What Flying United Tells Us About the State of the Airline

Associated Leff posted What Today’s United Computer Glitch Tells Us About the State of the Airline in response to United’s Wednesday computer meltdown.

The article and comments posit that something is wrong with the airline, Dana added:

Flying 115k miles a year domestic and international from the DC area means I’m pretty much stuck with UA. I had 10 flights in June, all on United, and only 1 was on-time. Several others had serious ‘mechanical’ issues.

Something is definitely wrong. An IT problem like a lack of redundancy on routers is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Operationally they are just terrible. It’s unfortunate because the flight crews, at least in my experience, are pretty great.

My feel is that United is adrift, with no culture of attention to detail. Safety, operations and service are different areas, deficiency in one does not necessarily mean deficiency in the others. Better to focus on safety than service. Still a service culture so lacking may be a window to the wider organizatio.

I don’t have high expectations of United service. When you hear “Newark-based flight crew,” pixies misting ambrosia in the cabin do not leap to mind.

Usually I just ignore everything and enjoy the privilege of a business class seat. I find being overly critical diminishes my own experience. With United in the news and un-edited Kingsman on the AVOD I decided to take notes on United 89 Newark-Beijing on Friday. For the record I was on a paid business class ticket and have Platinum status.

Prior to departure:

  • No greeting by gate agent when scanning boarding pass, not a sound or eye contact.
  • Flight service leader gave my seatmate an amenity kit and menu, then gave me an amenity kit, forgetting the menu (or maybe we should share?).
  • “They left somebody on the plane,” I hear from flight attendant in the aisle. 2nd door was used for boarding and had been closed for departure. Neon-vested ground crew was in the aisle near 1st door along with several flight attendants. After a few moments, we heard, “Flight attendants, disarm doors…”
  • 5 minutes after getting my and seatmate’s meal order, flight attendant returns to me, “I forgot to write down your order.” Then went away. 3 minutes after, she was back to speak to my seatmate, “I forgot to write down your order.”

After departure:

  • Following all the blah, blah, blah announcements, AVOD screens still black. I asked a flight attendant who was heading up the aisle with an empty cart. She did not even slow her stride, turning her head slightly, “It’s not on.” And then did nothing.

At this point, not 10 minutes into the flight, I shook my head and stopped taking notes. None of these require Singapore Airlines service. This is basic sloppiness in an environment with no standards.

To borrow from Kingsman:

United Kingsman 001

‘Manners Maketh Airline’

Anyone telling CEO Smisek to shape up:

United Kingsman 002

‘Shut the f*#$ up!”

And, the question for United:

United Kingsman 003

“So, are we going to stand around here all day, or are we going to fight?”

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  • Ed C

    As a GS, I now fly DL (if I care about getting to my destination in a timely manner) or AA (if I don’t have to be there in a timely manner). Even though I have connections now, I don’t mind cause everything just runs on time and usually gets me faster (and more pleasantly) to my destination than on UA. It’s so sad. Every year there’s issues after issues after issues. The CEO promises to fix it but then it happens again. I hate flying this airline.

    When seatmates (once a whole cabin) ask about my GS status on the few times I do fly UA, I just tell them to fly AA/DL or a foreign carrier. Their shocked looks are priceless :).

  • Bret

    Luckily, I have a choice. I have quit flying United!

  • Hemant

    You are on the dot …

    Funny part is my 1k status on United is recognized more by Lufthansa than United. Everytime i am on Lufthansa Business class, the Head Stewardess has always spoken to me for at least 5 minutes thanking me for being loyal to Star Aliance and United and gave me a nice chocolate. And not even once any United crew has greeted or treated me like a special passesnger inspite of being 1K, even in International business class.

  • P T

    We hardly ever fly UA anymore. After reading this I’m not looking forward to our PHX-ORD-MUC flight this Fall. Perhaps an ORD based crew will be better.

  • Nick

    Typical for an EWR based flight crew. United would do well to close that entire crew base and just outsource it couldn’t be worse.

  • RaflW

    I status matched to UA last year. But I’m back to flying mostly DL. The grass was not greener.

  • Flown the airline maybe 3 or 4 times since the merger. While the idea of actually being able to find some award availability across the Atlantic that doesn’t cost me hundreds out of pocket is enticing to me, the true purpose of flying is to travel somewhere when you plan to go. Thus a decent airline matters, and UA just isn’t that decent anymore. Can it be fixed? I think so. Will current management? I’m beginning to think not.

  • DA

    “Spot on!” as my Aussie friends say. Ed C sums up my sentiments completely. Multi-year 1k, 3M Miler, and I now go out of my way to fly anyone else. The head of UA’s customer service and the CEO are lawyers, and it shows.

    My experiences with 16 flights in the past 3 weeks-
    >Delta has great hard and soft product (free DirectTV, snacks in E+) and great attitudes, but lousy FF benefits
    > AA has OK hard product and soft product, but great staff attitudes and still decent FF benies.
    > UA has lousy hard and soft product (PED and DirectTVs not working? too bad) and terrible attitudes (I can’t scan your boarding pass, you have to do it, even if your hands are full and you are in first class….pitiful) and so-so FF benies.

  • RakSiam

    I’ve completely sworn off UA. Their attitude seems to be, “as long as the shareholders are making money, that’s all that matters”. There is absolutely no customer service. I’m glad I used up all of my UA miles last year. Made the mistake of booking an itinerary that included a UA/UX flight a couple of months ago. DCA-YYZ-HND-YYZ-IAD. All of the AC flights were on time and quite pleasant. The UA flight was canceled due to a mechanical problem. It was a huge headache at YYZ as we had to enter Canada and then get rebooked. Only the UA agent canceled my whole reservation instead of rebooking me. It was a huge, infuriating mess. Never again.

  • I was UA GS or 1K for years and watched their steady spiral down since the merger as a hub-captive, I had little choice. Now that I do, I haven’t bought a revenue ticket in a while and use my many points for partner award tickets – despite the higher price, it’s so worth it. Once you fly their partners in premium cabin, you won’t go back… Sad state of affairs and no change in sight…

  • Adam

    I’m burnin’ down the rest of my UA miles (~700K) by end of 2016, maybe even sooner if I can do it.

    In the meantime, I’m status matching to AA for 2016 (via corporate match offer in October) and looking forward to not taking any more paid flights on UA after this year. Unfortunately, AA doesn’t offer a non-stop SFO-BOS which I fly a few times a year, and UA really dominates SF in general :\. But we’ll see how things go.

    The one thing that really worries me is the obscenely bad AA availability for US-Europe award tickets, and I don’t exactly feel like paying hundreds of bucks in (equally obscene) BA surcharges.

    . I should just move to Singapore.

  • walterj

    I just flew UAL EWR-OSL two weeks ago in coach and the service was actually better than average- United now serves free beer and wine on transatlantic flights – hoorah. The flight attendants were friendly. With some fanfare, they also introduced a new 3-part meal service; a starter; main course and separately-served dessert. They seem to be making an effort to improve their service.

    Earlier this year, I flew AA twice transatlantic in coach, ORD-BRU and ORD-CDG and I would say there is not a discernable difference between AA and UA. Indeed, on one AA flight; I did notice that the seat pitch seemed smaller. In any case, I think I am getting good value flying either airline with my miles. And I am much more reluctant to use my United miles if I can use other miles, I think I get better value with them.

  • Eric

    Oh, I enjoyed this. Probably because it rings so true. I just wish you had kept taking notes.

    “When you hear “Newark-based flight crew,” pixies misting ambrosia in the cabin do not leap to mind.” Now that’s funny.

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