The line's alternative, a reservations hotline recommended by staff, directed callers to an autobot who advised to ring later before dropping the call. The few staff available on the airport floor had a rather circuitous argument.
"I can't wait for hours," I said.
"You can call the reservations number?" they would say.
"The number isn't working."
"You can wait in the line?"
Their "solutions" made as much sense as ravens and writing desks.
Exactly how glacial was the pace of this line? A boy a few people ahead retrieved a pack of cards and began to play Solitaire. He had won eight games before we moved. As for me, I spent my time writing United a letter (you're reading a rather toned down version, the four-letter words have been redacted.) I've yet to hear back.
Meanwhile, fares were still being sold over their website, particularly an abundance of Business-class seats for inflated costs and rising.
Before I get accused of unfairness (I'll readily admit to bias), weather issues on the East Coast and Midwest had thrown curveballs to all airlines over the last week. But a quick walk through other airlines' terminals revealed a stark contrast in crisis management. I passed several -- Delta, American, Virgin -- and sure, they were busy but customers were moving swiftly through queues, smiles were aplenty, children were playing with their souvenirs rather than sleeping on a dirty floor.
A welcome diversion as perseverance waned, a man who had been waiting for over 8 hours called the local CBS LA news and they arrived promptly with cameras in tow. United sprung to action, rushing to populate all 10 booths and having an employee walk through the crowd to encourage calls to the non-functional hotline. Smile for the cameras. All under control. Nothing to see here.
Speaking with TheStreet, one United spokesperson explained the airline's response to the presence of cameras was coincidence, the result of airport rotations, rather than a calculated PR effort.
"We staff where there is the greatest need. We routinely move staff around the airport every single day based on where there is the greatest need at that moment," he said.
Additional responses from United on the conditions haven't been forthcoming. In a somewhat juvenile attempt to wrest control, I live-tweeted United throughout my agonizing wait, goading them for a response. Still at least 50 people from the front of the line, and with no response, my phone died.
A lot of angry people on this line, @united . You might have a riot soon.KerisAlisonLahiff (@KerisAlison) January 5, 2014
Simple gestures would have made all the difference. Water bottles distributed through the line, sunscreen for those waiting outside, a kind word and a patient ear. This, though, seemed beyond United's grasp.