The Dark Side of Travel: United Airlines

Quite a few years ago I wrote a couple of posts about United Airlines: about their terrible customer service and how miserable an experience it is to fly with them. These stayed up for quite a while until I started to feel guilty because I based my post on only two flights. I tried to find humour and eventually took them down.

Now that I have 5-years of constant travel under my belt and have flown on many different airlines, I feel more qualified to back up my original assertion that United has terrible customer service and their flights are completely miserable. In fact, I’ve talked to a couple of representatives as of late who started to morph into the Mouth of Sauron as I was speaking to them.

The first time I flew with United, it was my first time out of Canada and it was a regional jet from Los Angeles to Calgary. I had just spent 4-months travelling abroad and arrived in Los Angeles disoriented and lost. My flight was cancelled. The airline didn’t bother to rebook me on another flight. When I talked to “customer service” agents, they feigned indifference and said I was on my own even though I had paid for a ticket. This was my first experience with United.

The second time I flew with United, I was speaking at a conference in Chicago. I left halfway through the conference so I could make it back to Calgary in time for my daughter’s first day of school; I gave myself tons of flight padding. I made it to Denver where, for no apparent reason, the flight was cancelled. United offered no explanations or an alternate flight. It took them a day to figure out how to get me from Denver to Calgary. I’m pretty sure that if I had rented a horse I could have made it back faster.

My third flight experience with United started in January 2013 and continued until the end of February. In this time, NONE all but one of my flights were on time late. I’ve seen United attendants yell at people; I’ve seen them be so cruel they’ve made people cry. I have argued endlessly with check-in staff. I’ve seen them yell at people who don’t speak a word of English and then treat them like they are 2-years old because there’s no understanding. I’ve seen them let people onto planes without showing identification.

On the plane, I’ve seen them spill coffee on people without apologizing. Their flight attendants fill the overhead bins with their luggage and force passengers to gate check their bags. I have sat on the runway for two hours waiting for another flight to bring in airplane “parts” from another city. My co-workers have turned around in the air and gone back to the city of origin for some confusing reason (later they found out it was because United didn’t add enough fuel to the plane to make the trip). Attendants change the rules for use of electronic devices based on a whim. I’ve seen them bully people into giving up their paid or preferred seats. I have been bullied for holding my phone in my hand during takeoff.

They’ve stranded me in cities. I’ve been bumped off flights because they are oversold (even as a Star Alliance Gold member). They’ve cancelled my flights for no reason. I’ve been refused in a US lounge because I wasn’t on an “international flight” even though I was flying to Canada (and was subsequently told that Canada is part of the US and is therefore not an international destination).

This is all in two months… only 16 flights! I am baffled as to how this airline is still in business but have since discovered that they swamp routes/cities that no one else will fly to force people to fly United. And rather than staff with United employees, they staff with contractors and pay low wages. In the end, everyone is miserable and no one can do anything about it. Essentially, their customer loyalty comes from holding people hostage.

These days I go out of my way to fly around United routes even if it means doing a stop-over in another city. The way I see it, even if I have a stop-over I still get to my destination (often faster) and I’m much happier without United’s miserable customer service.

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