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Airline Tragedy

April 22, 2007

Normally I don’t post personal rants, but I had a pretty sad string of events recently on my recent “trip” to Turkey. This could be long, so here’s my opinion and the bottom line: Avoid United Airlines.

This past week I was supposed to be flying out to Turkey for the WPRSIUI workshop on recommender system interfaces, part of the ICDE conference. I was supposed to leave on Saturday evening, get there Sunday evening, and give my talk the following day.

However, my flight was over an hour late leaving Indianapolis. By the time I got to O’Hare for a connecting flight, it had already left. I was assured that there were other flights available. After all, this was O’Hare, and all I needed to do was get across the Atlantic somewhere into Western Europe in order to stay on track for my connecting flight to Istanbul (I was supposed to have a 3 hour layover in Frankfurt… which gave me some buffer time). However, not a single flight could be found, not even into Moscow, etc.

I got talked into taking a flight the following morning, which would put me into Istanbul the “day” of my talk. I’d most likely miss my talk, but maybe catch the end of the workshop. I was tired, but didn’t want to give up yet, so I agreed and I spent the night at a hotel (using an airline voucher).

The next morning, the “Nor’easter” hit the East Coast. All flights were significantly delayed or canceled. I no longer liked my odds getting into Istanbul in time for any part of the workshop, or the following day of conference proceedings.

I e-mailed all the organizers and told them I wasn’t coming. I then spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to get credit/refunded for my unused ticket. I learned something. Getting a refund is very difficult, and if you want to exchange a ticket, it must be done before midnight of the day of the trip. The best I could get was a partial refund for everything except the Indianapolis-Chicago leg… However, this will take at least a month to process… and I’m still waiting.

Next up, I tried to find my luggage. Apparently it got rerouted to Dulles on the flight that I canceled. This was to be the last that anyone would hear of it. I filed a missing baggage claim, and then (yesterday), filed a lost baggage claim.

The whole situation was terrible, and set me back well over $3,000 due to lost conference/hotel/ticket fees and lost luggage. I’ve been assured that I can get some money back, but none of this is a sure thing until I get a check.

If there’s a lesson to be learned for me, it’s “show up two days before you have to give a talk”, and “don’t fly United.”

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