A Good Receptive Would Never Let this Happen to a Client: Just several weeks after an April 9 incident in which United Airlines had a 69-year-old doctor dragged off a plane for refusing to give up his seat on a fully booked flight—it created a public relations disaster and cost the carrier and untold sum in both funds, as well as its reputation—the carried suffered another hit to its customer service standing.
Last week Lucie Bahetoukilae boarded a United flight at Newark’s Liberty International Airport, believing she was going back to Paris, expecting to land at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. She eventually made it there, but it too more than a day to do so.
Bahetoukilae, who doesn’t speak a word of English, told San Francisco’s ABC Channel 7 news what happened. Her niece, Diane Miantsoko, translated her conversation with a Channel 7 crew, taking them through her hectic, mistake-ridden journey.
Bahetoukilae’s boarding pass read: “Newark to Charles de Gaulle.” She went to the gate stamped on it and said a United representative scanned it. So she boarded the plane and headed for her seat, 22C.
“When she went to sit someone was sitting there already,” Miantsoko, said. But, she added, the flight attendant looked at her boarding pass and instead of questioning it, sat her somewhere else.
Bahetoukilae never realized United Airlines made a last minute gate change. She said United never made the gate announcement in French or notified her by email.
“If they would have made the announcement in French, she would she have moved gates,” Miantsoko said. “Of course, because she speaks French she would’ve moved to another gate.”
So instead of flying from Newark to Paris—a 7½ hour flight—Bahetoukilae flew 2,565 flight miles (about 6 hours and 15 minutes) in the wrong direction, to San Francisco. There, she experienced an 11-hour layover in the airport. By the time United got her rerouted home to France, she had been traveling for more than 28 hours.
But what concerned Bahetoukilae’s family more than the inconvenience, was the apparent security lapse on the part of United. “With everything going on in this country people have to be more careful,” Miantsoko said. “They didn’t pay attention. My aunt could have been anyone. She could have been a terrorist and killed people on that flight, and they didn’t know they didn’t catch it.”
Miantsoko contacted Channel 7’s On Your Side news to help get answers. She said she was not seeking a refund. “This is not about money, this is about United getting serious with their employees,” Miantsoko said.
Channel 7 contacted United and the airline admitted fault, saying it: “mistakenly put her on the wrong flight.” And even though Bahetoukilae wasn’t seeking a refund, she got one along with a voucher for another trip to visit her beloved God children in the future.
United Airlines apologized and also paid for accommodations it hadn’t offered Bahetoukilae, when she was waiting for her return flight in San Francisco. Also, an airline representative said United is working with their team in Newark to prevent this from happening again.
Perhaps the carrier should consult a receptive tour operator to develop a best practices program for airline staff serving international passengers.