Editors note: This story about a mind-numbingly absurd and frustrating experience with United Airlines first ran in 2014. With the recent news about a passenger violently dragged off a United flight from Chicago to Louisville because the airline had overbooked, it's clear that United's customer service hasn't improved - it's just gotten exponentially worse. Here's why IrishCentral's founder Niall O'Dowd will never "fly the friendly skies" with United ever again.  


One of my favorite trips of the year is to South Bend for a Fighting Irish game (Stanford this year) and the annual meeting of the Keough-Naughton Irish Institute, whose board I serve on.

After all, it’s Notre Dame in the fall and the legends and the dreams are palpable. The Keough-Naughton institute is the most exciting place to be in Irish Studies in the world.

I had booked a flight out of LaGuardia with a connection in Chicago for the short, 25 minute hop to South Bend.

I booked several months ago to be sure, to be sure.

The trouble began early Friday morning when United sent me an unsigned text from “26266” saying my flight to Chicago had been canceled. I asked 26266 for an explanation but there was none forthcoming.

I should have known, this was not going to be a sharing relationship.

No reason given, not a word of explanation. I had to scramble and find a connecting flight via Delta, paying an extra $461 dollars to book late.

26266 then came back on texting like an old friend would and told me he/she? had booked me for tomorrow – without my permission. 

I texted old 262 (we were on first name terms now) and told him/her I’d then be 24 hours late and miss the game and the board meeting as the plane would arrive 24 hours too late and I might as well stay at home.

No reply. 

26266 reminded me of a bad girlfriend – no feedback, no reply.

Annoyed but resigned to this crappy airline system I then boarded the Delta flight arriving in Chicago with about 2 hours to spare to catch the connecting United flight to South Bend.

All ok until I went to board for the South Bend leg and truly entered a Kafka nightmare.

The gentleman at the reservation desk told me point blank I wasn't booked on the flight to Notre Dame.

I showed him my computer reservation, confirmation number, seat 10C correct time, etc. United Airlines, I mean, “fly the friendly skies and all that.”

He was deeply unimpressed.

Peering at his screen he said “Says here you are not booked. That's just a piece of paper.”

“No, it’s not it is a reservation with a confirmation code,” I said 

Then he said “You’re not supposed to be here.”

I said, why?

“You missed your flight.”

I explained I hadn’t, that the flight had been canceled.

I said I took another flight with Delta and I had a separate ticket for the Notre Dame part of the trip anyway.

He told me “the computer said you are not on this flight sir.”

But I said “here I am with my ticket.”

He said “It says you didn't make the New York flight.”

"But it was canceled," I said. "I’m here now, because I flew on another airline. It cost me $460."

He asked me to produce the ticket for the flight I wasn’t on that never took off that was canceled by United.

I kid you not.

I decided it was time to ask for a supervisor.

She was if anything, even more unhelpful. 

“Aha. We see you are booked for tomorrow” she told me.

I said, “I can’t be, I need to be there tonight and I booked for tonight.”

“Our system booked you for tomorrow,” she said with that look you get when you are considered  an annoying gnat. 

“Your system went haywire and booked me to go tomorrow,” I said, “and I said no.”

“It doesn't matter – you are booked for tomorrow,” she said primly.

I said, “I told your system I didn't want to go tomorrow. I had to be there Friday evening.”

They looked at me blankly.

“The system is telling us differently sir.”

I said, “this is insane.”

She said, “that’s the system.”

He piped up, “Yes it is.“

I gave up.

The airline rebooked me without asking me what I wanted.

In order, I presume, to dispute the refund for the original flight I will be seeking.

I’ve since read in the Huffington Post that United is notorious for penny pinching.

So I won’t fly United.

Other airlines might be as bad, I don't know, but this was the most inane conversation I have ever had with airline staff or any other staff in my life. 

A pinch of common sense would have had them realize I was standing in front of them waiting to board a  flight that I had a ticket for.

But old 262 ruled.

I write this as I wait to see if I get on the five o'clock fight to South Bend. I even looked in the mirror in the men’s bathroom to make sure I was really here. 

I can report I am. Fly the uncertain skies when you put your fate in United’s hands.

Be warned.

And 262 is off my Thanksgiving list – as is United.

I’d rather fly Hooters.