The Cost of Cheap

My mother told to splurge a little on long flights. “You’re going to be there for a long time. You should be comfortable.”

Of course, being the person I am, I ignored my mother’s advice and booked the cheapest economy flight to Milan with reasonable times. I felt like I was spending so much of my parents money already, I wanted to keep my expenses for this trip at a minimum. I booked a United flight to Frankfurt and a transfer three hours later from Frankfurt to Milan. Three hours seems like ample time, right?

Yes it does…until my two hour flight delay going out of SFO. A little less than an hour for transferring flights seems to be cutting it a bit close, so I expressed my concerns to the service at the check-in counter.

“It’s a gate to gate transfer. You won’t need to recheck your bag or go through passport control; you have plenty of time.”

I skeptically agreed. If she firmly believes it, she won’t help me out anyway.

The view outside my seat

Boarding started about ten minutes too late and then our airplane had an issue with shutting the door properly so we had to wait for a mechanic to fix it. Ten and a half hours later, we arrived at the Frankfurt airport and none of the gates with jet bridges were available, so we took stairs down from the plane to the airport bus to shuttle us to the gates. By then, we arrived at 12:25, precisely the time my plane for Milan departed. Perfect.

Instantly, I made my way towards the United customer service desk where a woman behind the desk directed everybody off to the Luftstansa customer service. Once I got to the desk, the man working for Luftstansa customer service sent me back to the United counter armed with the phone number for the desk.

This time, when I approached the customer service desk the same woman who shooed everybody to Luftstansa clutched her bag to her torso, almost as if to create a barrier between herself and the desk. I could feel the contempt oozing at of her as I approached her again. She directed me to the United desks past passport control. I expressed my concern for the unnecessary need for going through airport security if the flight I book is within the same area. She cuts me off and said, “Well, there’s a counter right there, isn’t there? How about you go there?”

So I line up at additional services where plenty of passengers are anxious to rebook their flights. The employees behind the star alliances desk for additional services are super workers. They rapidly type and make phone calls, saving everyone’s day. They have a purpose and they know it (a stark contrast to the bag-clutching woman behind the customer service counter).

Beta the Angel
Beta saving the day

One person who worked at the star alliance additional services in particular was stellar. Beta L., the raven haired woman with silver streaks framing her face and symmetrical tattoos that peaked through her stocking on her feet, waved around a stack of tickets to airports around the world. She took care of half of the line the first five minutes I stood in line. When she called out airports, people would raise their hand to announce they those tickets. She immediately whipped out her cellphone and called the airport to book the flight. I saw over and over again, distressed people smile in relief and thank her. I discreetly took a photograph of Beta because I had to give her recognition of being a exceptional employee. Her dedication made me feel like I was taken care of, despite the fact she personally was not able to help me. I was able to book a later flight to Milan (in which I am waiting to board now) with another employee.

I wish I could say that this particular experience with United is unique to me,  but unfortunately United is known to be quite unreliable. They frequently delay flights (my brother recently had a two hour delay for a one hour flight) and their service is not consistently good. Their flights are cheap, yes. But at what price?

As I write this post, I am munching on this mediterranean pasta salad that I bought earlier. I bought it because it was the cheapest meal-like food available with the most carbs to keep me full. However, I forgot how much I dislike the taste of olives. Oops.

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