United Airlines’ New Frontier in Ripoffs

I had about $500 worth of electronics gear stolen from my luggage in June. I spent several hours figuring out how to download the claim forms. After I filled them out, I got a brief note indicating that they received my submission.

Then I heard nothing. I spent many hours — my guess is more than 20, mostly spent on wait times — trying to contact somebody. I could get to an Indian call center, which could not give me any information on what to do.

After several months, I was informed that I had not included the tag from my baggage, which I did. I resent it. Many weeks later, I learned that I never sent it according to their records. After several iterations, I learned that my claim was denied because the company never received the tags.

A lawyer friend sent a letter to United. Now in January, I received a letter informing me that United does not accept responsibility for lost electronics.


3 comments so far

  1. Jeremy Lammerding on

    I’m sorry to hear. I have heard many of these horror stories. Baggage handlers use their workplace as a shopping mall. Always travel with all electronics carry on. I often fly with my laptop, external hard drives, ipod and camera in my carry on. It is an absolute nightmare getting all of it through security – but there is no way I trust the airlines to handle that stuff.

  2. Green on

    Sorry to hear about it. A few suggestions [non-requested].
    A – never book a seat on United-Continental again, unless there is no other option. This is the age to be super picky, something like a shopper, but a really fastidious one. It is one of the best defenses against poor customer service, although it is not a 100% guarantee.
    B – Besides carry-on electronics, they may be shipped separately, via, for example, FedEx, DHL, UPS Overnight Xpress, Avery, and others. True: the price is stratospheric. But couriers have [usually] tight manifests and controls, with bar codes and [sometimes] RFID labels. They do [usually] offer insurance and guarantees, at so many cents or dollars per pound of shipped high-priced items. If they have an agent at your destination, you can retrieve your goods or have someone retrieve them for you.
    C – In the case of laptops, there are software companies that offer [for an annual fee] programs that the customer downloads and installs. These programs report daily to the software company. If the laptop is stolen or lost, the customer reports this fact to the software company. They track the laptop, and report where it is. Then the owner of the laptop can contact the local police. They will retrieve it [and usually book the thief].
    One example is Lo Jack for laptops. There are several other similar firms.
    D – Another option is to pay an annual fee, like to Carbonite. This firm makes a copy of the entire hard drive, on a routine basis, and stores the info on their own servers. If the laptop is lost or stolen, the owner may or may not recover it. But it sure will recover the entire contents of his/her hard drive, given the fact Carbonite receives a copy of the hard drive into one of its own servers. Annual fees start around USD 50 or 60.
    E – If the Carbonite service is chosen, it may be complemented with a cryptographic program, to encrypt all important documents, whether sensitive or not. This [usually] gives thieves the conniptions.
    F – The lawyer already inquired among the legal eagles at United, and already found a dead end street. The next step is to make inquiries at the airport police agencies, first, and to talk with the regional FBI office for Nor Cal. Police are usually swamped, but they tend to be more friendly to the passenger [some times]. it would be interesting to know where did that plane land, en route to your June destination. Those are the airport police departments to talk to. It may be as simple as check in the unclaimed baggage sections of the airports themselves, which [sometimes] are distinct from the airlines, and operate under the jurisdiction of the airports, not the airlines. There are times when Kojak [or Jim Rockford] is more customer friendly than the legal eagles.
    G – An issue can be raised with the appropriate senator, such as N Pelosi, to revise the loop holes that allow United to squirm out of its civil responsibility. You may also raise the issue with the Federal Aviation Administration, and see what they say, or what excuse they come up with, to not serve the passengers.

  3. PF on

    Not sure about the literalist interpretation of Michael’s posting. I see this as a clearly Kafkaesque moment of capitalism. It’s United Airline’s homage to Franz Kafka, who captured this moment in, “Before the Law”: http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/kafka/beforethelaw.htm

    My bags disappeared at United’s Newark baggage handling, which I was forewarned by another, more experienced, passenger would certainly happen. Worse, it was involuntary on my part – I was forced into checking my bag while boarding the plane when I heard the words that chills the soul of even the most veteran traveler: “Oh dear, there’s no more room in the overhead. May we check that for you, sir?” Oh, the humanity!

    But this anecdote provides some perspective to Michael’s experience:
    “We discovered that from January 2002 through April 2010, LAX had 4,546 claims of items lost or stolen from luggage — the most of any airport in the nation. JFK was second with 3,946 claims followed by Newark Liberty Airport with 3,335 claims.

    “At LAX passengers reported missing 692 digital cameras, 475 pieces of fine jewelry and 442 laptops.

    “Ryan Driscoll was a TSA officer for nine years. He is on administrative leave after being arrested for stealing jewelry out of luggage.”

    Gotta laugh, otherwise you cry.

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