Friday, July 30, 2004

My United Airlines Rant

Last Saturday I was flying from Los Angeles International to Denver International Airport.  My flight was at 8:00AM, so I showed up relatively early along with everyone else that was taking flights that morning.  I wound up in line for about 30 minutes at the self-service, automated kiosk check-in.  Why did it take so long?  Here's why:

  • Most importantly, just like self checkout at Home Depot, there were not enough employees to help people.  I actually walked up and helped a few people through the check-in process, but, worse than that, people had to wait 10 minutes or longer for an employee to come put a baggage check sticker on their checked bag.  You see, the system is not fully self service: you don't get to put your own sticker on your checked bag; that prints up behind the counter.
  • The employees that were behind the counter were allowing people to get out of line and ask them questions, many times simply checking those people in behind the counter.  That is not ok!
  • There were no employees making announcements nor were there any signs that told International travelers that they could not use the kiosk to check in.  I can't tell you how many people had to go get in the International line after having stood in line for 20 minutes at the kiosk.

So I arrived at the gate around 7:00AM, sat down to read a magazine, looked up, and realized that the board was already showing a one hour and fifteen minute delay.  Because I know had lots of time, I went up to customer service and asked what the reason for the delay was.  They responded that there was no crew for the plane.  I responded back that I had booked my ticket a month prior, so the airline must have known that the plane was scheduled to leave at 8:00AM and that I couldn't understand why there was no crew; my response back was a dumb look.  I did get them, after about 10 minutes of negotiation, to upgrade me to Economy Plus, which, according to the upsell they tried at the kiosk when I checked in, was a $40 value.  I still didn't feel very warn and fuzzy about the whole experience.

On Thursday I departed Denver, which is a United hub.  I once again went to a kiosk, but in Denver had no line to wait in.  Upon checking in, I tried to switch my seat to an exit row seat; all of the exit row seats were available when I checked in.  After selecting the seat I wanted and trying to confirm the change, a message popped up and told me that I had to see a United agent to let that person confirm my eligibility to sit in an exit row seat.  Now that check makes sense because they do have a series of questions and some age requirements, so I flagged down one of the United reps behind the counter to get my seat.  I was promptly asked if I was a United Premier or 1K member to which I responded that I had not yet hit that status this year.  To my chock, the agent told me that without the status of one of those programs, she would not upgrade me even though seats were available and that I would have to try my luck at the gate.

In shock, because I had heard about this preferential treatment for elite members, but never expected such an overt admission, I very loudly made a comment about First Class in Coach and proceeded to complete my check-in.  Of course, it was just my luck that the printer malfunctioned and the whole kiosk shut itself down.  Due to my earlier outburst, a Manager was now behind the counter and had to check me in manually.  I asked the Manager for an "upgrade" to an empty exit row seat and he refused as well.

On the ground at LAX I went to retrieve my checked bag and wound up waiting from 12:40PM until 1:20PM before any of the bags came off the carousel.  During this time period I talked with the United baggage rep who explained the delay by pointing at some of the carousels that were boxed in with plywood and telling me that there was construction.  I asked how the construction around other carousels was slowing down the baggage from our plane, especially since the carousel had not spit out any luggage from the time I arrived, and he had no answer for that.

I contrast these experiences with United against the fabulous service I receive from Frontier and wonder why I subject myself to flying on United any more.  Frontier really acts like they want my business and they bend over backwards to accommodate me (to the extent that they can).  Frontier has cheap prices, pleasant flight attendants, and gives me free tickets after 15,000 miles vs. United who couldn't care less about the fact that I have a lifetime program mileage of 1,000,000 miles, that I am almost to exec premier this year, that has surly flight attendants and line workers, and refuses to give "upgrades" to the exit row.


Anonymous said...

Ross....I feel your pain. Almost daily, I encounter service failure after failure. Of course, that's my work focus and passion. But, it's sad to see an ever increasing display of remarkably bad hospitality in just about every walk of life, from airlines, beauty salons to grocery stores. Unfortunately, acts of brilliance, or really positive memorable occasions which move the organization forward, are rare these days. Hopefully, some of us can correct that trend. We can only hope.

United will get a plug in the *Star In The Margin (see the blog roll) "Ugly" list. And, I'll try Frontier when I get the chance....thanks for the referral.

Unknown said...

My son (19) flew from Chicago to Los Angeles in mid-May. He arrived 3 hours early per Travelocity. United put his luggage on an earlier flight. When he arrived they could not find his luggage. It was picked up mistakenly by a Rutgers Univ. professor (apparently he could not read luggage tags). Eleven hours later the suitcase is delivered to my home. Unfortunately it was missing his Xbox360 powercords, 3 controllers and 4 games (the actual unit was in his carry-on). After numerous claim forms, phone calls, etc United has decided it will not reimburse anything on his loss. Now that flight is a lot more expensive!
What I want to know is where is the security? How can they take posession of your proerty for hours and not insure your property? You are not allowed to lock your suitcase. It must be nice to be able to pick and choose if you want to be responsible. If I operated my business that way - I wouldn't be in business.

Anonymous said...

Ross, I too am a disenchanted United frequent flyer. I had to cancel a flight due to earthquake damage at my destination and was given vouchers that have an expiration date. I have traveled several times since then, and United was always by far the most costly way to go. So my vouchers remain unused. Now the expirstion date looms, and I'm forced to either go somewhere not in my plans or lose $1500 in flight credit. Why do they always make it so hard. My next flight is on Virgin America, and I can hardly wait. Thanks for your topic.

Anonymous said...

Well, Ross, I've got you beat. Not only will I not fly UAL any longer, I used to WORK for them. I too, am blown away by their behavior and could not take the preferential treatment to employees any longer than I could watch them punish customers because they didn't like their looks. Yep, you heard me. I worked in reservations for almost 2 years. When I transferred over to the airport, I immediately noticed that as long as you had friends behind the counter, you could get things "to happen". Know what I mean?

My demise relates back all the way to my UAL training. The airlines used to be a fun place to work and now it's more like a prison. They entice you by saying "Fly Free" then they lock you with not enough time to enjoy your perks.

When I quit working for UAL and had to pay for my first flight, I was so relieved that I didn't have to look down the barrel of a gun when talking to my supervisor upon my return. My experience was much more pleasant as a regular customer.

Only a few months ago I had to take a flight on UAL and got IN THE AIR before they told us we were all on the wrong plane. And that was only because someone asked how long before we landed in ORD. Oops! ORD? "I think we made a mistake."

As an employee we knew of a great deal of bloopers that could have easily costs someone their life. Does the public hear about it? Of course not.

Well, I don't work there anymore and thankfully, I've found something to do at home so I don't HAVE to travel with United. Whew! Life is so much easier now.