Like many desis, I love me some deals. I know I am playing into stereotypes here, especially because I am Gujarati, but come on EVERYONE likes good deals. The enjoyment for me isn’t just finding a good deal, but the whole process: it is the hunt, the chase, and the glory in opening the mail and finding that rebate check that you thought might not ever come. Suffice it to say, I spend a good percentage of my time on the internets perusing some favorite deal sites.

But while I like finding good deals, one of my pet peeves is really poor customer service and the feeling that I have been taken advantage of. So when I was visiting one of my new favorite deal/consumer rights blogs, The Consumerist, (part of the Gawker family of blogs) I was a bit dismayed to hear the tale of our desi brethren, Mahesh, who reported on his parent’s really poor experience on United Airlines.

Mahesh’s parents flew from Omaha, Nebraska to Colombo,Sri Lanka, but at LAX, United Airlines (UAL) refused to honor their tickets, saying that they had not “been approved, authorized and authenticated.” The family ended having to pay $2860 extra to complete their journey. Apparently, Sri Lankan Air Lines, a United code-share partner, could not find the reservation Mahesh’s parents made. Mahesh wrote three letters of complaint to UAL and so far his parents have only received two $300 coupons in return. When Mahesh scoffed at the sum, United wrote, “our policy does not permit us to respond with the generosity you had anticipated. (link)

It seems that instead of writing letters, which I am a big fan of, now when desis are wronged, we blog. So as a good South Asian, Mahesh has started his own blog detailing his battle with United Airlines’ Customer service at His story is really messed up and I hope the airlines eventually do the right thing and refund the extra three grand his recently operated-on parents had to hand over to get home.

21 thoughts on “

  1. me and my family have gotten jipped many times. by singapore airlines, kmart, and more. instead of creating a blogsite specific to united airlines, why can’t someone come up with a complaint site? i honestly believe that if that websites blows up, the wrong doer companies would try their best to rectify the situation in order to be removed from the website.

    just an idea.

  2. This seems to be a persistent problem which happens when people book tickets on multiple airlines, esp via travel agents.

    A friend of mine went home to Hungary last year via Frankfurt. But at Frankfurt she was told that her reservation could not be found either via Continental or Hungarian airlines, inspite of the fact that she had booking and had paid for it and all. She was forced to buy a new ticket and never got refunded.

    I guess since I live in Mumbai, I usually don’t have to change airlines, or even if I do, I just buy tickets online now directly from the airline websites.

  3. i once had a huge problem with america west, they offered me a 300 dollar voucher, i ripped it up in front of them vowing to never fly them again. then i wrote a long letter and got miles for another airline added on. hate america WORST.

    delta screwed me over when we were on a plane from london-atl which had a fire in the cockpit, ended up emergency landing in newfoundland for 12 hrs, then were taken to nyc (we were told we were going to atl), and had to fend on our own to get back home at 5am when we landed.. i eventually got home via birmingham alabama, and an eventual flight to atlanta..a 8 hr flight turned out into a 2 day nightmare…at least i survived the hell.. and my compensation? nada. brilliant.

    but this poor dumb lad ended up 13000km from his desired location. a big “DUH!”

  4. “our policy does not permit us to respond with the generosity you had anticipated.”

    Ohmy god. WHAT???!?!!! I can’t believe they thought so little of of these paying customers that they compounded the issue with such a condescending, belittling dismissal. SUE. SUE!! Get your frikkin money back.

    I’ve run into problems with airlines, but they end up being resolved, fast, because I don’t hesitate to throw civility to the wind and become angry. People expect little Asian people to be pushovers, and I end up quite forcefully having to prove otherwise.

    I was the once in Charles de Gaulle airport, the only person in line, facing a row of Air France employees all too busy chatting with each other to wave me over. I finally walked up and asked (several times, increasingly loudly) for directions to the gate for my connecting flight. I’d asked several employees, visited several terminals, and was told that this was the only place to ask. (I know, right WTF?!)

    Finally one does a little tap-tapping on her computer and tells me with a shrug that that my flight just departed.

    I proceeded to have the mother of all meltdowns, and guess what? The embarrassed and panicky staff (they rushed from behind the counter, finally) said they’d misread the computer and the flight was actually still there, hah hah, these things happen, nous nous excusons la Mlle, si désolé! and here, this nice man would personally escort me to my (miraculously still there!) flight.

    Funny, eh ?

    Maybe I was lucky – these days it’s so easy for airline people to ignore you or throw you off a plan for “security reasons.”

    Another factor for these travelers was the fact that Sri Lanka was on the itinerary. The war there means all brown travelers going in and coming out are seen as potential terrorists.

  5. Do they not have receipts? If they do, I see not reason why the money should not be returned. I used to be quite lax about this, but following some similar issues (not with airlines) I’ve made it a point to store each and every receipt. If I’m not given one, I tke the poins to actually wait till they get me one.

    As for deals, in my first year in the US that was all I did. I remember getting ripped off Dell for buying a laptop on their website while I could have bought a much better one at Circuit City or BestBuy. From then on, it was a daily ritual for me to check out sites like Deals2Buy. I eventually got tired of it. I think this kind of stuff (deals, price-matching, etc) is great, as opposed to back home where everything has a fixed price unless you know some dealer personally. Online shopping is yet to pick up speed in India.

  6. OMG what a mess. I’m very careful about who and how I buy my tickets when I travel overseas. In the United States I can be a bitch but it gets hairy when you are in a foreign country and alone. I’ve had my share of nightmare flights that the airlines did nothing to compensate me for but I’ve also found in general that when I do travel with bigger airlines and pull out my ‘pissed off American’ card I get what I ask for.

    Unfortunately he could sue them for the money and even win but may not have any way of actually getting the dough. Horrible.

  7. Sorry people, but corporate is the way to go. The $12/hour operators on the phone and $14/representatives have no control or authorization to do such credits/refunds (or so I’ve been told). Let me tell you how quickly my refunds have been processed when I:

    1. Get the name of the rep/agent/operator.
    2. Get the name of their manager/supervisor
    3. Call the corporate offices on the next business day asking to file a formal complaint against the company and need to file this with executives before proceeding to contact my attorney to follow up.
    4. Get a call back within 72 hours to amend the situation.

    Worked with UPS, FedEx, Discover, United, American, Continental, Prescriptives (for the lipstick gal pals), Clinique, bebe, Gap, AT&T, SBC, Cingular, MBNA, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, AMEX, Apple, Ben & Jerry’s (Mother Saira actually wrote a letter complaining their Mango ice-cream did NOT contain enough mango chunks to qualify it as “Mango,” hence we got a month’s supply for free), etc.

    I don’t have time to go back & forth with front line employees, but let me tell me once corporate gets the rants & raves and a whiff “I’ll drag who I can into this,” they’ll attend to you ASAP. In marketing (I am an instructor), they call it “firing the customer” theory — which is cheaper to pay off the customer and keep them for life or to fire them and risk the loss.

    While I don’t agree with my choice of action all the time, I also don’t have the time to wait for letters to elicit the needed response. I hope he’ll take my advice and call corporate. I have had an issue with each of the above mentioned companies and all have met with 100% success rates (to date…).

  8. My first reaction upon reading this was, “Well, we are talking about United Airlines.” And sure enough, Mahesh himself has figured that out as well:

    Here is a list of other people who has had problems with United Air Lines

    United Airlines Laughs At Traveller’s Plight
    United Airlines (UAL) Sucks
    United Airlines sucks (part 22)
    UA Suck
    Unfriendly skies
    Off Limits
    Mo’Nique calls for boycott of United Airlines
    United Airlines sucks
    United airlines == big bag of shite….
    United Airlines Sucks
    United Airlines Sucks (redux) – updated
    Why United Airlines is Destined for Bankruptcy

    ok, I’m tired of typing all this… there are just too many. How come a company has pissed off so many? Here is the google link.
    United Airlines Suck

    Cicatrix, upon reading your story, my first reaction was, “Well, we talking about Charles De Gaulle Airport (and Air France)….”

  9. Sajit, FYI his name is “Mahesh” (not Manesh). Mahesh is certainly not helping his case by spouting “shame on UAL” at every chance he gets.

  10. FYI his name is “Mahesh” (not Manesh).

    Thanks, fixed.

    I agree with Saira, it is best to get your voice heard by corporate. When I flew to London last month, I arrived and my bags didn’t. When I returned, I wrote a strongly worded email and fax, and included the personal emails of the corporate people I found on the Virgin website. Almost instantaneously, I received a phone call with an apology, vouchers for both me and my wife, and a full reimbursement of all the goods I had to purchase that I had a receipt for. Always include corporate on the cc line, even if only for appearance sake.

  11. Go easy on the “evil” customer service reps giving you the runaround. They are all desis like us, working the graveyard shift in Bangalore or Gurgaon, earning Rs. 12,000 (=approx $265/month), supporting a family and probably old parents and younger siblings as well.

    Yup, corporate is the way to go!

    Incidentally, my experience with desi call center employees has been pretty good so far.

  12. Go easy on the “evil” customer service reps giving you the runaround. They are all desis like us, working the graveyard shift in Bangalore or Gurgaon, earning Rs. 12,000 (=approx $265/month), supporting a family and probably old parents and younger siblings as well.

    No one should get a free pass just because they are/are not desi. Just as good customer service should be commended, poor customer service should also be pointed out and rectified. In Mahesh’s case, the airline dropped the ball. Mahesh, upon the written instructions of United Airlines went to an actual airport where he was assured that the tickets had been changed, and that everything would be ok regarding the travel of his parents. His family in Omaha went to the airport to reconfirm that all was okay with their flights as well. I couldn’t care less about the race, sex, ethnic origin etc. of the customer service representative, as long as the service is good.

  13. I agree with Sajit, customer service is a reflection of the company not of the person handling the complaint. I don’t go easier or harder on my desi students because I may assume they have language barriers, generational issues, etc. They, too, have jobs while in school, but so do my single mom students, Hispanic students, and everyone else in between.

    I should have also pointed out that I have also had great customer service from reps, who make the changes needed as they feel appropriate. For these, I still ask to speak to their manager and commend their professionalism with handling my tirades, as my commendation will also help for their performance reviews and raises. This is just as important for the company to see. I have even gone to corporate commending an employee at Trader Joe’s, who handled a situation to my best satisfaction, even though it cost them $130 in product. But, corporate now knows why I am a customer for life, not for the resolution.

  14. Cicatrix, upon reading your story, my first reaction was, “Well, we talking about Charles De Gaulle Airport (and Air France)….”

    Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. I avoid CDG at all costs for transfers.

    Side note: Alitalia flys to the motherland via Milan, where you can pick up some delicious parmigiano at Malpensa.

    Also, I’m very curious as to what Ben & Jerry’s considers a month’s worth of ice cream to be…

  15. Returning from my last trip to India, I had an awful experience at Frankfurt. Missed the Luftahnsa connection to L.A., was re-routed via Paris , missed the Air France connection to L.A. Whose bluddy fault? Long story short, I got reimbursed from my night’s stay in Paris, all by filling in a on-line form at Lufthanssa’s website.

    Another thing that struck me is the fact that being an American citizen is a liability. Because, the airlines can re-route you more creatively :-) , but not necessarily efficiently.

  16. That is HEARTBREAKING! What the…? I don’t understand how that sort of injustice could continue! Let’s do something – let’s start a complaint site or something! I’m not desi (I’m honorary, thank you very much!) but I am really, really infuriated when good, honest people get cheated out of their hard-earned money.

    I’ve been watching too much Che Guevara and pre-evil Fidel Castro stuff lately.

  17. Good news, it seems United, because of the press that Consumerist was able to garner, has agreed to rectify the situation.

    UAL’s Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, who has made an appology and has promply agreed to resolve this matter. (link)
  18. I agree that in order to make money (or keep from losing it), one of the best things to do is check out deals. I’m really into crafting myself and I always am looking forward to the big 50% off day when I can get all my supplies. is really helpful in finding these deals. However, you’re right. It stinks when there is bad customer service and I’ve experienced enough of that to wonder if deals are worth it.