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Racism Remarks and Poor Customer Service

Jan 18, 2020
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On Monday, January 13, 2020, my uncle and I had the worst experiences ever from a commercial airline (United Airline). It started at the check-in kiosk at the Portland International Airport (PDX) when my uncle was checking in for his flight to Kona (KOA), Hawaii. He noticed his flight might be delayed and asked for assistance from one of the United Airlines employees, who came over, looked at the screen and said, "you're going to miss the connection, amigos!”

We went to the counter where this staff would then change the ticket so my uncle can fly to Kona, Hawaii, and he booked him on the next available from San Francisco (SFO) to Kona (according to this staff). It was 8:30am the next day, Tuesday, January 14, 2020, he had to spend long hours in SFO. After checking in my uncle at the counter and changing his connection flight, he told my uncle he couldn’t carry on his small carry-on and needed to check it in, so I paid $30 for the luggage to be checked in all the way to Kona. I noticed the tag had no indication of Kona on it and I informed the staff but he said it should be okay, just show the receipt to the people at SFO when checking in.

That evening when my uncle was at SFO, waiting for his 8:30am flight the next day, he tried to check in his luggage and looked for the drop off location for checked-in bags. He was told by the United Airline employees at SFO that he needed to pay $30 for his luggage to be checked into Kona. When he checked in with the SFO United Airline employees in the morning, he told them to throw away his luggage, he was so fed up. Another $30 for the same itinerary, for the same luggage and a domestic flight would mean he needed to pay $60. They found a way to get his small carry on checked in to Kona, not sure how but it made it on the flight.

The PDX UA employee that treated us like an animal should not be working at a place where he has to deal with all sorts of people. He made a racist comment and purposely messed up my uncle’s travel because he didn’t want to do his job for different people. I told this staff, this is my uncle’s first time traveling alone, because I wanted to ensure everything would be okay, but instead, he made it difficult for someone who speaks little English.

I have flown United Airlines for many years, and the treatment that I witnessed from the employees of United Airlines at PDX and SFO was the poorest for any customer. We paid money for the ticket and paid for the luggage, but we should not be spending money on an airline that will look at people differently. I hope the division and the racism on this airline will be dealt with ASAP!
 
Sep 23, 2019
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What would you like UA to do? If you double-paid checked bag fees than a refund of those is in order plus perhaps a goodwill gesture. I don't think you are going to get very far with the racism angle. It is just because the Portland employee addressed you as "amigos"? Calling someone what is basically the equivalent of "pal" or "buddy" might be overly familiar, but it hardly strikes me as racist, absent any other obvious intent. People of all races get routed on inconvenient connections all the time.
 

Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
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It would be helpful to let us know what you are expecting from United after your experience.....are you looking for an apology? A refund or credit of some sort? As @rudster stated, if your two complaints are that an employee used the word Amigo and that your father was rerouted, in my opinion, those are not racist acts. I work with Latinos all the time and they call me Amiga in an endearing way. If your father was going to miss a connection that would not get him to his final destination, then being rerouted was a positive change albeit inconvenient. But, please, let us know if there is more to the situation than we are gleaning from your post.
 
Aug 29, 2018
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if your two complaints are that an employee used the word Amigo and that your father was rerouted, in my opinion, those are not racist acts.
It is not appropriate to the speaker or a third party to tell someone when they should or should not be offended. And regardless of anyone's opinion of the offensiveness of the comment, it was not professional for the employee to use a familiar term to address a customer.

That deserves an apology from United.
 
May 30, 2019
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+1 on the above comments.

It's not clear if you were with him in SFO. But based on what you wrote, your uncle isn't entitled to anything because he got his small bag on the flight out of SFO. (But if he said they could throw it away, it would [sadly] been within the airline's right to do so after 30 days.)

Why were you going to miss your connection at SFO? Was your flight delayed due to a reason other than weather? If so, there could have been some compensation for the delay (i.e. room, food voucher).

If you want an apology from the airline, be aware that you'll get into a 'he said / that person said' argument.

Also, based on what you wrote, it does not appear that you included any special requests that your uncle may need language assistance. Without putting that on file with the ticket, the expectation of support would have to be zero.

Sorry if this sounds harsh -- just trying to help.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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I am sorry that the experience was unpleasant but here is a reality check. You may feel that someone using the Spanish term for friend is a sign of racism; it may be a sign of someone who was trying to be overly friendly or that the person watched too much Sesame Street as a young child as is trying to be too multicultural; everyone has the right to feel uncomfortable but is this comment an actionable offense? I would say no.

As for the baggage -- if this was a basic economy ticket and the carry on was larger than the one personal item that UA allows then the $30 charge was appropriate. It sounds as if the person at PDX short checked the bag to SFO because there was a forced overnight with the misconnect. Most people would like to have access to their luggage when overnighting away from home. That is why there was the advice to show the receipt. UA and many other other airlines do not allow baggage drop off the night before a flight. When there is something unusual that has happened -- such as a forced overnight because of a misconnect -- that is when one shows the receipt and tells the check in person what happened. And it sounds as if UA agent finally understood what happened and the bag got on the flight without an extra charge.

Racism is a serious problem and exists but using a word like amigos in this context does not sound like it rises to the level of racism. And the agent did not intentionally screw up the reservation; it sounds as if there was a miscommunication and misunderstanding -- such as paying for luggage and the short checking the luggage. As I mentioned most people want their luggage on a forced overnight.

And to say that the UA person treated you like an animal -- um really? How by calling you amigos or pointing out that the delay would cause a misconnect? Did anyone read the terms of the ticket to see if a carry on was allowed and of what dimensions? Did you attempt to ask for language assistance? If the uncle could not speak english well perhaps that is why there was the miscommunication about the previous payment for the luggage.
 

Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
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It is not appropriate to the speaker or a third party to tell someone when they should or should not be offended. And regardless of anyone's opinion of the offensiveness of the comment, it was not professional for the employee to use a familiar term to address a customer.

That deserves an apology from United.
And, hence, the reason I used the words in my opinion! Where exactly did I tell the OP he should not be offended?!? I just stated an opinion, not a command, about the scenario.
 
Sep 9, 2018
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What would you like UA to do? If you double-paid checked bag fees than a refund of those is in order plus perhaps a goodwill gesture. I don't think you are going to get very far with the racism angle. It is just because the Portland employee addressed you as "amigos"? Calling someone what is basically the equivalent of "pal" or "buddy" might be overly familiar, but it hardly strikes me as racist, absent any other obvious intent. People of all races get routed on inconvenient connections all the time.
I agree! I'm half German, half Austrian.....and every morning, our secretary greets me with an "Hola, chicka!" I'm pretty sure she's trying to be friendly. Perhaps the airline worker was trying to be too buddy-buddy.....but I don't think there was any racial intent.
 
Jan 18, 2020
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What would you like UA to do? If you double-paid checked bag fees than a refund of those is in order plus perhaps a goodwill gesture. I don't think you are going to get very far with the racism angle. It is just because the Portland employee addressed you as "amigos"? Calling someone what is basically the equivalent of "pal" or "buddy" might be overly familiar, but it hardly strikes me as racist, absent any other obvious intent. People of all races get routed on inconvenient connections all the time.
@rudster so a person of color can be called a name they don't know what it means by a commercial airline staff? We are not Hispanic people and just because we're people of color it does not mean the UA employee can call us amigo because we are not his pals, we're customers! If I called you something that you didn't know what it meant, but it was a friendly meaning in a foreign language, you probably would have not been happy. I know the airline employees go through trainings before they get their jobs and I don't think they were trained to profile people and greet them with friendly foreign remarks.
 
Jan 18, 2020
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It would be helpful to let us know what you are expecting from United after your experience.....are you looking for an apology? A refund or credit of some sort? As @rudster stated, if your two complaints are that an employee used the word Amigo and that your father was rerouted, in my opinion, those are not racist acts. I work with Latinos all the time and they call me Amiga in an endearing way. If your father was going to miss a connection that would not get him to his final destination, then being rerouted was a positive change albeit inconvenient. But, please, let us know if there is more to the situation than we are gleaning from your post.
@Patina that's good you know the meaning of amiga and it's okay because it's from your co-workers. I am not okay with it because I didn't know what it meant when I was at PDX checking in my uncle for his flight. I do know it's a Spanish word, but then I am not Hispanic. Even though it is friendly and kind, it was new to my ears and not something I was expecting to hear from someone who has gone through Customer Service Trainings.
 
Jan 18, 2020
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It is not appropriate to the speaker or a third party to tell someone when they should or should not be offended. And regardless of anyone's opinion of the offensiveness of the comment, it was not professional for the employee to use a familiar term to address a customer.

That deserves an apology from United.
@California thank you. I honestly think that when you're working with all kinds of people, it is essential to ensure that you don't use any words that can offend them. Just because we look like Hispanics, it does not mean he can call us amigos. We're not friends, we're customers!
 
Jan 18, 2020
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+1 on the above comments.

It's not clear if you were with him in SFO. But based on what you wrote, your uncle isn't entitled to anything because he got his small bag on the flight out of SFO. (But if he said they could throw it away, it would [sadly] been within the airline's right to do so after 30 days.)

Why were you going to miss your connection at SFO? Was your flight delayed due to a reason other than weather? If so, there could have been some compensation for the delay (i.e. room, food voucher).

If you want an apology from the airline, be aware that you'll get into a 'he said / that person said' argument.

Also, based on what you wrote, it does not appear that you included any special requests that your uncle may need language assistance. Without putting that on file with the ticket, the expectation of support would have to be zero.

Sorry if this sounds harsh -- just trying to help.
@Skippy I was not with him on his journey to Kona, Hawaii, I only helped him check in from PDX. His flight from PDX to SFO was delayed and he would have missed his flight to Kona when he arrived at SFO. United Airlines did not provide anything, no room, no food voucher, the only thing the ticket agent did was change his ticket and booked him on the 8:30am (next day) flight from SFO. He spent nearly 14 hours in SFO, he needed to be in KOA for a family function.

I didn't need to ask for language assistance for my uncle. The staff that was working with us saw me helping and interpreting for him during the whole process when he was checking in. The UA staff knew the traveler was a LEP.
 
Jan 18, 2020
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I am sorry that the experience was unpleasant but here is a reality check. You may feel that someone using the Spanish term for friend is a sign of racism; it may be a sign of someone who was trying to be overly friendly or that the person watched too much Sesame Street as a young child as is trying to be too multicultural; everyone has the right to feel uncomfortable but is this comment an actionable offense? I would say no.

As for the baggage -- if this was a basic economy ticket and the carry on was larger than the one personal item that UA allows then the $30 charge was appropriate. It sounds as if the person at PDX short checked the bag to SFO because there was a forced overnight with the misconnect. Most people would like to have access to their luggage when overnighting away from home. That is why there was the advice to show the receipt. UA and many other other airlines do not allow baggage drop off the night before a flight. When there is something unusual that has happened -- such as a forced overnight because of a misconnect -- that is when one shows the receipt and tells the check in person what happened. And it sounds as if UA agent finally understood what happened and the bag got on the flight without an extra charge.

Racism is a serious problem and exists but using a word like amigos in this context does not sound like it rises to the level of racism. And the agent did not intentionally screw up the reservation; it sounds as if there was a miscommunication and misunderstanding -- such as paying for luggage and the short checking the luggage. As I mentioned most people want their luggage on a forced overnight.

And to say that the UA person treated you like an animal -- um really? How by calling you amigos or pointing out that the delay would cause a misconnect? Did anyone read the terms of the ticket to see if a carry on was allowed and of what dimensions? Did you attempt to ask for language assistance? If the uncle could not speak english well perhaps that is why there was the miscommunication about the previous payment for the luggage.
@Christina H are you saying that using friendly foreign remarks on anyone that is a person of color because you think that's where they're from is okay? We are customers of UA not friends of the staff of UA, so don't treat us like buddies, treat us like customers! We're not Hispanic, so the UA PDX staff profiled us and thought it was okay for him to use amigo. You're saying that's acceptable?

No issues with paying the luggage in PDX, but I still thought that it could have been carried on. And the traveler did spend 14 hours (overnight) in SFO but when he went to check in the baggage, they asked him to pay another $30. Somehow they managed to get his luggage onto the SFO-KOA flight.

I was connected with the traveler when he was in SFO and I witnessed what he went through when he was at SFO. We communicated on FB Messenger and he ran into some of the rudest UA employees who just didn't want to help.
 
Jan 18, 2020
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I agree! I'm half German, half Austrian.....and every morning, our secretary greets me with an "Hola, chicka!" I'm pretty sure she's trying to be friendly. Perhaps the airline worker was trying to be too buddy-buddy.....but I don't think there was any racial intent.
@Pixie Pie that's good those friendly remarks are from your colleagues and co-workers and you understand the terms. Would you be okay if a customer base company employees referred to you as schotzie? It's a friendly remark and you know what it means. You should try being a person of color and come see what we have to go through sometimes. The UA PDX employee is not our buddy so he has not right to call us amigo. We're customers of UA!
 
Feb 17, 2018
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Perhaps the employee was Hispanic. I'm originally from Spain and I use that word among others quite often even when speaking English to others. It is better to be mindful that the world is rather large and there can be vast cultural differences. Amigo term is not derogatory term, especially if spoken by someone whose native language is Spanish, so I would recommend letting it go and accept that the employee was probably just being friendly. Some might even consider calling out someone who uses Spanish words as being insensitive to their culture.

In any case, you can always write the airline and let them know your opinion, though I wouldn't expect much more than a courtesy reply.

On the luggage, your booking confirmation should have had a link as to your luggage allowance. If they didn't follow that, then you should address that separately.
 
Sep 9, 2018
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@Pixie Pie that's good those friendly remarks are from your colleagues and co-workers and you understand the terms. Would you be okay if a customer base company employees referred to you as schotzie? It's a friendly remark and you know what it means. You should try being a person of color and come see what we have to go through sometimes. The UA PDX employee is not our buddy so he has not right to call us amigo. We're customers of UA!
Like I said, they are definitely guilty of trying to be too buddy-buddy. Schotzie means sweetie in German. Just like amigo means friend. You need to prove not only INTENT to cry racism, but come up with something better than being called 'friend.' If a term of endearment is bothersome, which it is for some folks, then that's different. But being called 'friend' has nothing to do with racial intent.

And I might add that I'm a German Jew....and my people are not historically popular. If someone says sweetie instead to me instead of some other choice terms, I'll call it a day.

But please feel free to continue to argue with the volunteers on this site who are here to help you......
 
Nov 22, 2019
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By looking at the topic of your comments, I have the feeling you are much more offended that someone was thinking you were hispanic than your uncle was resceduled to a flight with overnight connection without lodging (which is not convenient at all I agree, and exhausting, etc..). Good luck to ask UA compensation for racism...