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Jay Lake
Date: 2011-02-02 15:01
Subject: [cancer|travel] The hidden costs, courtesy of United Airlines
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, health, personal, travel
In a larger sense, this is trivial, but it's still important to me. I've stumbled onto yet another cost of my cancer today.

I was on chemotherapy for six months last year, along with a month of tapering off, as well as liver surgery with a month or so of recovery. These cancer treatments kept me grounded from work or writing related travel for eight months.

In the course of a normal year, I fly anywhere between 60 and 100 segments of air travel. (A "segment" being any individual hop, so a one-stop round trip is a four-segment flight.) Last year I didn't come anywhere near this, due to the aforementioned grounding courtesy of chemotherapy and surgery. As a result, United Airlines has downgraded my frequent flyer status.

I called United Airlines today to ask that my Premier Executive status be restored, as I expect to travel my full rota this year. I was told that since I had transferred in to their program in 2009 on what's called a "status match" (from being Aadvantage Platinum on American), and had flown so little in 2010, that I didn't have enough history to be granted a waiver. Neither 2009 nor 2010 was a full year of travel with their program.

As it happens, on American I am a lifetime Aadvantage Gold flyer, due to having accumulated more than 1,000,000 frequent flyer miles over the years. Since United has declined to give me a waiver for my health problems, I'm simply going to switch back to American. It won't take me any longer to regain my Platinum status on American that it would to regain Premier Executive on United, but with my Gold status, I can keep my early boarding and preferred seating privileges while I'm working my way back up.

United Airlines is penalizing me for having gotten ill with cancer too soon after moving the majority of my travel over to their frequent flyer program. American's lifetime Gold status award to me is paying off, as I'm taking my business back to them. Their routes are less convenient for me than United's, but unlike United Airlines, American also isn't taking another bite out of my life due to cancer.

Yes, I'm fully aware that I'm complaining about a loss of privilege. But this is how the system works. If you fly a lot, the airlines treat you better in an effort to keep your business. I'll be flying a lot this year, and I'll be doing it with the airline that is treating me better.

No thanks to United Airlines.

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User: madrobins
Date: 2011-02-02 23:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For what it's worth, United seems to have an unbelievable track record of being shitty to people with disabilities, illnesses...and guitars. Let them miss your business (you would think, with the economy the way it is, that United would go out of their way to retain customers, but apparently not).
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User: mastadge
Date: 2011-02-02 23:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No. To United, customers are an inconvenience.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2011-02-02 23:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't really think that privilege comes into it when it's a core part of your work life. I've had this argument many many times with people who don't understand why I get bent out of shape about not flying on Airlines I've got status with.

If I'm travelling on business I'm not going on vacation. I typically don't have a lot of time to make connections, I don't have time to spare, often, in terms of meeting schedule v. getting hire care back and into airport etc...

I used to get seriously tired of being told to hand travel booking over to people who obviously thought that what I was doing was cool and exciting.

There is nothing cool and exciting about doing a tight aircraft change at 5am after a 4 hour red-eye, and being able to walk straight onto the next aircraft is a necessity.
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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2011-02-02 23:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't see what privilege has to do with it. You're talking about weighing the benefits of two different businesses' policies, and choosing the one you prefer. By default, this will punish the one you don't prefer. That it's about a privileged service not available to everyone is immaterial.

If you'd been grounded for some reason other than cancer, the same thing would likely have happened.

For some odd reason, I'm reminded of the scene in "Pretty Woman" in which Julia Roberts, decked out as a classy broad, goes back into the shop that would not serve her when she was clad as a streetwalker. She points out to them what a huge mistake they made by not giving her good service.

My mother always told me to write a letter to the president of a company that did me a disservice. Apparently, she got good results that way.
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Lisa Deutsch Harrigan: Pixie Dust
User: lisa_marli
Date: 2011-02-03 00:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Pixie Dust
Write to the President of United.
We have the American Airlines Basic Frequent Flyer membership. We don't fly often, but they have some good connections out of San Jose. One time, I had problems with something on American. I wrote a letter to the President and got a Real Response with a few goodies thrown in.
So I say, Write to the President of United. Show him your miles before you got sick, what your record was like with American. And why you are now going back to American, even though they are less convenient.
You might just get that upgrade in membership you want.
And if you don't, then definitely give your business to American. United is full a cr*p and doesn't deserve your business.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-02-03 01:10 (UTC)
Subject: Can't agree you're being punished
It's of course your choice as to the airline you fly, but to say that United is "punishing" you for being sick is rather strange. You didn't fly, you didn't accumulate the miles, you don't get the status. It's not punishment because you were sick.

Let's say I take a year off from work to be with my child, and thus don't fly much. Would I be punished for having a child, or for wanting to spend time with me, if my status isn't renewed?

I'm actually surprised United didn't give it to you, and this may be your attempt to get it via publicity, but it's not punishment.
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User: mastadge
Date: 2011-02-03 04:13 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Can't agree you're being punished
Not sure why you have "punishing" in quotes, as Jay never claimed he was being punished. He's talking, as I understand it, and as suggested in the subject line, about hidden costs, an indirect penalty.
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Bruce E. Durocher II
User: bedii
Date: 2011-02-03 02:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There is a good business travel writer at the NYTimes--Sharkey--who would probably like to know about this. (He's the one that got a bunch of TSA screeners put into Federal prison over thefts from passengers.) You should e-mail him a link...
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User: jackwilliambell
Date: 2011-02-03 02:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I really get this. And I don't consider it 'privilege'. Frequent flier status is EARNED. Flying as a method of travel basically sucks rocks at every step; it's only saving grace is it gets you there orders of magnitude faster than the other options. If you have to fly a lot you should be treated a little better. Someone who has to fly once or twice a year suffers for a few hours in total. Someone who earns platinum status suffers a sum of days or weeks in a year.

For work I used to fly to Europe and Asia a lot, so I kept my frequent flier miles on Delta. That worked out really well last year as, despite flying less than usual for work, I managed to make Gold status for the first time ever -- I usually come close to Gold and miss it by a few thousand miles. I probably wouldn't have even managed to keep my usual Silver, but the one trip to Australia really piled on the miles.

This year I expect to travel a lot less. So next year I probably lose my elite status. The horror!
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User: e_bourne
Date: 2011-02-03 05:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It is annoying. I hated losing my status with Alaska while Mark was sick. I also know it is the airlines' way. They don't budge much (although they will extend time periods to allow you to get extra flights in before claiming the year's over or move up a level).

There is a marked difference in treatment, and I sure missed it the following year.
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User: klwilliams
Date: 2011-02-03 06:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My best friend had many nasty things wrong with her the last ten or fifteen years of her life, but one thing the really got to her beyond all of that was the bits of her life that were slowly taken away because of her health. Sometimes it was body parts, ultimately ending with her breasts, and included other big things like her job and her husband, but it was the smaller things that drove her crazy. Not being able to walk the dog, or to eat dessert. Small things that she used to take for granted. So yes, this isn't a huge thing in your life, but it was taken away because of something that wasn't your fault. I'm sorry.
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Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2011-02-03 15:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good riddance to UA.
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