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Sunday, April 22, 2007

United Airlines: Thieves on a Plane

One thing about traveling, it does give you an awful lot to write about. And in my case, I have been traveling quite a bit the past month or so. So far this month, I count 10 days that I have taken a flight on United Airlines (UAL) to somewhere in this great nation. This post is about one of those trips – on a recent flight to Milwaukee, WI (MKE) through Chicago O’Hare (ORD).

Last Monday, April 16th started off relatively normal. I went by the Bank of America ATM to get some cash for the trip on my way to the airport. Eventually, I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with a little over an hour to spare since I planned on checking my bags. Relatively relaxing compared with my recent trip to Las Vegas.

I boarded the plane and went through my normal pre-flight routine which included getting my Sony MDR-NC6 noise cancelling headphones (to be replaced), my Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), and place my personal effects (Blackberry 8800, wallet, & sunglasses) in the back of the seat pocket. The flight went off without a hitch with nothing worth mentioning.

However, as we approached Chicago I noticed we were a little behind schedule and given the tight connection time 3 concourses over to catch my flight to Milwaukee. So, as we taxied to the jetway, I quickly put all of my stuff back into my laptop backpack.

Or, so I thought. One of my biggest fears in flying is that I will be stranded somewhere without any money, identification, or plastic – even more so in a place I had never been or do not know people. As I was running to my connecting flight, at some point, I realized that the back section of my backpack was open. A quick check and my heart almost stopped. My wallet was gone.

Here I was, in the middle of Chicago O’Hare airport and I had to make a choice. Do I risk missing my flight and re-trace my steps to the concourse where my flight landed? Or, do I just consider it a loss and try to negotiate my way through Milwaukee to get to my hotel and have some replacements FedEx’d to me.

I decided to run back and trace my steps with the outside hope that I might find my wallet, especially since oddly I did not remember putting it back in my backpack. Could I have left it in the seat on the plane? Very possible.

So, I ran about a half mile back the same path I originally came scanning the entire area the whole way in case it did fall out of my bag. No luck. Once I reached Concourse C, there was no information on the boards on the jets that had just come from Los Angeles. Where was my plane? After a couple of minutes, I located a gate that had a 757 sitting at it that looked like what I remembered when I stepped off.

There was a line at the counter and no United Airlines agent could be accessed, except for one working on paper. He was not really keen on helping me. I basically had to ask him three times – “Will you please help me?” before he would even lift a finger, even after I mentioned I was a Premier Executive member. After that, he suggested I get in line and I finally said I will miss my next flight if I do so, and I did not have a wallet or any other identification other than my company badge. Finally, he listened.

After speaking with the other United Airlines agent, he confirmed that it was United Airlines Flight 942 from Los Angeles and offered to go on board and check as long as I still had my original boarding pass. He returned in two minutes with my wallet only, and mysteriously missing the $200 cash I had just picked up at the ATM. I asked him about that and my sunglasses, he only shrugged his shoulders.

Normally, I would have spent more time arguing with him and ask for a report to be filed – however, I was so happy to have my identification and all credit cards back, plus I only had 10 minutes to make it to my next flight. So, I let it go.

I sent a note to United Airlines the next day to complain about the incident, but I still have not received any response back. Here we are, six days since I submitted the request and nothing has been responded to. I think as time goes on, I become a little more frustrated in the incident and how it transpired. At least the biggest lesson learned here is to make sure and hold onto that wallet a little more carefully!

I want to stop short of accusing United Airlines employees of theft or stealing from me in this matter. However, the nonchalant attitudes of the United Airlines service personnel in the matter leave me wondering. Of course, another passenger could have seen the wallet and taken the cash and glasses. However, that seem rather unlikely to me since the wallet was in the seatback and relatively hidden from any view. It will be interesting to see if and how United responds.


Anonymous said...

I had a similar incident with a Apple Newton back in the day. I got off the plane, and about 15 minutes later I realized it was missing.

It was late- the plane was going nowhere until 6am the next morning. It took an additional 20 minutes to get an airline employee to help me out and check the seatback of the plane.

Big suprise- sorry nobody found it. Right.