stand in the airport customer service line. Call the 1-800 number the minute the flight is delayed and rebook asap.

    1. I'm going to guess that since you don't leave your name, email addy, or a blog you write that you aren't foreign service or military.

      Congrats on being able to choose the airline you want to fly with. We don't have the luxury.

      I"m also going to guess that from your cavalier attitude on how easy it is to fly without checking luggage that you have no children. And that you've never travelled to another country for over a month with children. Because then you'd know it's nearly impossible to carry everything on board. Including a stroller - which they force you to check.

      And now I realize that you definitely aren't serving in the military during that travel -- because then you'd know that you can't carry-on your military gear.

      Congrats on flying solo and flying with your bags.

      "Travel is not seamless." Really? You're going to give me a lecture about the intricacies of travel? That I should learn to 'roll with the punches'? Please. I get that. But just because bad things happen, doesn't mean we shouldn't expect more from the airline customer service. Like when my husband stood in line for 2 hours to be told that our cancelled flight was going to be rebooked 48 hours later. He told them we were opting to get a rental car. Good customer service would have let us know that the remainder of our itinerary would be deleted and taken care to ensure that it wasn't deleted. Instead, they said nothing --- because they don't care and because they have no one to hold them accountable for their actions.

      However, another airline we flew - US Airways WAS awesome during some bad stuff. Like when they issued us a rental stroller and toiletries to tide us over until our misdirected luggage arrived. Or when they called us every day with updates on our luggage. Amazing customer service. The kind we should expect and demand. United Airlines? I got to wait on the phone for customer service multiple times only to find out that I wasn't speaking to anyone who could do anything about my luggage. And that a supervisor "wasn't available". My favorite may very well be that they lied to us and told us that our lost bag was FedEx'd to us -- when it wasn't sent for another three days.

      United Airlines too much blame? Because we chose a complicated itinerary to travel we are to blame? Please.

      Your 'tricks of the trade' and 'insider secrets' scream of working for an airline.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Heather... Although awful (And I feel your pain while I was reading the post... traveling with little ones 'ain't that fun', anyway, so, the airlines should try to have some 'compassion' from us, suffering/exhausted parents, which they don't! Your post reminds me of our arrival (from IAD) to Mozambique (with unpleasant/long stops in Dakar and South Africa). In Jo'burg, after waiting for over an hour for our (checked out at the door!) baby stroller, a United Air staff finally came brining what was supposed to be the baby's carriage: only, it came in three distinct pieces, one of the wheels broken twice! We were like: "how would you imagine sir, we'll be able to stroll a child with this?" the answer from the staff: oh, you could try to glue it back together!"... Imagine tons of carry-ons, baby bag, bottles, a crying baby and exhausted parents. I just sat down by the baggage claim belts and started crying. This other couple, heading to Nigeria, on a CDC assignment, had two toddlers, and a foldable stroller. They OFFERED IT TO US... I'll never forget: another FS family took pity on us, and despite being tired, (probably smelly, from the long flight, baby spills, etc), I got up and hugged her, and kept crying. She may have thought I was crazy... not really, just an exhausted, traveling mom, with a cranky kid, a frustrated husband, having to deal with really, really bad airline customer service... thanks again, for putting it out there! Raquel.

  6. I feel your pain. You are superhuman for not freaking out more than you did. That jerk above is CLEARLY a United insider. Poo on him.

    xoxox to you! I hope your next trip is MUCH MUCH MUCH better.

    1. Thank you! My flights to LA for my marathon in October aren't booked through UNITED AIRLINES at all. And since I'm flying solo, not on orders, and for only a 5-day trip...I DO have the luxury to not have to check any luggage. :-)

  7. Heather:
    I didn't know you are such a talented writer...really... my sympathies for your flight. Thought you'd like the post below to know that you are not the only person (family) that United screwed:
    Jim Stanek, a disabled veteran and Paws and Stripes cofounder, claims United Airlines staff physically abused his service dog, Sarge, and verbally abused him during an unexpected three-day layover at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C.

    In a video posted to YouTube detailing the abuses, Stanek says the "nightmare" began on July 15, while he was at the ticket desk.

    "Some United Airlines employees were moving by and one of them was startled, turned, and kicked my service dog," Stanek says in the video. "Didn't kick her hard, but ... they kicked her."

    Stanek continues, saying he chalked it up to an accident and let it go -- even when it happened a second time by a different United staffer.

    The Daily Mail reports Stanek has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as traumatic brain injury (TBI) following three tours in Iraq, which makes standing in loud crowds and reading difficult. In the video, Stanek states the most traumatic part of the ordeal occurred when, while trying to get a hotel voucher after his flight was canceled for a second day in a row, the man at the ticket counter asked if he was "retarded" -- referring to his inability to stand in the line with everyone else, and read the paperwork.

    "I completely lost all composure at that point," he said in the video. "I started yelling, I used four letter words ... and I've worked very hard not to be like that."

    According to the blog Reduced Mobility Right, the U.S. Department of Transportation has opened an investigation into the incident, with the cooperation of the airline.

    "We are reaching out to the customer directly to discuss the events that he described," a spokesperson for United told Reduced Mobility Rights on July 21.

    1. Thank you for reading my blog! I've had great feedback from so many who've had similar experiences. I did read this when it came out (it happened during our first UNITED AIRLINES fiasco). So awful. I haven't seen any updates on it. I'd love to know the outcome.

  8. We had an equally bad series of flights almost 20 years ago, also involving United, and also involving a week in Orlando. I also had a fit on the last leg back to post, and ended up in Business Class for the rest of the trip. With my 6 & 7 year old. A good situation since 20 hours of travel was involved.

    And, as one of the other comentators noted, when the kids (then 11 & 12) were once stuck in Denver because they missed their flight to Seattle, United put them in the kid's room overnight. The accommodations were awful, but they were supervised. I seem to recall another airline just giving them a room a couple of years later. But the airline did set up the hotel transfers & wake-up call.

    Such is life in the FS.