In 1997, I traveled to the US on business. I was trying to be a good corporate citizen, and so despite the fact that I usually flew Canadian Airlines I booked the flight on Air Canada and its US partner. In other words, I flew on an airline with which I had no frequent flyer "status". This proved to be a fatal error.
On my return journey, I was to connect in New Jersey to my Air Canada flight to Ottawa. Due to weather, flights in and out of New Jersey were delayed. We eventually boarded the AC flight to Ottawa; but, just before they closed the door two airport security personnel boarded the aircraft. Those personnel came to my seat and asked me to collect my belongings and leave the aircraft with them. They gave no explanation.
After I was back in the airport, I was told that my seat had been given to someone else and that I would be given a $600 travel voucher and put on a later flight. That later flight turned out to be 18 hours later. The Air Canada personnel were of no assistance in booking me on a later flight; that is, I was left to find my own way home.
I did eventually get home, and wrote Air Canada to complain. I did receive a reply; wherein Air Canada was unapologetic and told me that my removal from the aircraft by airport security personnel was in accordance with company policy. As a result, I have avoided Air Canada ever since. Note: I am a pragmatist, and do sometimes fly them when there is no other alternative.
Today, my flight from Denver to Ottawa was declared overweight; just as the gate agent was about to begin boarding. What disappointed me about this event was that United Airlines didn't detect and proactively do something about this in the hours leading up to the flight.
I don’t believe it is fair to either the United Airline’s gate personnel or the passengers for this to be sprung on everyone just as the flight is about to board. I don’t understand why the overweight condition wasn’t caught a couple of hours before boarding and the issue dealt with at a reasonable time before boarding. My flight was ultimately delayed because the gate agent had to deal with things at the last minute.
As a top tier United flyer (1K), I am never asked to delay my travels; this is part of why I work to ensure that I maintain my top tier status. That said, my behaviour doesn’t mean that I approve of the way United and its competitors handle these situations. Part of my “complaint” is due to the way United, in particular, handles those who volunteer to delay their travels: today, the volunteers were offered a $400 travel voucher. As well, the offer was only to fly on tomorrow’s direct flight from Denver to Ottawa (24 hours later); despite the fact that there are many other ways to fly passengers between Denver and Ottawa. If a little advance planning had been done, then a handful of passengers could have been proactively put on such alternate routes and everyone would have gotten home tonight.
As a whole, the airline industry doesn't take customer service seriously. There is so much they could do to better serve their paying customers, and yet they continue to behave badly. They claim they are only offering their customers the low cost travel they desire; but, as someone who flies 100 or more flights a year, lowest price isn't how I choose my flights.
Unfortunately, my experience today isn't an aberration; it's standard airline behaviour. I'm not picking on United Airlines, they don't behave any differently than their competitors. It's the whole industry that needs to change.