United Airlines Update

January 17th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

Here, in its entirety, is the response I received from UA, over two weeks after I sent them the contents of the last post:

Dear Mr. Dickinson,

I regret the inconvenience that you have experienced on January 1.

I understand that you encountered the following:

1. You were not served well during your flight.
2. You are disappointed with Economy Plus service.
3. No meal service was available during your flight from San Francisco
to .F. Kennedy.
4. Their was no personnel video system available onboard.

First and foremost, please accept my apologies that we did not serve you
better. We didn’t seem to do very well providing you hassle free travel
experience. We have no excuse for the poor service you had to tolerate.
I have shared your comments with my colleagues responsible for the
specific areas you mention so they understand how these experiences felt
from your point of view, and so they can follow up with their teams to
ensure improved handling of your travel needs in the future. All of us
at United value hearing about aspects of our operation that work for you
- as well as where we can further improve. Your candid feedback allows
us to learn from them.

Moreover, Also, I understand from your report that your baggage didn’t
reach on-time. I would share your feedback with our Baggage Offices at
the respective departure and arrival airports so they can work to
improve baggage procedures. Your request for the reimbursement is
appreciated. However, we do not provide this based on your baggage not
reaching its destination on-time and I do apologize. I hope that you
would have received your baggage by now. In case, you have not yet
received the same, please contact our Central Baggage department by
calling 1-800-221-6903.

You experienced so many difficulties, which we regret, and while I can’t
undo the circumstances you experienced; please accept the travel
certificate, which you will receive within 7-10 business days

Please give us an opportunity to provide you the service you expect from
United Airlines.


Leetika Kalra
United Airlines Customer Relations

On United Airlines

January 2nd, 2008 § 5 comments § permalink

Everyone has an air-travel horror story. Mangled or lost bags, hellish passengers, emergency landings, and so on. I have no such story to share, but the last leg of my journey home yesterday was on United Airlines, the perpetually-bankrupt U.S. carrier, with whom I haven’t flown in several years, and it gave me some insight into why the US airline industry often performs so poorly.

I flew from Melbourne to Auckland to San Francisco on Air New Zealand, and have nothing but good things to say about the experience. My economy-class seat was comfortable, I was well-fed, well-watered, and even managed to get some sleep, which for me is a rarity.

I then transferred over to United Airlines for my final domestic flight; the last five hours between San Francisco and JFK. I was confirmed on a 4:00PM flight, but noticed a 1:30 flight that I could get on. Large signs posted near the customer-service desk informed me that in order to stand by for an earlier flight, the airline required two hours notice so they could move my checked luggage from the later flight to the earlier one. Fair enough. I had two hours and fifteen minutes, so I stood by, and to my amazement, boarded the earlier flight, despite it being overbooked by twenty passengers.

Apparently, this particular flight was a United “P.S.”–for Premium Service–flight, which I didn’t know at the time of booking. I’d never heard of P.S. until yesterday, but apparently it’s United’s attempt to bring their service levels, particularly in first and business classes, up to speed with foreign carriers (such as Air New Zealand) who are, how shall we say, wiping the floor with their U.S. counterparts in terms of in-flight service quality.

According to the website, Premium Service consists of:

  • A three-class aircraft with First, Business and Economy Plus (there is no “standard” economy on a P.S. flight)
  • Fine Dining in First and Business Class
  • Personal DVD Players in First and Business Class
  • Reclining Seats in First and Business Class
  • Expanded Legroom in Economy Plus

Had you told me any of this as I got on the aircraft, an extremely elderly 757, I’d never have believed you. The only evidence that I was sitting in an Economy Plus seat was a sticker slapped haphazardly on the tray table in front that said “United Economy Plus”. The extra legroom, if it existed, was hardly noticeable. The service was up to its usual United Airlines standard. There is no food available except that which you purchase, save a packet of greasy pretzels dropped onto your lap by a surly flight attendant.

The Economy (Plus) cabin of the aircraft seemed to be in its original early 1990s state, with faded seat upholstery, long-collapsed cushions, collapsing beige plastic trim, and a sticky, grimy tack to pretty much everything. The lavatory showed similar signs of age, for that matter. Perhaps United had taken out a row or two somewhere to give everyone an extra inch of legroom, but there was no evidence to support that. There was no personal video system of any sort, just a bad movie shown on overhead screens, CRTs so badly damaged with electromagnetism from years of use that they looked green and fuzzy.

When I arrived at JFK, my bag was nowhere in sight. After the carousel had stopped spinning, I headed off to the baggage office to find out where it might have gone. I told the representative that I had stood by for a later flight.

“Oh, well, of course, then. If you take an earlier flight, your bag always takes the later one,” she said.

“But I was told very clearly that I needed to give United two hours notice to get an earlier flight in San Francisco so my luggage would make it. I had to give a description of my bag at San Francisco and everything.”

“Oh, I don’t know why they told you that, that’s not how it works.”

“But there are signs up in San Francisco that say that.”

United are, purportedly, delivering my bag this morning (waiving the $35 fee, thankfully), so I find myself sitting at home waiting for them to show up, instead of being at work. The delivery window that I was given was 6AM-2PM, a full eight hours. According to the baggage representative that I spoke to last night, deliveries stop between midnight at 6AM. So, essentially, the only time estimate that United are prepared to give about bag deliveries is “sometime, during someone’s shift, they will deliver your bag”, which from a time-planning perspective is utterly useless as I am forced to sit at home until 2 until they feel like giving back my bag.

None of this constitutes a horror story. I wasn’t rerouted to Dallas, nor did I see my clothing strewn across the tarmac from my window. I made it home ahead of schedule, healthy and intact. Still, the contrast of service between Air New Zealand and United is quite astonishing. It’s a shame that United fail to live up to its hype of Premium Service, while Air New Zealand, who offer no such self-indulgent claims of quality, execute the same tasks with far more pleasing results.