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Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: My worst consumer experience

February 09. 2013 9:44PM

I have heard countless stories about horrific experiences people have had as consumers. Personally, I've had my share of bad experiences dealing with companies that have no clue how to treat their customers. But this past week I had an experience that ranks as my number one worst consumer experience.

My experience had to do with an airline, which I know isn't very unique. If you haven't already, at some point you'll deal with some type of frustrating situation related to traveling. It's just bound to happen. But my experience was a lot more than a simple mistake.

Last October, I booked a flight with United Airlines through for my wife and me to meet friends for a long weekend in Orlando, Fla. In December, the weekend plans changed, and the location was moved to Washington, D.C. I contacted and changed our flights. United Airlines charges a $150 fee per ticket to change the flights, which I expected and of course paid. I received the new itinerary from detailing the change and summarizing the new flight information.

The Friday before our flight, I went to check in and print our boarding passes online. I was unable to check in, and I received an error message saying I should contact United. I proceeded to call United, and they informed me that they did not show me as having a ticket for that flight. Clearly, there was a mistake, as I had the itinerary from showing us booked on the flight.

I then called, and they explained that the agent made an error when I switched our flights back in December. Fortunately, they were able to rebook us on the same flight, although they did say the price had gone from $250 a ticket to $900 a ticket. They acknowledged it was their error and that they would cover the price difference. The flight the next day went smoothly, and there were no issues.

Eight days after my flight, I checked my bank account and found two charges from United Airlines for a total of $1,600. To make matters worse, they charged my debit card, which links directly to my checking account. To say I was irate would be an understatement.

And then, the most painful consumer experience of my life began. I called United, and they suggested I call Expedia. I called Expedia, and they suggested I call United. Neither company offered a resolution, and I was left hanging. The reality was that Expedia was the guilty one here. They gave my debit card information to United, which I did not authorize, and I was charged additional money for a flight I had already paid for.

The most frustrating part of the whole experience was the agents at Every time I called I had to explain my situation to someone new. I was disconnected several times and forced to call back and attempt to explain a very complex situation to people who barely spoke English. It was obvious that Expedia either outsources its customer service overseas or hires people who have minimal English skills. It was extremely frustrating trying to explain the situation over and over to people who were unable to truly comprehend what was going on.

The end result from Expedia was them telling me to call my bank and dispute the debit card charge from United. This meant another hour on the phone with my bank and $1,600 in cash that would be missing from my account for up to 10 business days while they resolved the unapproved charge. In my opinion, their solution to the mistake they made was appalling, unacceptable and borderline illegal.

I have made a promise to myself to never do business with or United Airlines again, due to the way they handled this situation.

The takeaway and lesson for every business is to do everything you can to resolve mistakes quickly and as painlessly as possible for your customers. And if you are looking for ways to reduce costs, outsourcing your customer service to people who struggle to understand English is not the answer. It creates frustration for your customers, increases the time and costs associated with resolving problems and, most importantly, makes people never want to do business with your organization again.

Christopher Thompson ( writes Closing the Deal weekly for the Sunday News.

Christopher Thompson's Closing The Deal

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