An Open Letter to United Airlines…

Dear United:

On our flight from San Jose, CA to Houston, TX (#1502) yesterday, my husband and I had a terrible experience with one of your flight attendants (Wanda). I have flown extensively throughout my entire life and I have never been treated like this before.

Here is what happened:

We were in the last boarding group and there were less than 20 people behind us as we boarded. When we entered the plane and were waiting in the aisle, I scanned the open overhead compartments to assess availability for our bags. As I looked, most of the bins were closed, indicating that they were full. There were a few with the doors still open, but most were at least mostly full from what I could see.

Given this situation, I did what I have always been instructed by flight attendants to do: I found the first available bin and placed my bag inside to prevent needing to go backwards in the cabin (thus delaying boarding of other passengers) to find space later. This happened to be in row 8 – the first row after the First Class Cabin. My husband and I proceeded to walk down the aisle toward our seats in row 22.

At this point, our first interaction with Wanda began. She asked us where we were sitting; when we responded, she said that we MUST put our bags above our seats and that we were not allowed to put them in row 8’s compartment. I calmly asked her why and explained to her why I had placed my bag there. She told me that it was a “rule” that bags have to be above your own seats. I told her that I have never heard that rule (and the woman behind me agreed) and that on EVERY OTHER FLIGHT I have ever had, the instructions were that if you were among the last on the plane, you should put your bags wherever there was room.

She immediately became belligerent (she raised her voice, was frowning, and was speaking in an angry tone) and said that “this is what the rule has always been” and informed me that she has been doing this for over twenty years, while placing her hand on her hip. My husband and I were bewildered by her reaction, but we took the bag down and walked down to our seats as she had instructed.

If that were the end of the incident, we wouldn’t be writing this complaint. Everyone has bad days.

About five minutes later, she approached us in our seats and began to address the issue again. We had complied with her instructions, we moved our bag, and were sitting quietly. Yet, she felt it necessary to bring the subject up again in an angry tone of voice. I asked her why she was bringing it up and gently asked if we could be done talking about it. She then threatened to throw me off the plane by saying: “If you don’t stop talking about it, you won’t be going to Houston on this plane.” She was the instigator, not me or my husband.

Again, we were bewildered and very uncomfortable.

About five minutes after that incident, she then came back again with a man (I think he worked at the airport, as he was in a polo shirt and not the typical flight attendant attire). I was admittedly annoyed at this point and asked why this was still an issue. She proceeded to tell him the following: we had tried to put our bags in first class (untrue) because someone had told us to do so (also untrue).

He asked who told us to do this, and I once again told him what I know from every other flight I have ever taken. I told him that since we were among the last people on the plane (which she “corrected” and said that there were 20 people behind us, which still puts us among the last on the plane!). I reinforced that no one told me to do this, and that we had immediately complied with her instruction. He didn’t seem to think this was an issue and he walked away.

The remainder of the flight was extremely uncomfortable whenever she was around because we had no idea what she was going to do or say to us.

I am an extremely experienced traveler. I know the rules, and I know what appropriate behavior from the flight staff is expected to be. This was incredibly unprofessional, irrational, and unnecessary.

It should also be noted that on our last flight of the day, Houston to Philadelphia, the flight attendant made an announcement as the last group was boarding that they should put their bags in the first available bins, thereby proving my point.

We write this to make you aware of the inconsistency among your flight attendants in regards to the “rules” of bag placement and efficiency. We also write because Wanda’s treatment of us was unacceptable and may indeed keep us from flying United in the future.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Brennan and Lesa Brackbill

7 thoughts on “An Open Letter to United Airlines…

  1. Lesa, that is incredibly unfortunate. I agree with JAG above, I only fly Delta and specifically detest when I feel pinched take a United flight for cost reasons. Settling for United flights feels like going to the dance with your sister.

    In my estimation flight attendants have to find the balance between enforcers of rules and the first line of customer service – I’ve found in my travels (and I have well in advance of 100,000 miles, butt in seat) that since 9/11 flight attendants (less so on Delta and Southwest) are akin to The Andy Griffith Show’s Barney Fife than they are like Progressive’s Flo.

    When traveling with United I try to turn off any areas of my brain that feel emotion and realize, “I am cargo with a wallet”.


  2. While I agree the tone may have been warranted, I, however, have learned there are always three sides to every story. Yours, theirs and the truth. Let me ask a couple questions…

    1. While you state you were one of the last people on the plane, what about standbys who may have had a seat near the bin that you took? Would you expect them to go to the back and store their items? This having to wait until everyone else deplaned?

    2. Could you not have gone closer to your seat to verify space? Seems like you would have been able to and given most people have boarded you wouldn’t have had issues if you bags didn’t fit.

    Obviously were were not the the flight but as an experienced traveler you know the flight attendants rule. Do what they say and move on. You have options in carriers. In the end it seems your time saving move actually delayed everyone else and your bags ended up where you probably should have looked first.

    Regardless, the tone was not warranted but I don’t think you were not at fault also given my flying experiences.

    Just my 2 cents as we all need to look at every side of the story to better ourselves too. MP


    1. While I understand what you are saying, I disagree respectfully with some of it 🙂 We didn’t delay anyone else as we made sure to quickly get to our seats after the first interaction with the flight attendant. Also, row 8 and row 22 are actually only 6 rows apart because United doesn’t have all of the row numbers anymore, so we were pretty close to our seats.


  3. Lesa, your complaint is totally warranted. Your sensitivity and thoughtfulness was on display here, for as you said, you did what almost every flight attendant tells those boarding later to do. So, this is not a case of your side, their side and the truth. I know your character, and the truth was already in you. Hope United recompenses you generously. And as someone pointed out regarding previous dealings with Wanda, her attitude and behavior is “negatively legendary” and it is wrong for the airlines to allow her to continue to harass passengers. Raising her voice once would have been bad enough, but to come after you three times is plain and simple, harassment. Sorry you guys had to go through that, but thanks for educating us about what you experienced as I started avoiding United when I could because of bad service, and I am now reminded to continue that avoidance.


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