Destination Bride: Airline Aggravation

Our bride-to-be encounters a New Year’s Eve wedding crisis.

Happy New Year, everyone! How did you all spend your New Year’s Eve? I spent part of mine on the phone with United Airlines, trying to understand how our flights to Mexico had been canceled without so much as an e-mail to notify us. Yes, this is the tale of how United Airlines could have ruined my wedding. There are many wonderful things about having a destination wedding. Having to depend on an airline is not one of them.

It all started over some yummy vodka-ginger martinis at our friends’ apartment. Spirits were high as we prepared for an evening out to celebrate the start of 2012. Then our friends mentioned that a week earlier, they happened to check on the flights they had booked to Cancun for our wedding, and they’d realized something was very wrong. Their connecting flight to Cancun had been canceled, as had their return flight to DC. Even though they had already paid for their flights, they no longer had a way to get to our wedding or return home. And it was lucky they had looked up their itinerary, since no one from United had bothered to tell them. They were able to arrange new flights to and from Mexico, but not without some considerable stress.

When Nate and I realized we were also flying United for our wedding, we immediately got online and checked our own itinerary. Our stomachs sank as we saw that the direct flights to and from Cancun we’d booked six months prior had been canceled. Instead, United had rerouted us through Chicago. Keep in mind that our wedding is in February—about the worst time to pick up connecting flights in the Windy City. Not to mention we had booked early and spent extra money on our tickets to make sure we’d have direct flights. We will be checking luggage that contains wedding supplies, and we can’t risk having our bags left behind during a layover. I instantly envisioned the worst-case scenarios: A blizzard hits Chicago the week of our wedding. We’re stranded in DC. Wedding canceled. Or we make it to Chicago, then the blizzard hits, then we’re stranded in Chicago. Wedding canceled. I couldn’t drink that ginger martini fast enough.

I could feel my inner bridezilla awakening. I had been wondering if she would make an appearance during the wedding planning process, and it looked like United was about to feel her wrath. But since we were out with friends, that would have to wait. We did our best to forget about the flights through dinner and the midnight celebration.

By 1 AM, we arrived home, and Bridezilla was not only enraged but also a little drunk. I dialed United, yelling “Operator!” over and over again into the phone to get past the infuriating maze of automated prompts. I did my best to stay calm when an agent finally picked up. I explained the situation, stressing that the worst part was that no one from the airline had told us about the changes. When the agent told me that was why United always tells its customers to keep checking on their flights, I lost it. “Do you realize how insane that sounds?” I could hear Bridezilla roaring. “It’s the customers’ responsibility to make sure you don’t cancel their flights at the last minute? That’s crazy!”

The agent was able to rebook us on a direct flight from Dulles to Cancun, leaving a day earlier than we had originally planned. That was fine, though it meant paying for an extra night of boarding our dog and staying at our hotel. But she said there was nothing she could do about the return trip from Cancun. I even asked if there would be more flight options if we came home a day later. She said we would have to fly through Chicago either way. And that’s when she offered this little gem: She would be happy to assign me a Frequent Flyer number with United, so that I could at least earn some points for our trip. Was she kidding? “Not only do I not want a Frequent Flyer number, I never want to fly with United ever again,” I said, and hung up.

The next morning, Nate and I were still feeling uneasy about the return flight—and angry that we had paid for a direct flight and were then unwittingly reassigned to one with a layover. We decided coming home through Chicago just wasn’t acceptable, and that we had to go back into battle. Lo and behold, the agent we talked to this time said there were other options if we agreed to come home a day later. We still have a layover, but it’s in Houston—a much warmer locale than Chicago. So in the end, it took staying an additional two nights in Mexico to find acceptable flights. A longer vacation isn’t such a bad thing, but that also means we’re paying for two extra nights of lodging for both us and our dog.

Once my blood pressure returned to normal, I e-mailed our other guests to tell them what had happened and to urge them to check their flights if they had booked with United or its sister airline, Continental. Sure enough, several of them responded that their flights had been altered as well, and they, too, had not been notified.

To make matters worse, United told us there was no guarantee our flights won’t be changed again. Nate and I will check on our flights every day until we leave for our wedding, since apparently it’s the customers’ responsibility to make sure they don’t get screwed. So much for the friendly skies.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.