I flew from school in North Carolina to Aspen, CO to ski with my boyfriend Morgan and his father. The way my travel agent had worked out my ticket, I had to fly from Aspen to Denver to Nashville, TN on United, then on Northwest from Nashville to Minneapolis to Green Bay, WI to get home. A long day, but hey, whatever. Morgan flew with me from school, but was driving home from Nashville, and his dad had a simple round-trip ticket from Nashville to Aspen and back.
The flight from Aspen to Denver went okay, including United handing out a little survey asking how they were doing. (I generally rated them in the not-as-good-as-other-airlines-but-not-really-miserable category.) In Denver, the flight to Nashville was drastically oversold (they needed 6 volunteers out of a 48-person plane), so Morgan and his dad and I asked if we could get free vouchers by volunteering.
The man at the desk gave me a voucher for a free flight (no blackout dates, assuming I schedule far enough in advance), and instead of making me fly to Nashville later, scheduled me on Northwest to fly straight to Minneapolis and into Green Bay on an earlier flight. So instead of going through five airports and getting into Green Bay at 11 PM, I would bypass Nashville altogether and get into Green Bay at 8. Great! Morgan and his dad would go on the next flight (on Northwest) to Nashville, getting in an hour late. All we had to do was to go to the Northwest gate and get our boarding passes printed out.
When we got to the gate for Morgan and his dad's flight, however, the Northwest agent looked at their tickets told us to wait, proceeded to do nothing until everyone else had boarded the plane, then told them the tickets had no monetary value, she had told United that morning not to send anyone else over there like that, and that we'd have to go back to United to work it out. At the same time, she told me that my ticket wasn't actually a ticket at all. It had no use whatsoever, and if they let me on a plane they wouldn't get paid by United, and I should go and get it straightened out before my flight boarded (about an hour later).
So we went back to United's terminal to their service counter (in Denver, this meant taking a little train every time we went to or from United's service counter - this is three train rides so far.) After waiting for twenty minutes, we were assured by a man that he deals with this every day, the gate agent shouldn't have let us volunteer at all because our tickets were "bulk" tickets (I assume because they were bought through a travel agent), and we weren't eligable for volunteering. That's it. No advice, no offer to fix anything, no way for us to get home.
After an hour or so of arguing (by which time I missed the boarding call for the flight I was supposed to be on for which I had no ticket), we got him to call a supervisor. We waited for her for another half hour. She told us we weren't eligable to volunteer, blah blah blah, but she'd call Northwest.
FOUR AND A HALF HOURS after we came to the service counter, I was told the best they could do was to send me to Chicago on United, then put me on standby for an already-full small flight to Green Bay. If none of the 18 people on the plane didn't show up, I would have to stay in Chicago at my own expense overnight (since I wasn't guaranteed a ticket) and buy a flight home the next morning. What?? I'm not staying in Chicago alone at my own expense.
After more waiting for the supervisor, she finally explained (as if I would thank her for it) that Northwest was going to cancel my reservation from Nashville because I didn't show up there and sign in. She convinced them that I was indeed in Denver and wouldn't get to Nashville in the next twenty minutes, and she convinced them to move my flight plans to the next day. Morgan and his dad and I could go to Nashville, stay overnight (we'd be getting in around 11:00 PM), then I could get to the airport at 7 the next morning, have a five-hour layover in Minneapolis, and get into Green Bay around 6 PM the next day. No, I couldn't just fly straight to Minneapolis - United's flights were full, and my tickets from Nashville were really on Continental, even though it was in Northwest's name, and Continental wouldn't let me take a pure Northwest flight to Minneapolis.
So ultimately, the three of us ended up taking a flight to Nashville and getting in at 11 PM. I was scheduled on Northwest's flights the next day, guaranteeing a full two days spent in airports. The Denver United people couldn't tell me if they would pay for a hotel room in Nashville or not, wouldn't give me one of their five-minute phone cards to tell my parents I was getting in 19 hours late, and wouldn't give me any other compensation because I already got my free ticket for volunteering (back when I thought this was a good idea.)
Incidentally, there is no way to reach someone in Nashville from Denver. The United 800 number won't connect you with a person, and calling the Nashville Airport Information yields someone who tells you United has no phones or computers there, and there is no way you can contact them. So Denver can't reserve me a hotel, and I can't contact Nashville until I step off the plane.
Which is what we had to do. Morgan and his dad had a 2-hour drive ahead of them after getting of the plane in Nashville, so we resolved to bully whoever was at the gate in Nashville into giving us all a hotel room that night.
The one redeeming part of United's plan was the gate agent, Kelly, in Nashville. She gave me a receipt for a hotel room (which nobody in Denver could do) and a $150 voucher for my trouble (which nobody in Denver could or would do), and then asked, "Um, is this the itinerary you want?" Apparently the Northwest flight I was supposed to be on the next day was already full, and I was on standby (they didn't mention that part), and I would probably have to wait another day to get home. Yes, two full days after I was supposed to arrive.
Luckily, though, she was able to book me on American the next day to get in by noon. Something I was told by four people in Denver that absolutely positively could not be done, they couldn't create anything, including a ticket to get me home, and United couldn't afford to pay for anything out of pocket, like a flight on another airline. They were only responsible for me getting to Nashville, not Green Bay, and it was my own fault that I didn't check into Northwest at Nashville.
So: gigantic hotel room in Nashville for all of five hours, trouble-free flight from Nashville to Chicago to Green Bay on American the next day, and I didn't have to deal with United even once. Except for trying to track down my bags - while I was going to Nashville, I was told my bags would either be in Denver, Nashville, Chicago, Minneapolis, or Green Bay. United said that Northwest had them, and Northwest said that United had them, and neither could check the other's system. I was happy to find that my bags had gotten into Green Bay the night before, on the flight that I would have been on originally.