Yesterday my father-in-law moved into intensive care all of a sudden, and is still in a critical situation. I am thousands of miles away from the family, in Singapore.
Unfortunately, my husband also had just then taken a flight to Chicago from Hong Kong, a long 14-hour flight.
I called Chicago United Airlines, desperate.
A computer answered me, which is normal. It understood human voice, and when I said Help, Agent, it directed me to an agent. So far, so good.
I finally managed to get thru to a human being.
But I realized, this one was not much better than a robot. She sounded like a dragon lady, silently put me on indefinite holds without telling me she was checking or whatever, was unfailingly rude, and finally told me her computer did not have any data regarding my husband…she needed the ticket number to confirm his existence on the plane.
I called again, armed with the ticket number.
Second dragon lady, just as winsome as the first one, who again put me on various silent holds without telling me what was going on. She finally came up with: He is on the flight, but we do not have the means to pass him a message on the flight. Can pass it once he has landed.
No matter how I requested, I was told that a message cannot be passed on board the flight.
The supervisor who came on line was a little better trained (actually uttered the words I am sorry for the difficult situation you are in etc.,) but said the pilot can only be contacted if there is an emergency threat to the plane: FAA regulations and all that.
But he promised that the message would definitely be delivered once my husband landed in Chicago.
I was disappointed. But I thought, fair enough, they are doing their job, thanked them and hung up.
I waited up till 2am in the morning so I could call my husband, and after a few dozen calls finally found him. He had not got any message so far, so I told him about his dad, and he hung up so he could call his family.
I talked to him now, a few hours later, and realized no one from the United Airlines ever gave him any message.
So much for United Airlines.
For all their snobbish, holier-than-thou and patronizing attitudes, none of the agents did their job.
Welcome to the real United States, I told myself.
I had so far only met very nice, compassionate and extremely competent American expats, and my view of America and Americans had been largely shaped by them.
But with this one experience over the phone (during which I paid full international call charges between Singapore and Chicago for over an hour), I began to have a completely new and different view of the country and its people.
I don’t think individuals realize how much their actions count in the image of their country.
For now, I have this much to say: So much for the United States of America!