Apple screws up UPS recall, but could script “Batteries On A Plane” from it

The other day a UPS man nearly passed me on my way home. But I had a suspicion, so I asked him if he’d returned from trying to drop a battery off. Indeed he had. It was the replacement for the dodgy (word used on advisement) one that originally came with my machine, 20 months ago. He handed over the package, I took it home, and quietly congratulated Apple on doing quite a good job. Swapping x million batteries over isn’t trivial, after all.

Of course, I have to return the old one. Easy enough: there’s a prepaid label in the box. Put the old battery in, leave it unsealed (apparently the UPS person has to see the evil battery inside; it’s a legal requirement in the recall) and call in UPS. There’s even a number in the booklet. You get ten days to return it. After that Apple suspects you’ve kept it and will charge your credit card. But there’s plenty of time for that to not happen, eh?

So this morning I called UPS on the number given.
“I need a pickup – it’s an Apple battery recall,” I said.
“Does it say Standard or Express Saver on the label?” the UPS telephone-answering woman asked.
“Express Saver,” I replied, impressed that something as simple as a battery should get Express status.
“I’m sorry, then, we can’t take it,” said the woman.
Me: silence. “What?”
“Because Express Saver goes on a plane, but we can’t take batteries on a plane.”

Obvious, really: these things are already classed as a fire hazard, though I’m not sure even Samuel L Jackson would sign up for Batteries On A Plane. (Scene 1: SLJ: “I want these motherfscking batteries off this motherfscking plane!” Flunky: “OK, sir, we’ll send them by boat.” SLJ: “Uh, great.” Roll credits.)

Back to the conversation with UPS. “Can’t you just pick this up and then send it by land?”

But of course not. UPS is nothing if not inflexible. No can do. If the label doesn’t say Standard, it won’t get standard treatment. “You’ll have to contact Apple and get them to send you a new label,” said the UPS woman, not helpfully.

So now, the clock is ticking on getting the battery back (after which my credit card will get charged), and through no fault of my own I’m having to traverse the hell of voice menus, repeating my phone number to robots and pressing button 9 now. I ring the Apple number given in the little booklet. I’m on hold for six minutes, my anger slowly rising as intermittently a recorded voice comes on – terribly distorted – which just adds to the annoyance. The thing about waiting in queues like these is that first, you have no way of venting; the machines aren’t listening to hear who’s getting irate, and who’s just doing something useful with their time (the latter is hard to do while holding a mobile on a train and praying you’re not about to go through a tunnel); and second, it’s never for a good thing. You aren’t going to end up thousands of pounds richer. If you win the Lottery, I bet you don’t hang on for 15 minutes while they say “Please have your six winning lottery ticket numbers ready, and while you’re there please decide whether you’d like your life ripped to shreds by choosing the publicity option or whether you’d prefer to choose no publicity and have people think you’re drug dealers because you’ve become suspiciously rich overnight”. No, I bet that one is coloured red and sits on its own desk.

Eventually, annoyed that I was calling an 0845 number from my mobile and getting no indication of whether I was going to get answered within five minutes (I wasn’t) I hung up after seven minutes. I’ll have to try from a landline when I get an unknown amount of time free.

So two things.
(1) This is Apple’s fault. This was screwed up from the beginning: Apple’s battery (OK, made by Sony; so in that sense they didn’t make it happen, but they assume responsibility; it’s Apple’s brand on the battery). Then the battery-serial-number-checking website didn’t work from the start, incorrectly refusing some numbers which were valid (such as mine) which meant I had to make a phone call; and now they have an invalid UPS label on the battery, which becomes a problem that for some reason I have to sort out. I could forgive any one of these on its own, but together they’re just an enormous pain.
(2) Telephone support should be answered within 5 minutes. Always. Or else, you should get the option of a callback. (BT does this: it’s very professional and works really well.) These days, making people hang on a phone line is the short cut to making them hate your brand.

Plus – iTunes 7 doesn’t seem to recognise my ageing iPod nano. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t installed the new Quicktime. What a great week.

Update: OK, just got off the phone to Apple in India. Once you actually get through, the people are terrific. (I’ve got to say that I don’t have a problem with where people are answering from, as long as the system means they’re clued in to what’s happening. Bangalore gets bad press because skinflint companies cut corners on the support systems that would let people answering phones actually solve problems.) I’m getting a new label, and the countdown clock has been reset. Wizzo. Now I’m off to work on Batteries On A Boat, my blockbuster film. It’ll be like Speed 3, if we can only get Sandra Bullock.


  1. Check the schedule real close on this plotline. As I recall it, Apple’s battery recall went into effect just days before UPS’s announcement that they would no longer ship batteries. Dell’s recall (involving an even greater number of batteries) was made before Apple’s, probably setting the UPS decision in motion, but nothing was public while Apple made plans. The battery recall was a bad thing (with more than a little blame going to Sony) but this particular logistics problem was created more by poor timing than poor planning.

  2. This is why I always call voice mail systems from a speakerphone at home, so I can shout “Stop lying, you lying mother[swiver]” at the robot voices, while either pacing around or doing something useful. I imagine the neightbours enjoy it even more than I do.

  3. Sorry to hear you’ve had problems. I guess I must either have been lucky, or got in before UPS changed the rules.

    I had two MacBook Pro batteries (not part of the combustible battery recall, but a MBP-specific one, so maybe UPS are happy to carry them?) with serial numbers covered by the recall. I filled the web form in and two days later had two new batteries. A quick call to UPS (because their website wouldn’t let me call them in online, which was vaguely irritating…) and there was a van with me the next morning to take the old ones away.

    Unlike you, my little booklet didn’t include a number for UPS, though. That’s why I had to go on their site, passing endless forms that didn’t apply to me before finding a UK phone number to call.

  4. Just to possibly up the ante a little more, have you checked how much your mobile call cost? Many charge premium rates for 0845 numbers (you can’t be local to anywhere with a mobile) Anyway, hope the Father Fs!cking battery is returned before armygedden arrives ;-)