Posted by: thebluemusicblog | June 15, 2015

UNITED WE STAND – AGAINST UNITED WE STAND – AN AIRTRAVEL FROM ####

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This is quite an ordeal! On my way from Saint Louis to Chicago with UNITED, mark the airline UNITED, I was informed on my way to the airport that my first leg would be 2 hours delayed and I would loose my connection to Europe. I fought hard and got an earlier flight out of Saint Louis so that I could catch my connecting flight to London. UA 958 Chicago – London. After three-four hours of flying the tail of the aircraft started to vibrate and the captain was loosing control with the aircraft slowly but surely. The steering systems were malfunctioning and we were informed to fasten seat belts and prepare for emergency landing in Newfoundland, Canada. We turned around and I was preparing for my second emergency landing in my life. Last time it was a bomb threat. My neighbor started to tell me the history of his life in 5 minutes and we talked intensively for a few minutes. Then the flight went silent.

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It was a very  long hour. 200 people in controlled tension. The problem was at the back end of the aircraft. The aft wings are moving up and down to keep the plane stable and not diving or climbing uncontrollably. The captain was no longer able to control the movements of these aft wings and it could easily lead to disaster.

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The fuel tanks were full, and that was adding tons to the weight of the aircraft about, hopefully, to touch down on an unknown airstrip somewhere in Newfoundland, Canada, really, really remote and far away. Every second was full of content. Thoughts of all kinds were running through my mind. My life went passed me as a high speed movie, and I watched every picture, saw every face, remembered all the names and felt one emotion after the other. My neighbor was probably doing the same. As his neighbor and hers. The silence in the aircraft was thundering, it was yelling at us. I could here the wheels coming down. We had been flying at low altitude for a long time, that was probably regarded safest. I stared out of the window in the hope to see lights, to get confirmation that the airstrip was coming closer, that this ordeal soon would be over. Nothing. Just tons of darkness and miles of nothing.

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Then the first light. I felt an enormous relief when I saw somebody’s entrance lamp. Somebody Canadian deeply into the vast loneliness of Newfoundland somewhere, I hoped that that was not the last light I would see, but that I soon would see the beauty of landing lights from a remote airstrip.

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Soon after we saw the lights and seconds after we had landed, the brakes screeching and yelling at us, trying to stop this massive weight of steel and fuel and human flesh. All around us firefighters and ambulances, the whole show, and we eventually stopped seemingly deep inside a forest.

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The captain spoke to us. Wished us welcome to Canada and told us that the brakes were so overheated that it was not safe for anyone to come close to our aircraft.Spooky feeling to sit in the middle of the same aircraft with the overheated brakes just under my feet and tons of aviation fuel to my side, right and left.

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Slowly the doors came open and we lined up to leave the aircraft. The crew was standing there, small talk went on, they were drinking coffee and eating fruit from 1.st class. That was the time when I started to understand that this might become a very different experience, a very different and very unpleasant experience. We, the passengers, were not offered anything from before the crisis was announced up there 35000 feet over the surface of Canada till after we had come through the Canadian passport control and customs clearance hours later. And what we then were offered was a bottle of pure Canadian water. Nothing less, nothing more.

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I saw wine bottles disappearing from 1.st class into the crew luggage, and from that point out the ways of the crew diverted from the ways of the passengers.

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The bus, only one, and 40 at a time, took us through all the customs bureaucracy and then finally to our final stop that night, some remote barracks on the military base where we had landed, and I finally got to know that we were in Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Canada, the last few kilometers of land before the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Had we wandered wider over that ocean, we would have been sure to perish.

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Now we were dumped into these barracks and I realized that my room  was without any heating, it was snowflakes in the air and I found exactly one thin blanket. Coming out of humid and hot Saint Louis, I was in my T-shirts and nothing more. Some of my fellow passengers were in shorts, and a young couple with a baby had to share one narrow bed and the same, thin blanket.

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I was too tired to think about that, and went to bed. Wrong decision. I started to shiver, I was freezingly cold. I got up, started to search for anything that I could cover myself with. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Apart from a very small hand towel. I put it over my chest in a symbolic effort to keep less cold. It did not help. Early morning I moved around in the room to fight the cold. There was of course no room service. There was no reception. I was given no telephone number to anybody. The only thing I could do, if it had not been so terribly cold outside, would be to open the window and scream.

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It was dawning on me that I was traveling with a unique kind of airline and that we had been blessed with a very special kind of captain and crew. This was a kind of airline and crew, which dumped their passengers and let them alone to deal with their own ordeals.

And the crew themselves? Gone in a taxi to a nearby 5 star hotel where they could enjoy the French wine from 1st class and sleep in warm rooms. We did not see them for 20 hours. When we saw them again, it was with hostility in our eyes.

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Breakfast was overwhelming and both the bus drivers and the kitchen staff at the 5 WING GOOSE BAY of the Canadian Air Force were all enormously friendly and charming. All praise to them!

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After lunch we were asked to take the bus back to our cold barracks again and we did not hear or see or feel any kind of presence or assistance from UNITED. NOTHING. Not a phone call, not an e-mail. Nothing. The day went by, and then Paola from USA and Shamit from Mumbai and I decided to explore the neighborhood and went for a walk through the forest looking for a shop of any kind. We hit a super market and bought as much refreshment as we could carry and paid for it with our own funds, and then carried it through the forest and invited the whole barrack for a party in the basement. That gave us some hours of thinking about other things than our own misery. And not organized by blessed UNITED.

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Late evening finally an aircraft came from the USA to take us back, not to Chicago where this ordeal had started, but to New York. Together with my new friends from the barrack I started to ask the crew about what had happened and informing them about our cold misery. They quickly became provocative and arrogant and we asked them to leave us. Other crew members took the same attitude, and very soon a relatively calm bunch of international travelers had been provoked into an angry crowd. At the end none of them dared coming down to us. Apart from one lady from the crew. Bless her! She said she wanted to talk with us and she listened. I told her that we all had a genuine need to know what had happened to us the day before, 35 000 feet up in the air. She decided to tell us, even if it may bring me into trouble, as she said. And then we got the truth about the aft wings not being controllable and that we had been very close to catastrophe. In this way she honestly and elegantly defused the whole situation and we thanked her sincerely.

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Coming in to New York, UNITED continued to harass us. We had to go through immigration before we could reenter our plane, and we even needed new boarding passes. Some of us had bough Economy seats at the Emergency Entrances to have some more leg rooms. All of us were now downgraded and given seats far behind. At that point I had reached my limits and I did not accept this treatment. No matter what I said or did, the lady behind the counter was not able to change her behavior. The same thing happened to my friends sitting around me. We were again provoked into deep anger.

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When we entered the aircraft, we were told to just forget about the new boarding passes and just return to our seats. I could not believe my own ears. And none of us smiled.

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We became good friends, and led the expedition to the super market: Shamit, me and Paola

The flight was again several hours delayed, and around 2 o’clock in the morning we took off towards London and I had again lost a connecting flight to Geneva. I did not care.The only important thing just now to all of us, was to remove ourselves from UNITED as far as we could come and make sure that we never ever returned to UNITED.

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Have I been contacted by UNITED with an apology of any kind? No, I have not. And I am not surprised. UNITED – the Customer Care from ####.

Yesterday Paola was interviewed on CNN. Today I was interviewed on CBC, Canadian national TV. See CBC.ca


Responses

  1. My God Johan! What a experience you had!
    God bless you dear friend and I stand against United too.
    Warm wishes from Peru.
    Rocio Solis

  2. Johan I had no idea that this was so serious and you and other companions lucky to be alive. And shame on United for their miserable treatment. All the very best to you!

  3. What a story! I read your early msgs re: this flight; and when I later learned via news coverage that some intrepid passengers had led a trip fr the ‘Barracks’, ‘through the forest’ to find a grocery store, and had then shared the food w/ everyone — I just knew it was you, Johan. You are a real hero for your leadership (and sense of humor) in this crisis; just as you have been for the World YMCA! And, thank you for your ‘Blue Music Blog’!!

  4. Thanks, Eileen, we had some fun walking through the forest hunting for food (and beer) 🙂

  5. It made the news here in New Zealand. It continues to amaze me that any airline could fail so badly in communication and care for its passengers.

  6. What a bizarre nightmare of a flight you had, Johan! How absolutely awful. UNITED deserves the bad rep!

  7. hi, dear Johan, glad your’re safely home.

    God Bless.

     

    can you tell me if there is a translation into French of the talk you gave to a very attentive groupe last

    Saturday 6 th in Berne?

    I’d like to use it with our Geneva YMCA board…

     

    thanks in advance for reply.

     

    Primo Bursik

     

     

     

     

    > Message du 15/06/15 19:58 > De : “Blue Music Blog” > A : p.bursik@orange.fr > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] UNITED WE STAND – AGAINST UNITED WE STAND – AN AIRTRAVEL FROM #### > >WordPress.com

    thebluemusicblog posted: ” This is quite an ordeal! On my way from Saint Louis to Chicago with UNITED, mark the airline UNITED, I was informed on my way to the airport that my first leg would be 2 hours delayed and I would loose my connection to Europe. I fought hard and got an e”

  8. What a journey, and such bizarre treatment from United! Against United, I surely stand!

  9. Dear Johan, I hope you can be OK, I´m sure that our Lord protect you. We need you again because you get inspiration for many people in the YMCA.
    God bless you,

    • Thank you, dear Gerardo! See you in Lima next April!

  10. My goodness. I’ve heard some pretty horrible stories about airlines before, but none even come close to this. I think the next time I have an inconvenience at an airport, I’ll think back to this whole ordeal of a story and be able to shrug it off a lot more easily. Wow.


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