Can United Airlines fix itself?

It’s hard to find anyone who likes the new United Airlines.

Even at United Airlines.

I spent a day touring the company’s new headquarters in Chicago last week, visiting with managers and executives who oversee customer service initiatives. Most of the meetings began with an apology and a promise: “We can do better.”

But can it? Can United, still wobbly after a difficult merger with Continental Airlines, right itself?

To answer that question, it helps to first understand how bad things are for United’s customers.

In the Transportation Department’s latest air travel report card, the airline recorded the most delays (only 77.2 percent of its flights were punctual). It had the highest rate of lost or mishandled baggage of any mainline carrier (3.50 per thousand). It bumped the most passengers of any major airline (1.73 per 10,000). In a single month, passengers filed 304 complaints with the government, more than twice the grievances of its nearest competitor.

I haven’t seen numbers like this since before US Airways merged with America West.

The stats are reflected by the stories United passengers tell me about ridiculously long delays, being mistreated by indifferent flight attendants, having their luggage lost, and being placed on hold for hours only to speak with someone who doesn’t have a command of the English language and can’t help them, anyway.

And the fees — ah, the fees!

United, some critics and customers claim, is profitable thanks to a windfall of so-called ancillary fees ($5.2 billion worth of them last year) for everything from ticket changes to checked luggage. These extras, they say, have successfully transformed the world’s largest airline into one of the world’s least favorite airlines.

After a blog post in which I described a few of the remarkable things I saw at United, which was roundly criticized as a puff piece, I decided to ask readers if they thought United could straighten up and fly right.

Many customers told me the current problems are the result of a conflict between corporate cultures — on the one side, Continental Airlines, with a reasonably good customer-service reputation, and on the other side, United Airlines, which wasn’t exactly a customer favorite.

“If United adopts the customer service model and attitude of Continental, they’ll do fine,” says Charles Kolb, a million-miler on United.

If they don’t? Not so fine, Kolb predicts.

Paolo Castro, a United passenger who frequently travels between Boston and San Francisco, says practically everything is broken at the new United.

“Their pricing is usually $50 to $150 more than the competition,” he says. “Then they nickel-and-dime you with fees, which adds another $50 to $200 to the cost of the flight. The service is mediocre. There’s no Wi-Fi on the planes.”

Castro also says United’s CEO, Jeff Smisek, shouldn’t have accepted a $4 million merger bonus. “That bonus could have brought back a lot of furloughed pilots,” he says.

Liz Pollock, a corporate benefits administrator, in Wilsonville, Ore., is so fed up with the new United that she refuses to fly it anymore. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was an incident last year, in which she was seated next to a paralyzed passenger and had to climb over him to get into her seat.

United’s crewmembers and customer-service were indifferent to her complaints, she says. They offered her a seat on the next flight the following morning and sent her a form letter when she complained.

“I find it hard to believe United can turn itself around,” she told me.

I’m also skeptical, but I believe the situation isn’t hopeless. United’s service managers openly acknowledged their problems and assured me they have a plan to fix it. For now, they’re working on the basics, like preventing delays and making sure you get a timely refund.

I came away with a sense that United’s managers in downtown Chicago are as exasperated as the customers who complain about the airline’s substandard performance, but for different reasons. If we passengers could only appreciate the complexity of running an airline, they say, maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to judge. If we could understand how difficult it is to merge two large airlines, we’d give them a break.

Maybe that’s why their apologies — and there were many — were also tempered with an odd but completely understandable sense of defensiveness. Passengers just don’t know what they’re up against, the managers suggest.

So can United get its act together? Maybe. I liked the folks I met in Chicago, and I believe they’re aware of the urgency of the situation and are up to the job.

But how soon can they do it? And will the improvements be enough, or will they just affect a chosen few super-elites in the front of the plane?

Passengers like Pollock and Castro have already stopped flying United. (Castro prefers newer airlines that can be a little obsessive about service, like Virgin America).

How many more will follow before things improve?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • lorcha

    Looks like the United Airlines staff at ORD has done it again. First, they break Dave Carroll’s guitar, then they lose a 10-year-old unaccompanied minor:


  • Raven_Altosk

    Do you mean fix as in neuter? Because they’ve had months to solve their problems and I’m thinking that’s the only thing that’s going work at this point!

    But seriously…UA is a mess. Call one of the “elite” phone lines these days and you’ll get a barely literate idiot reading a script. Really? I can only imagine what the “regular” customers get to deal with.

    As far as the paralyzed passenger story goes…I’m struggling to find sympathy for the OP. More details are needed on that one, IMO.

  • Raven_Altosk

    This needs to be sent to major media outlets and circled around facebook. UA should not get to PR- this one away!!!

  • emanon256

    I am not sure why people keep saying they need to adopt the Continental customer service model. No offence to Continental fans, but when Jeff took over as CEO for continental he threw customer service out the window for Continental before the merger. This is not a United issue, this is a Jeff issue. Continental was one of the best before Jeff took over, and United was reasonably good too. I flew both for many years out of NY, and in early 2009 switched to only UA because CO was going downhill fast. In the merger when all leadership was handed over to Continental executives, they threw every lick of customer service out the window for United. What you see now is not United.

    They took United’s modern reservation and scheduling system and scrapped it for a 30 year old system that can’t manage the scheduling and maintenance of the combined airline. They added a bunch of new fees, upped a bunch of existing fees, took away a lot of frequent flyer benefits, and took the least customer friendly policies of both airlines and dropped the good ones. Yet they keep tooting their own horn publicly about how great they treat their customers. Well as a Premier 1K I can tell you that I am now treated like dirt. Half of the hings I used to be able to do on line, I now have to call to do. Things that used to take 1 minute, now involve being on hold for 30+ min. G-d for bid I have a complaint; I get an insulting/rude e-mail back from a e-mail address. I have 2 refunds that have been outstanding for over a month. I have had 4 flights be on-time since the 3/3 merger. I have had more flights than I can count on 1 had arrive over 2 hours late. I have been stranded overnight and where the old UA would put me up in a hotel, the new UA refused. When I complained I was only told, “We are sorry you feel upset.” It used to take less than 24 hours to get a response to my e-mail, now it takes a month. I now get e-mails telling me to call, and when I call they tell me to e-mail. And the icing on the cake is that they keep touting more elite upgrades. Yet I sit there on the top of the waitlist while they sell all the reaming seats for under $100 to non-elites, and all the elites remain in coach. So loyalty is now punished, not rewarded. That’s just adding insult to injury. I have had 1 upgrade post 3/3 and I used to be upgraded 50-60% of the time.

    It doesn’t think there is any fixing this short of ousting the CEO, converting to a modern computer system, and re-writing all of these new policies.

  • john4868

    I disagree with you on the old UA system. I hated it. Sorry but it was stupid that I had to call India everytime they changed the schedule to acknowldge the change. I also hated that my PNR ended up full of flights I never took because UA agents didn’t delete them.
    Do I need to go into the old UA staff? How about people that really didn’t give a crap. At least the frontliners, even in EWR, at old the CO seemed to care. Not so much with the UA staff
    When it comes to the computer system and the website, I think its what you prefer.
    Having read this piece, the problem is definately management. Here’s a clue. I don’t care how hard it is to run an airline. I care that you get me where you promise to get me, when you promise to get me there and with the bags you made me pay exorbinate rates to get on the plane. If you can’t figure out how to run your business, I’ll find an airline that can.

  • john4868

    Disagree with you on the elite line. I haven’t run into that but I have run into people that are still trying to learn the computer system.

  • Blackadar

    Fix themselves? They can’t even fix their planes. The last 3 United flights were all delayed or canceled due to maintenance. Thanks guys, I’ll fly another airline. At least there’s a better chance of getting there rather than on your old, broken-down planes.

  • john4868

    Further reflecting the UA I don’t give a crap attitude. I’d make a union jab here but the majority of Raven’s favorite place, Disney, is unionized so it definately is a management issue.

  • MarkKelling

    Face it, the old UA and the old CO are both gone and neither is coming back. Which ever you liked best, well, that is the past and you can reminisce about how a special employee at your favorite went out of the way to fix your problem all you want. We either have to accept what the combined airlines have become or find another one we like better. I have found one I like better (F9), at least for domestic travel. I will be flying the new UA internationally for the first time next month and am a bit nervous about it.

    The excuse that the airline is so big that it is difficult to manage is bull. They knew how big it was going to be before they merged. I think a lot of the problems are that employees of both former airlines simply want to continue doing things the way they used to because none of them wanted the merger any more than most of the customers wanted it. Some of the public announcements they have made recently about changes to the Houston hub after the city approved Southwest’s request to add international service to the other airport there make them appear like a two year old throwing a tantrum and did not give them any needed boost to their overall corporate good will.

    I never cared for the old UA much and never had any experience with them that stands out in my mind as a positive. Maybe because I lived in Houston and flew CO more. But the employee attitude at CO always seemed friendlier and more helpful and I don’t think it was because I was one of their top tier flyers. The excuse that UA had a Chicago attitude never worked for me.

    The new UA has employees that seem bitter at best and hostile at worst. Maybe they are just reflecting the overall dissatisfaction their customers are feeling. Things have not gone smoothly regardless of what Jeff keeps saying in the pre flight videos. While I have still received upgrades on 90% of the flights (I’m a 1k flyer this year), most have been last minute after I was already on the plane. I find the flights on former CO planes manned by the former CO attendants to still be much more efficiently handled and have better service than the old UA options. My last flight on an old (and I do mean OLD) UA flight was strange. The 1st class flight attendant was too flustered to serve pre-flight drinks because the flight had a full dinner service and he just couldn’t figure out how he was going to get all of us served on a 3 hour flight. Oh well.

    I do hope UA finds a way out of this mess. They offer a level of convenience for me to fly where I need that none other has. But they have a long way to go and need stronger and better management all the way to the top to get there.

  • emanon256

    It sounds like we had some very different experiences. The having to call to confirm a schedule change was annoying, but not that big a deal. It happened so rarely and for the most part if was a small change, so I never bothered to call and never had a problem. It was also advantageous as the policy was they could re-book you for no fee and no fare difference if there was a schedule change, even for a small schedule change. So when I booked a connecting flight to Hawaii because it was cheaper, I would call and they would put me on the non-stop. I am not sure why you had to call India though, I almost always got someone in Hawaii or Detroit when I called (Still not sure why Detroit, but thats what they said).

    I never had that PNR issue either. When the would protect me on a flight due to weather, I would see two records. Or when I went standby and cleared, I would see both, but I though that was a good thing. Personal preference I guess.

    Don’t you have the same experience with the new website? Not for a schedule change, but I keep getting notices that I need to call to have my ticket reissued, I have no clue why, but its more frequent than the schedule changes.

    The old UA staff in JFK, LGA, DEN, SFO, IAD and ORD have always been quite plpleasant to me. I have always thought they went above and beyond. I will say the babaggage handlers at LGA didn’t seem to care, but once I got past them it was smooth sailing. I thought the CO staff at EWR cared quite a bit to, but that seamed to drop off in early 2009. I remember tryin to go standby on a flight and the agent refusing to even add me to the list (there was space accordign to the website). Thats when I wrote CO off.

  • MarkKelling

    The computer system is handling things well enough for the new UA now. Sure, they had some major issues when they combined everything, but they would have had the same issues if they went the other way and kept the UA computer system instead. When you merge two systems that are as different as those were, you can’t help but have problems.

    I never liked the UA web site. It always seemed too convoluted and difficult to do simple things. Can’t say I really liked the CO site either. But they made their choice.

    I too have seen the paid upgraders take the seats I want in 1st. It has also become nearly impossible to get a mileage redemption seat anywhere. Customer service phone waiting has become unbearably long even during off hours and the people who answer have a difficult time understanding what I say and I can’t understand most of them. All of this is why I have moved on and fly another airline whenever I can. Too bad for UA and their loss of the thousands of dollars a year I spend to travel.

  • john4868

    I guess we really did have different experiences. I wasn’t a UA elite so I wasn’t allowed to talk to somewhere over here. I have always felt that the ORD staff rude. Where the CO EWR staff seemed to shed the New Yorker attitude at the door, I got tons of Chi-town attitude at ORD.
    I haven’t had the phone calls from the new UA. I have had to call more than once to acknowledge a schedule change after the website put me into a loop and its still annoying. Its nice that I’m an elite with the new UA and don’t have to sit on hold for a hour like I used to with the old UA.

  • MarkKelling

    It was only with the old UA that I ever had to call to accept a schedule change. Most I could do on the UA web site. I never had the issue of schedule changes with CO so I don’t know how that would have worked for them. And I have never had that with the new UA so far.

    Ticket reissues? Also something I never had with any version of UA. Maybe they just don’t like you? :-)

  • emanon256

    The ticket re-issue is a new thing for me on the new united (old CO) website. Maybe it is just me. :-) Its very odd. Though it is the one thing they are always able to do relatively quickly without putting me on hold for 30 min.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Gotta spell it right, John. It’s Di$ney. LOL.

  • cjr001

    Mergers always leaves problems for the customer to clean up.

    In the end, I’ve seen plenty of complaining on both sides of this merger. Some were happy United customers who want to blame Continental for all that’s gone wrong, and then some were happy Continental customers who want to blame United for all that’s gone wrong.

    In the end, it really does feel as if this merger has really taken the worst of both companies, rather than the best. Although, I get the feeling this happens more often than people realize.

    But if United needs to fix itself, so too do most if not all of the other airlines. I’m not sure any of them are really that much better off, whether it’s ridiculous fees, being late, bad service, etc.

    FWIW, United is my backup airline after Frontier. And even after the merger, I personally have seen little difference in service. But then, for years now I’ve had low expectations of the airlines, am waiting for my ‘turn’ to have my luggage lost, and so on.

  • TonyA_says

    Do you think they merged so you can feel better or get better service? Duh. They merged so they can make more money and survive a harsher economic environment. Let’s face it, with LESS airlines in your route, the LESS they could care about you. But overall, flying on an airplane is not much different than taking the train or the bus. It is just transportation.

  • TonyA_says

    My local government has a hard time keeping roads free of potholes either. Maybe we are all just running out of money.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m a long time CO flier and I hated the staff at EWR. Maybe I’m just too Southern to tolerate the Jersey ‘tude. My “favorite” experience was getting on a shuttle bus from C to A. We were waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and a few pax were begging the driver to go b/c they had a tight connection.

    The witch turns around and tells them she’ll leave when her friend brings her the food she ordered.

    …and ten people missed their flights while we were waiting for Fatzilla to get her McDonalds bag.

    The worst part? The shuttle drivers at EWR are AIRLINE employees. They wear airline uniforms! So CO had to rebook 10 pax because someone insisted on waiting 20 minutes while a “friend” fetched her a hamburger.

  • MarkKelling

    Nah, they merged so that Jef could say his was bigger than anyone else’s. (His airline I mean.)

  • TonyA_says

    After reading your excellent post of what you MISS today, I think it is obvious what CO saw in a merger with UA. UA MP elites were getting “too much” compared with other airlines were giving (or not giving) their elites. So CO saw an opportunity to monetize these freebies. There are a lot of Private Equity folks where I live and they all have the same mindset. Merge, buy out, privatize companies and gut them.

  • grw57

    I think the question is ‘Will United Airlines fix itself’ rather than ‘Can they’. I’m sure United will look at their bottom line and will only go far enough in ‘doing better’ so that they maintain as much of a profit margin as possible.

  • TonyA_says

    True. I forgot how the high and mighty have those ego trips :-)

  • TonyA_says

    or Uniturd Airlines? No offense to the disabled.

  • AndTheHorseYouRodeInOn

    deleted….best not said, nothing good to say.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I don’t fly United because their customer service model is: If you don’t like it, go somewhere else, but sit down and shut up until you do.

    I voted “yes” on this one because they CAN turn things around; and they can start with personal responsibility.

    As I read your column, Chris, I read United giving you excuses for everything:

    ” If we passengers could only appreciate the complexity of running an airline, they say, maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to judge.”

    Yes, it’s IS tough to run an airline, but there are many other airlines who do it and do it better than United. If they can do it, why can’t you?

    ” If we could understand how difficult it is to merge two large airlines, we’d give them a break.”

    We as passengers DO understand how difficult this is. Again, other airlines have done it and done it better than the whole Continental/United debacle. If they can do it, why can’t you?

    Where we should be seeing a promise, along with a tangible plan, to do better, all we get are excuses that it’s OUR fault they aren’t doing better. How is it our fault? By having expectations we be treated like people and not chattel?

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I thought I read this morning the 10-year-old unaccompanied minor who was “lost” was flying between NYC and Atlanta, and it was on AirTran…

    And in looking for the link to this article, I found the article you mention! TWICE!!!!!

    Wow… Just – wow.

  • BlondieDC

    As a FA at subsidiary UA, please know all of the front line employees are trying our best. Changes come every day with the merger-some big, some huge, some tiny…we’re trying, we really are!

  • JS_22

    Honestly, the new United doesn’t need to fix itself – as much as people
    complain about it, they will still fly with them when they have cheap
    fares. They can’t make everyone happy (since half the people want the
    old CO and half want the old UA) so it’s somewhat difficult to be ‘good’
    from everyones’ point of view.

    And they are still feeling the effects of the merger (the scheduling can
    still be improved with multiple hubs and redundant flights, agents need
    to get more used to the new IT systems, they can improve their yield
    management, they just need to get used to running a larger airline in
    general). Yes, many of those should have been sorted out sooner, as
    other problems have been, but I feel that given another few months
    things will still get better.

  • IGoEverywhere

    All of the newly merge mega-airlines are pathetic in customer service. Why Blame poor ole United, when Delta is right behind them in horrible service? My cousin flies Cleveland – Sydney 4 times a month on UA and posts on facebook the number of screw-ups per trip, usually 4 or 5. My wife or I fly Pittsburgh – Seattle every month on Delta and have not had 1 clean round trip to date. All other future reservations are on Airtran for this year, one of the few airlines allowing inexpensive upgrades at the last moment. I am giving the Delta miles to armed forces families and surrendering the priority status. Airlines, listen to the customers, we do not have to understand your complexities! You owe your customers a higher level of , intelligence, service, and less fees.

  • emanon256

    How about UniTerd?

  • emanon256

    Thank you!
    I am sure you don’t hear that enough. Its not only hard for the customers, but also for the front line employees and we should not blame them. They are struggling in many cases harder than we are.

  • TonyA_says

    lol, I did not want to say that.

  • emanon256

    That just makes me sick. That an employee would do that, and McDonald’s food.

  • cjr001

    I’ve thought some more about this story, as well as read some more today about United “losing” another child. And then I read the responses to that story, and the other horror stories from years past where similar circumstances have happened to other families.

    The pattern is there for all to see. United (and other airlines) needed to be fixed long ago, and they have repeatedly shown that they unable or unwilling to do so.

    And couple that with the fact that the UA/Continental merger has sent the company crashing into the ground in terms of customer service?

    No, there is no way UA can fix it self.

  • TonyA_says

    Re: $4 million merger bonus. WHY?
    Shouldn’t a bonus be given for PERFORMANCE ?
    Can thy claw back the bonus? So far, the merger seems to be a dud.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, Detroit has NO regular reservations – only specialty desks (worked there for a few years), which is probably why you mostly got them. :)

  • emanon256

    Well they were always very helpful there :) Thanks!

  • Joe Farrell

    aw, c’mon, its not United’s fault – they outsourced the UM duties and the company just forgot – no big deal. And the contract clearly states its not United’s fault since they have a contractor for the UM escort duties.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The latest story about the10-year-old being stranded says it all. They charged a hundred bucks to have somebody get the kid from one gate to another…and couldn’t even get that done. Anybody who’d cared even a tiny bit would quickly of figured out the girl had a connection she’d miss and proceeded with a Plan B when the attendant wasn’t showing up. There’s people who do nothing but help the disabled get around the airport and you can’t tell me there wasn’t a single United employee who couldn’t have been spared for a few minutes to take care of the task. And to top it all off, nobody calls the family to explain that she missed the connection but everything is okay and she’ll be on the next flight?!

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    No. No. No.
    United cannot fix itself as long as Jeff is the CEO.
    I have 2 more flights with miles on United, and then I plan on divorcing myself from them.
    The planes are dirty, customer service is almost non-existent and it is impossible to have missing miles and segments credited when using a Star Alliance carrier. I don’t want to talk to someone out of the US when I call the Premier line. I had the misfortune to fly on March 3, the day of the merger. Trying to get the correct miles/segments on the Lufthansa portion of my trip had been an exercise in futility. Phone calls don’t work. E-mails can take up to a month to answer.
    I plan on booking by flights in the future on Lufthansa, any Star Alliance carrier or Icelandair for my trips across the Atlantic.
    The poor performance is truly a failure of leadership that starts at the top with Jeff.
    I do feel bad for many of the United employees who work very hard and still care.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The article I read about the girl headed to camp had a comment from a United exec almost saying this verbatim, noting how it wasn’t actually them who forgot the girl, just who they’d hired to do it. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that one. Did the exec really believe anyone would make that distinction?

    Interestingly enough, he didn’t address why actual United employees who the girl asked for help reportedly refused to let her call her parents. Nor did he tackle the question of why United failed to inform the parents of the connection being missed and made them fight through the phone tree looking for answers after the camp reported to them the girl hadn’t been on the original flight.

    In order to fix something, it helps when the people involved actually care. It seems like United is a lost cause on that front.

  • ac6bw

    Did you mean “exorbitant”?

  • Cybrsk8r

    Their excuses don’t wash with me. Delta and Northwestern pulled off their merger. Sure, Delta a mediocre airline at best, but I’d pick them over United.

    United reminds me of that classic Lily Tomlin bit where she was the operator and she said, “We’re the phone company. We don’t have to care”. United seems to still see itself the way it was 30 years ago, when it really was one of the elite airlines in the world.

  • Forty2

    Well maybe I’m the outlier, but I have had great service since the 3/3/12 merger. I always get upgraded as a (new) UA 1K, flights have been timely, and I had no problem redeeming a close-in F award BOS-SAN which got glitched by the Aug 10 weather meltdown. I ended up going through IAH in a middle Y seat BOS-IAH, and while I got to SAN six hours late, I got there IAH-SAN in F as expected. UA doesn’t owe me any compensation as they can’t control weather. Sure being stuck in a middle seat for four hours sucked, but there was no other option.

    I have never seen F seats sold to kettles before elite upgrades. This is a fiction. I don’t know what legacy 1Ks enjoyed but I’m pretty happy with the new COdbaUA.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thanks for the laugh. I remember that shtick of Lily Tomlin’s. “One ringy-dingy . . .”
    I flew United 30 years ago, and don’t recall it being very customer-oriented back then if you weren’t an elite flyer. Since I’ve never been an elite flyer – well, you can guess what my experiences were like. They were, however, less cattle-car-like than they are now. Unfortunately, in/out of Chicago United is the only choice from Omaha Eppley. I drove the last time, instead. Tells you what I think of United’s service these days.
    I miss Midwest. I miss Continental.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I flew Southwest from Omaha, thru Midway and on to Dulles about 2 weeks ago.

  • jet2x2

    There’s legal and there’s right. I am tired of businesses blaming their failures on contractors, employees, the moon in the sky, or whatever. Of course if a UA employee had helped the girl we would probably be reading about him or her being fired for doing something inconsistent with company policy.

  • Bill Stephens

    Holy sh*t, complaining about a customer with a disability and you have to climb over then. You are fu*cking heartless. Customers with disabilities fly every day on any carrier and you find this careless, you have a problem. The world does not revolve around you. YOU NEED TO STOP FLYING if this is offensive to YOU.

  • emanon256

    I have never seen F seats sold to kettles before elite upgrades. This is a fiction.

    Just because you have not seen it does not mean it is fiction. A few times a year my wife flys with me, but we are on separate reservations. While I get offered to buy-up for $250+ she gets offers on the same flights for under $100. And typically she booked 2-3 months out and paid much less for her ticket. I attached a screen shot I took of one.
    On my last BOS-DEN flight there were 73 people on the upgrade list for a 757 with 24 seats. Only 3 upgrades cleared. I was talking to one guy by the gate who said he had to check 2 bags for $50, but was offered the opportunity to upgrade for $40 which came with free checked bags, so he took it. I asked him if he was on a full fare ticket and he said he paid about $300 round trip.
    Perhaps these cheap upgrades to non-frequent flyers only happens on certain routes at certain times? I am not sure. But I am glad it is working out for you. Unfortunately out of my 41 flights since the merger, I have received 1 complimentary upgrade.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Their schedule doesn’t allow for a full day in Chicago, arriving early in the morning and leaving after close of business. Neither my husband’s nor my corporate travel budget allows for hotel stays before/after a meeting that can be accomplished in one day. We’re stuck with United, schedule-wise.

  • Nica

    I agree with you if she meant it like that. I am wondering though if she was complaining that it was an inconvenience to the disabled passenger that she had to climb over him as opposed to her? Maybe she worded it wrong? I think I am hoping that she is not really that heartless as her comments made her seem.

  • Nica

    I recently flew UA to Las Vegas and the service was okay. But an interesting thing happened on the way back to NY. We actually had to wait for a couple to get on the plane (which left at 01.16 in the morning). They apparently had overslept… the pilot was furious – he was like “LET’S GO”! They missed the flight as far as he was concerned. But another employee was like, “they are on their way”.

    You can imagine how the passengers on the plane were feeling. When the couple finally got on, they were like, “We cannot sit together? Can someone switch seats with us?” Then it took them another 10 minutes to get their luggage in the overhead. If they had not taken off after that, there would have been a mutiny on board.

    I usually go with the flow because there is no such thing as the perfect flight and some things are beyond your control. But there should be common courtesy and respect between the passengers and the airline employees. But that might be just too much to ask for. :o)

  • Fredo805

    (note: Disqus seemed to reject new comments for about 12 hours yesterday)

    I am a travel agent. In my client profiles I note preferences and warnings per the client’s request. I have an equal number of “never book American”, “never book Delta”, “never book US Airways”, and “never book United”. The “worst” airline seems to be the one “you” flew on “last”.

    I am surprised the topic is the new merged United/Continental. The topic should just be: “Why do ALL the domestic legacy airlines not get it?”

    They have all forgotten what customer service is.

    Frankly, their unclear web booking tools and “off shore” call centers are wonderful tools to help get more travelers calling travel agents like me. So keep up the good work guys. My clients find my customer service “remarkable” in spit of the “crappy” airlines. It makes them happy with me, in spit of “them”.

    The use of real travel agents has increase over the last 3 years. Why do you think that has happened?

  • RetiredNavyphotog
  • Joe Farrell

    You want to fix United [or US/AA/DL/etc]?

    Give the employees the ability to resolve problems. But that of course does not happen. Airlines are just as bad as government when it comes to solving problems. If a customer has a problem the person who sees the problem needs to have the ability to solve it. Yet, airlines have a rule book that is three times as thick as the contract of carriage. There are decision trees as to what you can do and when – there is no discretion and if you try to actually help a customer you get disciplined for it.

    Just look at the kid who was left unaccompanied in Chicago. Gate agents see a kid with no parents and no UM coordinator. What do they do? “Sit down kid, stop bothering me.” Why? Because United is not technically responsible for the kid – they subbed the job out to some third party. So when the kid shows up – its not their problem. if they actually try to help it takes away from their job and they get disciplined.

    In order for airlines to recover they need to hire more qualified people.

    Will never happen.

  • BMG4ME

    Most airlines have employees that have the attitude in your first paragraph, that doesn’t mean the whole airline is like that though.

  • Peoria Osterelli

    I agree that they have it bad. but someone complaining that they had to climb over a paralyzed passenger? Really? When you think you got it bad, think about that passenger. Please. As if the company paralyzed the passenger. They were doing the passenger a service. Perhaps you are paralyzed and they say they don’t want you on the plane because someone will have to climb over you.