A Review/Opinion of Today's United First Class Experience

Discussion in 'United Airlines | MileagePlus' started by Steven Schwartz, Dec 13, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    Maybe it is chutzpah but here goes. I am writing after arriving in NYC on United 961 from Brussels. Traveled in First Class. Over the last few years, thanks to FT, MP and a number of bloggers, my wife and I have had the pleasure of traveling First Class on British Airways, Air France, Swiss, Lufhansa and now United - all for nothing except fees. Yes, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to experience lifestyles of the rich and famous!

    So why write today? I write out of sadness and concern. I know how long it took the automobile industry in this country to understand the consumer and get their act together. In the attitude of most airline employees of American carriers, I see the same issues. While there were a few people upgraded to First at the last minute, we were the only ones booked into First. We boarded First and there was a Purser filling out some forms. Unlike every single other First Class experience, she never even looked at us, much less welcoming us. I took off my sports jacket and had my and my wife’s coats and stood there waiting for her to look my way. Her only comment was “what seat are you in?” Remember, we were the only ones booked into First and yet she could not figure this out. The attitude did not change over the 7 hours and 53 minutes the flight took. She was “professional” but I never saw anything approaching a smile during the entire flight.

    It was the new First. The hard product was great - very comfortable for both sitting and napping. Really, we’ve experienced new First Classes in BA, Air France and Swiss and this was in the same cateogry. Hard to imagine how much it costs to upgrade a fleet like this and that makes it even worse. A smile is free. Acting as though you care about the customer is free. Making believe it is a pleasure to serve is free. The contrast to the experience on Lufthansa just one week ago was striking. Funny thing is the food on Lufthansa was nothing special (pretty much like United) though the liquor and wine was of a much, much higher level - Blue Label anyone?! But the staff could not have been more welcoming and gracious.

    People say that US airline employees have suffered nothing but payroll cuts and you can’t expect them to be happy. And face it, I’m one of those guys who flies long distance First and Business for free so most of the time I’ll go with whomever I can get a seat with! But if ever have a choice between a US and foreign carrier on similar routes, it would be hard not to go with the latter. I’m grateful to United for flying me First Class across the Atlantic for free - I only wish I had a better feeling about what the future holds for them and, by extension, for us.
     
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  2. TimeZoneCST
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    TimeZoneCST Silver Member

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    Steven - kudos to you for your well thought out and well expressed post. Could not have said this better. It is interesting to see the contrast vs. Asian/European airline and the like. I find it incredibly disturbing for FF to criticize what they get for free, BUT there is definitely room for constructive critique. Fact is there are full fare customers paying for these seats, there are non-revs that will always benefit from well earned travel (incidentally, possibly hundreds of hours away from family) miles, AND a poor reputation is incredibly difficult to overcome. Hopefully, someone of influence is reading this. Great post SS!
     
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  3. estnet
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    estnet Gold Member

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    and some of those flying for "free" (it really isn't free it's earned one way or another) will have more money to spend in the future and will be booking revenue tickets! Guess which airline they'll pick?
     
  4. mauld

    mauld Silver Member

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    You didn't mention what status (if any) you have with Star Alliance. I have found that especially with UA FA's, if you have status, or they recoginze you as a frequent traveller on their specific flights, you 'may' get outstanding service. If not, doesn't matter what you paid or how you are booked, you'll be generally ignored. For many years I was 1K on UA and Plat on CO travelling out of EWR (prior to merger), I was rarely given the kind of service others on the UA FT forum raved about. Unfortunately this is the norm for UA service -- as well as for many other airlines now.
     
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  5. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    The one that's most beneficial to them overall, I think. If they need the miles (eg for status), they'll buy UA and suck up the service differential.

    But your point is well taken. Award tickets or upgrades aren't free (and I avoid the term, as are the airlines by the way), they are paid for with miles, an alternative currency invented by and issued by the airlines.
     
  6. JSpira
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    JSpira Silver Member

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    You lost me on the non-rev issue as well as the implication that tickets purchased with miles are free. Please explain. I can see that non-revs benefit from having flight benefits but I do not see the correlation to "well earned travel miles," which would not be used by a non-rev of course.
     
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  7. Jimgotkp
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    Jimgotkp Gold Member

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    I don't understand why people like your purser is in this industry still if it's that hard for them to smile or provide customer service in the first place. Even though they've had pay cuts, doesn't mean they don't have the option to pursue another career. I'm sure there are a lot of other well qualified candidates that would take her position in a heartbeat right now. Even though the United States doesn't have a defined flagship carrier, airline employees like your purser not only make the airline look bad but also the country imho.

    EDIT: I apologize if I offend any current/recent flight attendant.
     
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  8. Gary Steiger
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    Gary Steiger Silver Member

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    Often I have witnessed FA's attitude that "You got the ticket for free - what do you expect?". I usually point out that the airline received lots of money selling the miles I used to the merchants who gave them to me, and that often this selling of miles part of the airline's business is the only profitable part of it, and is the reason the airline still exists and employes you. I usually get a surprised response.
     
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  9. cennas
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    cennas Gold Member

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    +1!
     
  10. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    Presumably because the pay and benefits still make it better than the alternatives available to them.
     
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  11. dhammer53
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    dhammer53 Gold Member

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    Steve,

    Why'd you fly United??
     
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  12. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    That's an easy one. They had two First Class tickets from Brussels to Newark on the day we wanted to return. We were originally going to just Paris and had arranged award Business Class tickets. When we decided to extend to Brussels, these tickets showed up so with some effort (that being getting US Air to book me Lufthansa First Class on the outbound) we grabbed them. And please don't misunderstand - it was great - just an amazing difference from the way people are treated on other carriers in FC.
     
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  13. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    Funny thing Gary but when I'm sitting in one of those $13,000 seats, I'm expecting that they know and will treat me differently but it's never happened. On the flight over on Lufthansa First, the flight attendant gave us champagne before take-off. I clinked glasses with my wife and wished her a Happy Birthday (it really was!). The flight attendant got all excited - "it's your birthday!" and wanted to give my wife a bottle of premium champagne as a birthday gift! She declined as she felt it might be a problem if we had to go thru security again for our flight to Paris. But really - we have not experienced this.
     
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  14. LETTERBOY
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    LETTERBOY Gold Member

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    In this economy, that may not be a very realistic option.
     
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  15. JetAway

    JetAway Silver Member

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    I heartily agree with the OP's comments and observations. I very recently flew on UA #846 (EZE-IAD) in First. The cabin was full (5 pax plus a crew rest seat). As the OP and others have noted, the seat is great--its width and the personal privacy it affords are really appreciated on a 10 1/2 hour flight. And the food was better than I actually expected-I chose the "Patagonian Lamb," which was quite tasty. However, in talking to a friend who was in Business, I learned they had exactly the same menu minus the soup and sundaes we were offered. But I was shocked at the apparent disinterest of premium class FAs, including the Purser, in both their passengers and their own jobs. When I asked one FA ( a male, as am I) what he recommended on the menu, he sat down on the top edge of my seat pod, thumbed through the menu and said, "I really have no idea-I haven't seen most of this stuff before." The service itself was perfunctory -no smiles, no addressing by name, nada. During "sleep time" the FAs stood in the galley, lights on, no curtain drawn (actually, there was no curtain to draw) talking loudly about their jobs, discussing Christmas plans, etc. The ear plugs in the rather meager amenity kit were put to good use. Finally, on arrival and disembarkation from the aircraft, no goodbyes, thanks, Happy Holidays--just standing there watching us leave. After this experience, I have concluded that the "new" UA must either decide to put the time, money and training into creating an honest, high quality International First Class product or ditch the whole concept and offer only Business Class as its international premium product. The current IFC product is so mediocre as to almost constitute fraud.
     
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  16. Jimgotkp
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    Jimgotkp Gold Member

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    It may not be a realistic option since there aren't many jobs out there so shouldn't she/he at least be thankful to have that job?
     
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  17. Captain Oveur
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    Captain Oveur Gold Member

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    A little confused on this post. To my knowledge, there's nothing in the manifests that indicate seats were given "for free," only showing the status (or lack thereof) of the individual at that seat.
     
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  18. TimeZoneCST
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    TimeZoneCST Silver Member

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    Sure. Maybe old by now (on the road the past week) but I thought to circle back and at least reply. Probably best to say the use of non-rev was incorrect, my bad. A ticketed passenger using miles for Fclass ( I believe its considered an XF coded ticket) may have been a better way to communicate what I was getting at. When I purchase my econ tix and get upgraded to biz or first I consider that to be "free." In the sense that I did not pay for a biz/f class tix but now enjoy all of the benefits of someone who had. "Well earned" is simply saying I put something into the equation to "earn" the opportunity to be upgraded. So the attitude/perception from the FA that I should not get the same service as a full-fare passenger because I'm upgraded is sad, imo. I don't like to make blanket statements about people so I want to use caution in jumping on the proverbial band wagon that all FA's treat passengers this way, although there is a noticeable difference in the overall service and quality with Asian/European carriers as others have mentioned.
     
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  19. sobore
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    sobore Gold Member

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    Earning and saving miles to travel in F or C is not all that different than paying for your seat, if it was so easy everyone would be flying in the premium cabins. Many endure the 'shortcomings' of a particular carrier to show loyalty and accrue miles for spending later. Many fly in tight economy seats looking forward to the day when they will receive the 'Royal Treatment'. It's unacceptable to treat an award or upgrade pax any different than a paying one. If UA would like to change the award structure for a Trans Atlantic C seat and introduce: Mediocre Service C award for 25,000 miles, I might accept it.
     
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  20. JSpira
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    JSpira Silver Member

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    Makes perfect sense to me - thanks for coming back to clarify.
     
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  21. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    JetAway-

    I disagree with some of what you said - namely that if this is the service they are going to provide, they should get rid of First Class and stick with Business Class. While my experience was, in fact, in First, I was trying to make the point that the supposed best of their service sadly lacks any warmth, concern or interest. Extrapolating, I can only imagine what it must be like in Coach if this is how they treat the front of the plane!

    My hope is that someone will wake up to this and its potential cost (not to mention that it's simply just not nice!) and that things can begin to change.
     
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  22. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    If you wish to be pampered then you ought to travel with SQ or some other Asian airline, in which the FAs are whipped into shape and indoctrinated on how to treat "value passengers". The American FA would usually be much older than the one an Asian airline, totally independent-minded, and not expected by the company to kiss ass; only to be "professional" and polite and considerate. I witnessed an FA on SQ getting a tongue-lashing for 'dereliction' of duty by a supervisor on the plane. No US FA gets a tongue-lashing from anyone; s/he's got rights...!

    Wanna a heartfelt goodbye? Fly F with ANA. The FAs will bow 10 tens before you exit the cabin, if that is what you desire, even if this would block traffic. Welcome to Japan!
     
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  23. JetAway

    JetAway Silver Member

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    Points well taken. My initial thinking was that if a competitive International First Class is beyond UA's present capabilities they should not attempt it and focus instead on improving Business and Coach. But on reflection I do think the problem is much broader and deeper than simply a poor IFC product and is both an employee as well as a management issue, which the stresses of the merger have only exacerbated.
     
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  24. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    Wow - where in the world did that come from? I'll assume you're talking tongue-in-cheek. No one here has spoken of a desire to get their "asses kissed". My partner and I have run a dental practice for 36 years and the most frequent compliment we get is how friendly and caring everyone is. Seems we have a competitive advantage - just for being nice. And that, pretty much, is all people here are talking about - being made to feel welcome, not superior.
     
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  25. SFOtoORD

    SFOtoORD Silver Member

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    All of that may be true. However, I also think that when UA is considering a response to issues in C or F after the fact, my guess is that they also look at fare paid. In terms of on board service it should be mostly the same other than giving higher meal and standby priority to paid passengers
     

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