Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
When an airline's customer service appears to go awry, it can be bracing.
More often than not, the right thing to do seems clear.
Yet in the latest peculiar incident, there are perplexing elements.
The family of Pfc. Benjamin Jimenez -- who's stationed in Germany -- said he booked with United Airlines in order to get from Frankfurt to Detroit and back for Christmas.
They told the Detroit Free Press that Jimenez got to the airport, only to be told the flight was canceled.
Worse, he was apparently told the first part of his journey didn't qualify for a refund, as it was with United's codeshare partner Lufthansa.
The only option, he was told, was to pay $2,500 for a new flight. So he did and believed he was stuck in the U.S., desperate to find a way to get back to Germany at reasonable cost before the New Year.
He told WXYZ-TV:
They gave me an itinerary, they never booked it, they whitelisted it, saying the line never paid for it and I was pretty much just out of luck.
This all sounds a touch strange, if not incomprehensible.
The crux of the matter, said Jimenez's aunt, Sarah Mundt, is that Jimenez says he didn't receive an email informing him of the cancelation.
And suddenly, despite hours on the phone with United, the cheapest return flight the airline could offer cost $3,000.
There's one sentence from the story that is curious:
Mundt said they were informed that United Airlines partners with the airline Lufthansa for German flights, and Lufthansa decided to increase their rates and cancel the flight.
What does that even mean?
If you increase your rates, the flight will presumably cost more. It doesn't mean it'll be canceled.
Moreover, if you've already bought your ticket, the rates aren't going to change.
Surely, too, if the airline cancels a flight, it has a responsibility to rebook the passenger or offer a refund.
How could this not have happened long before Jimenez got to the airport?
Worse is Mundy accusation that the family spent hours talking to United Airlines customer service and getting nowehere.
This is only, though, one side of the tale. There may be far more than has emerged.
So I contacted United to ask for its perspective. I'll update, should I hear.
It's curious that Jimenez's family said he was already out $1,116 for his original ticket, another $2,500 for his one-way flight from Frankfurt and still needed at least another $3,000 to get home.
You might think, if indeed the facts his family put forward are correct, that United could have come to some more reasonable accommodation.
Oddly, it was only once Jimenez's tale reached the media -- and once a GoFundMe campaign was set up on his behalf -- that the airline reacted a little more swiftly and decisively.
United decided to refund the money for Jimenez's one-way flight. It's also flying him back to Germany before his leave expires. For free. "As a gesture of goodwill," it said.
A gesture of goodwill that apparently started with Jimenez being offered travel vouchers, rather than a refund.
Now why couldn't something so apparently reasonable have occurred before? Unless there are other facts that haven't seen the light.
Mundt has mixed feelings about it all:
It's kind of bittersweet, because we tried for hours ... it took this to be able to get their attention.
It's unclear, though, what actually happened with Jimenez's original ticket.
If there was a cancellation, who did the canceling? And why?
And why wasn't Jimenez re-booked or refunded? Oh, and why don't airlines make sure that if they've canceled a flight, they have a clear idea of what the passenger wants them to do about their reservation?
I fear there's a little more to this story. Yet United, I suspect, took a look at the protagonist -- a U.S. soldier -- and preferred to pay a little money, look reasonable and move on.
Which seems a wise business decision.