A Blog – In My Personal Opinion……
I do quite a bit of flying on United Airlines. Not as much as some but more than most. It's bad.
If you also fly them a lot you know that to be true. If you don't, you may not be aware of just how bad it is.
I can (and will) list some specific examples, but the key point is that it's not getting any better...and it won't. Getting better is not on United’s current agenda - not in the top ten, not even in the top hundred. Figuring out how to squeeze more dollars out of the product regardless of the pain it causes is their current management’s only goal. Blinded by the greed of top executives the pain is extended everywhere - to passengers of course, to employees, to retirees, to communities - as I said, everywhere.
In just the last week, we've read stories about:
· A Newark – TelAviv flight whose passengers were subject to unnecessary torture and indifference. United is being sued in Israeli court where they are expected to lose.
· A holiday meltdown In Denver where newly outsourced ramp jobs can’t be filled by qualified people at the wages being offered - so bags are delayed and misrouted. United’s ridiculous claim here was that they didn't expect the extraordinary demand of a holiday season travel period - despite years and years of experiencing one.
· News that United intends to further outsource jobs at many of its locations, releasing workers that dedicated years to an airline and have been supportive in good times and bad - thus again proving their pre-merger testimony to the US congress about not outsourcing was just another airline lie.
Those are the big hits - the ones with severe impact, but for the everyday customer, it's usually not a case of a big hit, but rather a series of little ones as every part of the flying experience is worse than it was. Death by a thousand pinpricks - just a series of unnecessary indignities that make passengers dread getting on airplanes.
In my last week of flying I had to check a bag in San Francisco - which admittedly has been a self-service process on a kiosk for years - but this time I was asked to put the paper tags on the bag myself as a machine spit them out. Not a big deal, but not the first class travel I paid for. Then, on that first class transcon there was zero in-flight service. No meal or beverage service – not even a hot towel upon landing. I paid extra for what I knew would be an uncomfortable flight at the end of a long day, and other than a slightly bigger seat got nothing for it - ZERO.
Then, on my next flight, the gate agent stopped me during boarding and said my carry-on wouldn't fit in their sizer. I explained that I’m well over a million-miler and that the bag had been around the world multiple times – it fits on every plane and in the sizer. She didn't care, she made me put it into the sizer. I had to drop my things, lose my spot in the boarding line, and push on the bag a bit to get it in (as it is at the very top end of acceptable) but it of course fit like I said it would. She issued no apology for the hassle - and in fact was belligerent, saying that it is her duty to ensure that the bags fit.
Now if one really stops to think about it, it’s hard to understand the point of these sizer episodes. The United bag sizer at all airports is actually a bit smaller than the space available in the overhead bin. Even if my bag barely didn't fit it would still fit on the plane. But clearly, to any human being with a brain, the bag was very close to fitting - it obviously wasn't oversize. What is the reasonable rationale to force me to test it? The only possible answers are either that United management wants to make everyone's carry-on experience so miserable so that they'll check bags more often and in theory make more money in fees, or that United mistreats these gate employees so much that they are trying to provide them with opportunities to exert any authority possible as a valve to let off steam. I'd love to tell you this is the exception, but overzealous (and wrong) agents often ask me to put it in. It’s just another part of the wrong-headed approach to customers that make flying on United miserable.
Then, when we get on board, we have to watch a video with United’s CEO telling us about how customer service is their priority. It's bad enough that the customer experience obviously is terrible, do they have be on a video shown just before the flight and lie to us as if we're idiots?
Were my experiences this week as bad as stranded passengers or lost luggage? Of course not, they were just this week’s version of continuous annoyances. But the point is my experiences weren't ever good. They haven’t been since this management team took over and destroyed two good airlines. Whether it's new seats too small and thin to be comfortable, aircraft in horrible shape inside and out, surly and overzealous agents and flight attendants agitated and encouraged by management to mix-it-up with customers over the smallest things- it doesn't matter - with United there's always something worse just around the next bend.
It’s not just my personal experiences and the big-hit incidents above that show United to be at an all-time low. The Wall Street Journal’s ranking of the best and worst airlines has United dead last…again….for a fourth year in a row. (Here’s a link to the results for those that don’t subscribe to the WSJ.)
Of course, the irony is that despite the incompetence of the current management team, as you read this they are about to or have just announced terrific earnings. This has nothing to do with their customer and/or employee unfriendly policies. This is because the price of jet fuel (and all oil products) has plummeted in recent months. This is not just greed but corruption, with airline executives pocketing “fuel surcharges” they added to tickets when prices soared. Now that fuel is near its all-time lows these fees should be abolished and/or refunded. But of course, that would involve “doing the right thing” which never would occur to them.
When Continental bought United and took the worst of both there were a series of meltdowns that had their management apologizing because of how difficult the transition was. It’s years later and they’re still apologizing and not delivering anything but misery. It's time for a change - for new leadership at the airline. It’s time to stop the lies and greed and again put the customer experience above all else. When businesses do that - making their service desirable and their employees happy - the profits come as a result – heck even Gordon Bethune knew that. There’s no need for this continued misguided squeeze trying to get blood out of a stone. There’s no need to use sub-par outsourced firms to deliver sub-par service to increase executive bonuses and lose dedicated, skilled employees in the process. There’s no need to continue to stoke angst between sUA and sCO employees. There’s no need to continue creating policies to provoke anger and rage between employees and customers. There’s no need for any of those things – unless they are there just to distract people from the current misguided lack of leadership and vision amongst an ineffective management team.
United needs a new leadership team that gets just how bad it is to use their services and/or be one of their employees – and begins the journey back to decent service. The current one has proven they don’t get it, they lie about it, and they are not willing to change.
UPDATE: Since I originally posted this blog I’ve heard from literally dozens of sUA and sCO employees who had lots to say. Many led their note to me with apologies for what frequent flyers have been going through – showing an amazing dedication to customer service even under the duress from a management team that threatens their future. Some pointed out to me how the culture of United is as toxic as they’ve ever seen – suffering their tasks under threat of penalty instead of the promise of reward that existed at various times at both carriers. (Remember when Continental would give away cars to outstanding employees?) These workers have no idea why their management would be abandoning their promises and outsourcing their jobs – other than because they are simply clueless and greedy. One said “the kind of workers the outsourcing firms will bring in will work for a few months, then leave and go somewhere else for better working conditions. The company will have to hire more security and cameras to “oversee” the contractors to prevent theft and fraud. These contractors will not be concerned with how many bags were mis-handled last month or what they can do to improve. They will not be concerned with an elite flyer if his or her luggage is late and needs a rush delivery.” Still another said, “How can a profitable company say they have to outsource to vendors to remain competitive? Competitive with who, I ask. Wal-Mart? We’ve cheapened our product to the point that it no longer has value or appeal.” And then, some employees have done more than comment:
· They’ve started a change.org petition drive to have their CEO removed that already has nearly 5K signatures. They would really appreciate support for this from United’s frequent flyers.
· They’ve begun a funding drive to take out a full page advertisement to publicize these issues.
· Newspapers like the Denver Post have begun reporting about these issues and the petition drive.
I don’t often find myself on the same side of service employees at an organization where the service isn’t good, but the beleaguered employees of United certainly deserve our support. The current management team has created a “them against us” culture between employees and customers to distract from their own incompetence. That’s just one more thing we shouldn’t let them get away with. If someone will let me know where to buy one of those “all Jeff’ed up” t-shirts I’ll wear it proudly in support of these good people.
UPDATE, UPDATE: A bunch of people have written that I was wrong when I stated “Continental bought United.” Technically I’m sure they’re correct and the legal documents point to a merger or even that United bought Continental. Ever since it happened though it’s been all about the CEO putting a United costume on an airline that is neither United nor Continental. We can debate which airline was better or worse and why, but what exists today is neither the regional carrier that excelled because of its limited scope (even if it failed once in a while) or the global carrier that prided itself on customer service (even if it failed once in a while.) It’s a global carrier with the infrastructure of a regional one and a management that doesn’t deserve to lead people or be in a service industry.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.