Technology

Computer glitches still creating havoc at United

Friday, March 30, 2012

Look closely at any United ticket counter, and you might see agents squinting and shaking their heads while passengers wait in line.

You may also see the agents doing an awful lot of typing. But since the airline switched computer systems on March 3 -- there's one thing you'll never see agents doing: using a mouse. That's because now there isn't one.

The new system is "more similar to DOS than Windows," said Claudia Blancett, a retired United employee. She likened the switchover to taking away someone's iPad and handing them a Commodore 64.

Back in 1987, Blancett was training airline workers to book tickets with long, cryptic commands. In the two decades that followed, United replaced its old terminals with a menu-driven system called FastAir, which Blancett said was very user friendly.

United won't say why it got rid of FastAir and adopted Continental's system when the two airlines merged. It's a system Blancett says has no menus, no mouse, and uses the same cryptic commands she used to teach 25 years ago.

"It's more difficult, it takes like 10 keystrokes to do a seat change versus one button," she said. Though she's retired from United, Blancett started a Facebook group to help her former co-workers learn the system.

In the comments, it's evident United is still having problems. One agent complains a canceled flight was still open for check-ins. Another complains that nearly every day he finds the wrong seats marked as available. All complain that passengers left waiting on hold and at the ticket counter are losing their patience.

"They were screaming on our pages I don't know how to do this, I don't know how to do the seat change, and I'm getting tired of people yelling at me and screaming at me. I have had friends who've gone out on sick leave due to the stress," said Blancett.

Employees aren't the only ones complaining about the new system. Passengers and travel agents have also complained, and now one of those passengers wants United to pay up.

"When I went to see customer service, they told me the flight was canceled. I said oh is there some weather cancellation? They said no, it was a computer switchover," Douglas Carstens, an attorney, said.

After that cancellation left him stranded, he wrote United a letter demanding more than $12,000. Based on his hourly rate, he figured that's how much he lost for the 20 hours he was stuck in San Francisco.

"To have a cancellation under those circumstances is just inexcusable to me," Carstens said in a conversation conducted via Skype.

He still hasn't heard back from United, but they told us the agent who spoke to him must have been mistaken. They also said US flights at SFO are still 80 percent on time -- the same as before the switch.

"If they are on time, it's because they're closing the door with empty seats," said Blancett.

Blancett has another bone to pick with United. She says she's among thousands of United retirees fighting to get back the priority boarding status they earned through decades of service. That status was lost after the computer switchover accidentally reset their employment date to January 1 of this year.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

Get more Technology »


Tags:
san francisco international airport, continental airlines, united airlines, computers, technology, jonathan bloom
blog comments powered by Disqus
Advertisement