I was in Buffalo this past weekend, taking care of some wedding planning before the big event in September. Overall it was a great trip. Except for getting there. And getting home.
I’ve had a lot of bad experiences on United Airlines the past few years, which clearly demonstrate their poor quality and disregard for customer service. But I still fly United Airlines often, for probably the same reason they are still in business: they own a lot of key routes, and I have no other choice.
Delays happen. But what I experienced on United this past weekend seemed far less excusable:
- United Airlines oversells their flights. This means they sell more tickets than they have seats, betting that some people won’t show up. How is this legal? Retailers like Apple can’t bill your credit card for purchases until they leave the warehouse; how is United allowed to bill for a seat that doesn’t exist? We heard many complaints from other passengers who were stranded.
- United Airlines does not maintain their planes. Lets ignore the minor stuff like lack of internet and old, ceiling mounted CRT televisions. United planes are dirty, creaky, and are constantly in need of maintenance. Our flight from SFO to IAD was delayed about 45 minutes for routine maintenance. Why can’t this be done on their time?
- United Airlines understaffs its terminals and has cheap labor. Upon arrive in IAD, we ran to catch our connecting flight. My dad was running. Families were running. Old people were running (sort of). We reached the connecting gate only to find out that flight was also delayed. The gate agent *rudely* told us we should have checked the monitors before running. We had.
- United mechanics are incompetent. Our flight from IAD to BUF was delayed by 15 minutes every 15 minutes for 4 hours. There was no transparency in the matter, no communication by the gate agent as to what was going on. At one point we got on the plane, and were told they had changed a hydraulic pump. After backing away from the gate, the pilot told us they had changed the wrong pump.
Dear United: please don’t tell me about the issues on your plane or that your mechanics are incompetent. I really don’t want to know. Just keep your planes running and on time. Thanks.
- United is cutting costs by reducing gate agents. Our flight back was delayed as well. At Buffalo airport, passengers had been waiting for over 5 hours for a flight to Chicago. There was no gate agent and no announcements. People were huddled around a pilot getting information.
- United outsources customer service, and it doesn’t work. I called customer service to get new flights. My call was routed to the Philippines where I spoke to someone who couldn’t communicate. “What about flights in the morning?” I asked. “Today or tomorrow?” she asked me. It was 4 in the afternoon. “Well, I can’t really fly today in the morning now can I?” There are plenty of smart people in this country who need jobs. Hire them.
And here’s the kicker, and really changed my view on United from simply being old and incompetent, to actually being crooked:
Chicago was a mess with many passengers on standby for the remaining flights of the day. The order of the standby list is determined by the fare class of your ticket (how much you paid).
Someone standing next to us asked if they could upgrade their ticket to be moved up in the list. The agent told them they could buy a first class ticket. But they would still sit in economy. This would move them to the front of the standby line. Several people pulled out their credit cards and purchased tickets for several thousand dollars each.
What United was doing is this:
- They would sell these passengers a nonexistent first class ticket on a sold out flight. In other words, they would oversell the flight at the gate just minutes before it was taking off.
- Since first class was full, these passengers would get bumped to economy but be at the top of the list.
- In economy, someone on the standby list would be bumped off.
So if you have the money to do it, United will let you pay to bump someone else off a flight.
After our flight to Buffalo, I had two simple requests for United: maintain your planes and don’t oversell flights. But now it goes far beyond that. United is crooked. They will gladly take your money for things they can’t deliver.
Something serious needs to happen here. The airline industry is a mess. United needs a serious makeover, like what Steve Jobs did to Apple in 1996. Make the company lean, focus on core products, and be the best or don’t even try.
Would I do with United? “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”
Remember when flying was fun?