When booking trips, the first thing I do when looking for cheap flights is to set the search filter to avoid certain airlines. I’ve stopped looking at Spirit and Allegiant for domestic flights. If I’m looking for flights in Europe, we’re not going to book on Ryanair. If you read here regularly (and if you do, thank you!) I bet you’d think Frontier would be on that list. But nope, after eventually flying with them, they’re fine for what they are and I’d fly them again if the circumstances were right.
United is the airline I’m actively avoiding.
It’s been a long stretch of bad news for United. And I’m not just talking about the last week, month or year. I listed a few of the problems United has faced in recent memory from the top of my head here:
- Jan 2017 – All flights grounded due to a computer problem
- United announces Polaris in June 2016 but they’re still in the process of renovating planes and the date to have the entire fleet updated with the new seats isn’t until late 2020.
- In April 2017, things got worse when a bloodied Dr. Dao was dragged off a United plane and the viral video caused one of the top 10 PR disasters of all time.
- Did anyone forget about #leggingsgate, from March of 2017?
- United’s horrible rollout of Basic Economy fares.
- In February 2018, this United employee was caught on video trying to tell a passenger her bag was too big (after removing it from the sizer).
- Due to a string of incidents in 2018 with pets either being sent to the wrong airports here and here or dying while on United flights at a rate three times higher than all other US airlines COMBINED, United stopped transporting pets in the cargo hold for four months until their PetSafe program was evaluated by American Humane – they continues to monitor the program.
- In February 2019, A United employee was charged with disorderly conduct and sued after using racist language when talking to a passenger
These are just the stories I can remember and jotted down when writing my notes about this article. I’m sure there are many more that I’ve forgotten. I just can’t believe how much is wrong with this company. But the only power I have as a consumer is to simply not fly with them anymore.
So why did I make this decision? Whose fault is it? There are many reasons when a big company has a systemic problem. Every employer has good and bad employees, it’s a fact of life. When a company allows bad employees to stay bad and depress the morale of the good ones, you have a problem like United’s.
I mean, look at this video. If everyone at United was like this, I doubt I’d be in the position that I am in right now. If you’re wondering, the bagels in Newark will be much better than those in Houston.
Outstanding speech this morning by United guy Kevin in Atlanta. His “What side of the door will you be on?” line sounds like a coach’s pregame speech. pic.twitter.com/eKuSqsG2QL
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 12, 2018
Unfortunately, not all employees will be like this at 5:40 AM. Especially when they’re working for a company they feel is following instead of leading. Does United want to be a premium airline with the Polaris first class product? Or are they racing to the bottom with basic economy fares? They tell everyone that they are losing money with their decisions but that will change when the rest of the competition meets them at the bottom of the barrel. Let’s not forget when they announced their bonuses would be given out via lottery. Employee outrage over this caused them to postpone this plan, but they’re still planning on going to this system to save money.
Is this the type of management you’d be thrilled to work for? Me neither. It’s impossible to improve morale with a defeated workforce.
Employees aren’t dumb. If they feel management is useless and out to screw over the customers and employees, that’s how they’ll perform. What incentive is there to be helpful if your company won’t appreciate it? If you’re just a number on a graph of a PowerPoint presentation, what do you matter?
I thought there was hope when Oscar Munoz took over as CEO in September 2015. This guy seemed to get it. He said what a CEO who is going to turn things around needed to say. Munoz admitted problems and said they would fix them. He noticed the company’s low morale and promised to improve it. Then he had a heart attack about a month later and subsequent heart transplant in January 2016 and was out for months. Thank goodness he’s okay but all the momentum was lost.
United hired Scott Kirby (formerly of American and before that U.S. Airways) in August 2016 as United’s president and put him in control of the day to day operations, and it shows. Kirby’s history as a cost cutter (he was the one who said U.S. Airways planes didn’t need power or in-seat entertainment and American is still dealing with that problem to this day).
Munoz, while still occasionally giving interviews where he sounds like he knows what the problems are, now tends to end up blaming everyone and everything else for United’s problems.
How has this decision impacted the way we travel?
It’s been over three years since we’ve taken a United flight and 18 months since I swore off flying with them all together. Making this decision had personal effects on my travel. I’m cheap and this isn’t an easy thing for me to accept. I’ve had to pay more for our flights or take non-optimal flight times. Those small sacrifices are worth it for me not to support an airline that I feel just doesn’t have its act together.
My biggest test was during My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Travel Day (With A Happy Ending). I thought I found a United flight that could get me out of my troubles and for a second considered booking it. As it turned out, the flight wasn’t available so my resolve wasn’t fully tested.
We canceled our Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card and I told Chase exactly why I canceled it. We have about 60K United miles but there are a bunch of airlines who are Star Alliance partners. With trips to Europe and Asia planned in the coming years and I’m sure I can use the miles on one of those airlines instead of United.
What can change my mind? I don’t know. Once someone makes a decision about a company, it’s hard to change. I’d have to see them start treating their passengers better. No more stories about dead animals or beaten up passengers would be a good start. Maybe standing up and realizing that some of your employees need to be let go, or disciplined when they act poorly instead of sticking up for them, even when they might be wrong like the flight attendant who put a dog in the overhead compartment where it subsequently died mid-flight:
This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.
Wait, that seems familiar. Oh yeah, it was basically the same as the apology for another dead dog in 2017.
“We are so sorry to learn of Lulu’s passing and have reached out to our customer to offer our condolences and assistance,” United said in a statement on Monday. “We are conducting a thorough review of this incident.”
I guess they’ve improved. This was their response in early 2017 to the death of another dog on a United flight.
“We know this is an extremely difficult situation for Miss Considine and we have been in touch with her before she posted on Facebook and since,” Hobart said. “We offered our condolences and have provided a full refund for the shipping cost.”
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” he said. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
This wasn’t about an animal’s death. This was United’s first attempt to clean up the mess from Dr. Dao being dragged from the plane. Um, sorry we had to re-accommodate the passengers. Really? That was all you could say?
So here I am, making the only decision I can make as a customer. Walk with my money. Not give it to them anymore. Cut ties with places that do, like getting rid of my co-brand credit card with Chase and telling them why I am doing so. No longer using the United shopping portal or Mileage Plus X app. Dropping the dining program. Not earning any more miles in their program. PERIOD! (Well, I’ll earn just enough miles to keep my account active). Otherwise, I’m done. I’m out.
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Your irrational choice is yours. But it’s still irrational—since every other major airline has had pet deaths (which doesn’t matter if you’re not foolish enough to ship your pet in the first place), IT fails, mileage devaluations, customer service snafus of epic scale, credit card challenges, and racist examples that make us all cringe.
Your choice to ignore the fails on other airlines is a choice you’re entitled to make, but it doesn’t obviate the blatantly obvious fact that the grass isn’t much greener on any major airline. They all suffer the same issues, problems, and challenges. And almost none of those challenges you mention is likely to happen for the vast multitude of flyers on any of the major airlines—especially if you’re white (sadly).
So avoid United! We will enjoy the irony when things go awry on the other airlines, too.
Albert Vitale says
One could make a solid argument that United has a higher rate of issues and Delta is squarely the most on time and reliable. Statistics show that management decisions are reflected in the same. The management of Delta has been clearly focused on these and other issues that make flying them the best choice amongst the majors. No click bait just facts and statistics.
The one that is truly disappointing is American which was quite good until the management decided to model it after the only thing they knew US Airways. I still prefer them to United but not by much.
I admire your decision. Leaning away from United as well and becoming more of a freelancer. I have 5 international trips booked this year — and only one of them is United (I should have chosen ANA instead). I may keep my Silver Elite status for one more year before deciding which airline to call my new home. We’ll see.
Let’s check the facts. They fumble at your second point which implies UA is slower to renovate its planes.
“United announces Polaris in June 2016 but they’re still in the process of renovating planes and the date to have the entire fleet updated with the new seats isn’t until late 2020.”
Delta started its last lie flat retrofit phase in 2008 with the 777-200LR and didn’t end until….2014.
And that’s with a smaller widebody fleet.
What’s the date to retrofit the 763s – the biggest part of their fleet with the most uncompetitive Thomson Vantage seat? There is none.
How many systems meltdowns has Delta had in Atlanta the last three years? Go count em. At least FOUR!
Did you know Delta was sued this week by a passenger who was mauled on one of its flights by an ESA?
The list in this op ed is like a Mad Libs that could be filled in for any network carrier.
UA has a systemic problem with labor relations dating back to the 70s and 80s. It’s complex, fascinating, and has yet to fully resolve through over seven management teams of all different styles and backgrounds.
The story of it would make for an interesting article.
That you leave ‘skin in the game’ with an active MileagePlus account is an unsatisfying conclusion to your thesis.
For me it was the new seat they implemented because it was SO uncomfortable. I haven’t seen that on the other airlines but I also haven’t flown Delta a ton. AA seats seem good except for the old CRJ…but they’re old. United CHOSE to put in a lighter, absolutely horribly uncomfortable seat and it was the final straw after many other bad situations.
Your thoughts, salted with a few factoids; factoids that have also been encountered with other major airlines over their existence. Still, these will not convince me to stop flying with United; just as I fly on American and Delta.
Nonetheless, you gave us your opinion and I respect that. Jst means there will be at least one more seat available n flights because you will not be taking them.
I could not disagree more with your conclusions but shall not repeat the comments of Bill and Greg which are on the mark.
Moreover I have two recent experiences with UNITED which demonstrate a real sense of customer service. On a flight from Newark to London the plane had a mechanical problem and we landed in Halifax. The apology was immediate and with an offer of a cash rebate or miles and with good care at short notice in a waiting area at the airport. Then a similar immediate and positive response with compensation when the video feature was not working on another flight.
Conversely on the much lauded LUFTHANSA the front end smiles are backed by a company that does not know how to treat a customer when something goes wrong. In this case on an expensive business class seat (as in $4,000) that was non operational I was advised by the cabin crew that I should just report the matter to customer service for compensation as they had recorded the matter. After several attempts to get any response to either phone calls or emails I was told that they were too busy to deal with the matter and compensation was not in order. So I wrote to the President and CEO of Lufthansa, received no reply but upon a second attempt was ungraciously offered a $250 refund with a statement to say I was not entitled to that as their only obligation is to deliver the customer to the destination. So now I only fly Lufthansa when there is no other alternative. I would say the slogan “Nonstop you” is singularly inappropriate. “Lousy Lufthansa” has a more appropriate ring to it.
The problem is that the airline is Continental pretending to be a big airline, and wearing a United uniform while doing it. As the two companies starting consolidating, they kept Continental management, corporate culture, processes, and systems, all of which dragged United 15-20 years backwards. I got a front row seat to the ridiculous decisions as my husband dealt with it. He had 31 years with United, and his father had 40 years. Even with our retiree benefits (for what they’re worth now), we’re not sure we want to fly on United anymore. They’ve dug themselves a very deep hole.
Wolf Homma says
I have flown United for 20 years, and occasionally, they have disappointed me, like having way too short layover times when returning to the US, which caused me to miss a connecting flight 4 times at least. To be honest, almost any US airline would have accumulated comparable disappointments. I stopped flying American Airlines after they closed the lounge in Houston (that I had paid $50 for) four hours before my flight took off. On top of it, the arrogance of their personnel never impressed me. Everybody has a horror story about a particular airline.
On the other side, I had a United check-in employee spend 45 minutes researching alternative flights for my family after the flight into SNA was delayed, and we were afraid to lose our connection. And, during a recent medical emergency, they allowed my family to sit together even though my status (silver at that time) allowed only for one family member to sit with me. If you look closely at the dragging incident it was the airline who notified airport security that they had an issue with a passenger. Law enforcement then dragged the passenger, not United employees.
All in all, the Alliance network is phenomenal, and typically, I end up flying with a partner airline in Europe, which adds to a nice mileage bonus.