IAD <-> GRU: Never, ever again.

Discussion in 'United Airlines | MileagePlus' started by Garp74, Mar 19, 2014.  |  Print Topic

  1. Garp74

    Garp74 Gold Member

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    Hello,

    Due to work pressures, I have flown way too many international miles out of IAD this year so far. On Thursday night, I had to book a last-minute trip to Sao Paolo. Speed was the primary concern here - I needed to be in town no later than Sunday to prepare for Monday. Then I needed to be back home ASAP.

    The only airline flying direct to GRU from IAD is United. (Even TAM doesn't fly to GRU from IAD.)

    I have avoided United international flights like the plague, preferring flags like Emirates (for all my Asian and African travel). Now I know why. As a business man who always takes direct flights when they're available, and isn't wed to any mileage program, next time I will choose to connect on a different airline rather than willingly fly United internationally.

    Let me start by saying I was quite optimistic. I secured 6J (two across, facing forward) for the outbound leg, and used some miles to upgrade the return leg to 2K. It's only a 9 hour flight, which is pretty short for me, so I was anticipating everything would be fine. Oops.

    1) The inbound aircraft arrived at around 3:30pm in IAD. Our flight wasn't until 10:00pm, so I was happy that the aircraft would be ready and all polished up for our flight. After 9:05pm they started boarding. I got to my seat, settled in, started watching TV on my iPad, and 30 minutes later ... they told everyone to disembark.

    Wait, what?

    They announced that a part needed to be replaced and it required them to open up a panel on the wing. For that reason, we all needed to be off the plane. That really irritated me. Why? Because the aircraft had been sitting on the tarmac for over 6 hours. Why didn't you find and fix the problem?!?

    They said it would take 45 minutes until we could board again. They were wrong. The problem was unfixable that evening, so they had to bring out a new aircraft. They told us to walk to C3. We were at D5. That's quite a walk, but fine - just get us to GRU.

    We took a 3+ hour ground delay before they boarded us on the new aircraft. We took off after 1:30am. All because United didn't properly service a 777-200 sitting at IAD for over 6 hours.

    2) The crew was the single worst cabin crew I have ever experienced. They were all at the end of their careers -- indeed, one crew member on the return leg was on her final segment ever before retirement, and was taking pics with everyone. It was clear to me that they had long ago lost any motivation to be good at their jobs. They were clearly there to just wait out retirement, and couldn't care less about the customers.

    Two examples of the outbound crew:

    My primary flight attendant in business was a loud, rude oaf. She woke me up many times with her screeching. When she chit chatted in the galley 2 rows behind me, I could hear every word she was saying. Worse, she was incapable of lowering her voice to a socially acceptable level when talking to my seat mate in 6K. She was way overweight and anytime she tried to take a drink or a tray or what-have-you from my seat mate, her entire upper body was in my personal space in front of my face.

    The purser passed by me as I was standing next to a lav waiting for it to become free. The lav/galley space in the business class area on the 777-200 is quite tight - no one's fault; we just have to make the best of it. She looked at me and gave me the universal "can you stand up straighter and make room so I can get through" signal, and I happily obliged. Then she passed me and uttered, "Oh, not talking?" and shook her head and walked past.

    Wait, what? You looked at me, gave me a non-verbal signal, I happily complied, and before I know it you're criticizing ME for being rude by being passive aggressive under your breath? Are you kidding me?!? How about a smile, like I gave, and a thank you? You know, like everyone else in the world would give.

    3) Now, let's talk about the worst part of the trip, and the real reason I will never fly United again: the gate situation at GRU for return flights to the U.S.

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    Quoting the United employee who seemed to be in charge, complaining to the passengers: "This is the worst. It's been like this for around 25 years. It was setup when we were flying 707s."

    Gates 4A, 4B, and 4C are a little area you take stairs/escalator to from the main concourse. It has seating for about 75 people. It can comfortably hold about 100-125 people I estimate.

    When I was there, they were boarding GRU->JFK, GRU->IAH, and GRU-> IAD. All on large jets (I assume). There must have been 500+ people in the waiting area, packed like sardines because we were given no other choice. All the flights left within a short time of each other, and were scheduled to board around the same time. But there's only one boarding crew of United and security employees. So JFK went first, then IAH, and then IAD. Everyone was complaining about how miserable they were because there was nowhere to sit (except for the lucky few who found a seat or a spot on the dirty, dingy floor), it was stiflingly hot, and IAD boarded 30 minutes late without any announcements of a delay at any time.

    We had to take overcrowded buses to the staircase to our plane.

    That's right: in 2014, it's possible to spend $9,200 on a last-minute business class fare on United Airlines to one of the world's largest cities, and get the "privilege" of using steep and metal stairs to board your 777-200. Did I mention it was raining and the metal stairs were slick?

    I got on board, took my 2K seat, and ignored the world until we landed. We were ~2 hours late landing, though I don't know why.


    Dear United Airlines,

    You've lost any possibility of getting the rest of my 6-figure international travel spend for the 9 months remaining in 2014. Your airline, from top to bottom, isn't interested in providing an even minimally-acceptable level of service, be it mechanical, customer service, timeliness, or communications.

    You're fired.

    With real sincerity,
    The guy who should easily be Global Services, but instead, won't spend international dollars on you.
     
  2. mherdeg
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    mherdeg Silver Member

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    If you had known the experience would be this bad, would you have taken a trip with connections on another carrier, given your time constraints?

    IAD-DFW-GRU on AA with the 77W, with lie-flat J with all seats having aisle access, would probably have been a better product/choice.

    FYI, on the return trip, if you're flying in a premium cabin out of GRU, you're probably better off staying in a lounge until the last minute. You're right that the intl departures area is not particularly pleasant. But there is an OK TAM lounge (which you can use until the end of March…) and an okay United Club, albeit a long walk from the gates.
     
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  3. Garp74

    Garp74 Gold Member

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    Yes, I would have. My neighbor is an AA FA who flies to GRU from JFK. So if I have to go back again in a few weeks, I'll probably try DCA-JFK-GRU. Or maybe see if MIA has the new 773ERs. Or I'll just try TAM through a connecting city, since they seem to own the airport there.

    Being F, I didn't realize I could use the TAM lounge in GRU until I was on my way to the gate. I went into the regular United club, and it was overcrowded. There weren't really any seats, and the buffet selection had nothing for me to eat. So I left after a few minutes. Once I was down inside the 4 area, I didnt want to leave because there was no communication down there -- much less all the way in the lounge -- so I didnt want to miss the boarding. Next time I will avoid the whole problem: I will take a carrier who purchases a gate with an actual jet bridge. :)
     
  4. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Because the pilots don't show up to inspect the plane 6 hours before the flight. If they did then they wouldn't be able to operate the flight.


    Is this unique to UA? My recollection is that UA shares gate space in GRU with a bunch of other carriers, not a dedicated area. Are you sure other options will be better?

    You realize that this happens all over the world, right? Hard stands are hardly a rare occurrence.
     
  5. rggale
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    rggale Gold Member

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    and even if they did, there's still a good chance that whatever indication they would have seen in their pre-departure checks would not have been there if they checked 6 hours earlier...otherwise the inbound crew should have seen something and written it up. I guess it's possible they didn't.


    @Garp74 , surely it seems you are a very seasoned, experience world traveler. With exception of the United States, and major airports in Asia and the newest airports in the Middle East, MOST flights are boarded from hard stands...I've been on more international flights that board from a hard stand than not. And we're talking about in well developed airports such as Frankfurt, London, Zurich, Copenhagen, Paris, etc. etc. etc. etc.

    I'm wondering how your experience has been markedly different from the rest of ours.
     
  6. harvson3

    harvson3 Silver Member

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    OP, I'm sorry you had a bad customer service experience onboard. Feel free to not spend your money at companies where you receive poor service.

    We recently flew JFK-GRU-EZE-GRU-JFK on TAM. We had boarding stairs and an endless bus ride around GRU for connections in both directions. (Really, the Infraero buses seem to go on joyrides sometimes.) The TAM lounge at GRU on the return was over capacity, with a broken men's bathroom and not enough chairs. We opted for the United Club instead. I've also boarded United flights via jetbridge at Guarulhos before.

    Part of the problem lies in GRU's inadequate infrastructure, and has for a long while.
     
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  7. Garp74

    Garp74 Gold Member

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    I've been to 17 different countries for business and I don't remember metal stairs for jumbo jets. I've had a jet bridge for every trip I can remember. I can't explain why my travels in 2000-2002 and then the last year have been different than yours.

    I expected the UA fans to jump on me, and that's fine - I'm glad you enjoy your travel on them. The product, operations, and mediocrity are unacceptable to me, and that's what my
    post intends to convey. I don't have these problems on Emirates, Cathay, and Virgin Atlantic.
     
  8. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Good luck getting one of them on the IAD-GRU route. ;)

    If UA doesn't work for you any more than by all means move on. But a few of the specific "issues" you've raised aren't really related to United. They're things that went badly or that you didn't appreciate, but they happen to customers on airlines all over the world. Yes, a hard stand to a wide-body is annoying. But I cannot begin to count the number of times I've done it at airports more significant than GRU in the global economy. It happens. And I actually like it a lot.

    Every flight at DOH currently boards via a hard stand and that's Qatar's hub. Oh, and they've got the SkyTrax 5* rating so plenty of people think they're doing just fine, even with the stairs.

    If you walk away from a carrier to the "never, ever again" level each time things go badly you will quickly run out of options to fly. It is rarely a rational or level-headed move. I, too, get emotional when things go pear-shaped. But I like to think that I can settle down before making bigger decisions based on those troubles and come to a rational conclusion.
     
  9. jonspencer

    jonspencer Silver Member

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    trying to defend USA-based airlines service against Emirates, Singapore or Cathay is laughable :confused:

    I dread connecting on any local flights when I visit the USA, basically you are treated like crap
     
  10. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    It seems to me that the OP's trip went from bad to the worst in part because he completely lost it to where in his mind absolutely everything that happened could have been avoided if only he'd taken another airline. Good luck with that...
     
  11. Garp74

    Garp74 Gold Member

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    All of the issues I pointed out are within UA's control.

    1) The cabin crew's lack of customer service
    2) The cabin crew's overt rudeness
    3) The plane not being inspected by anyone until the last minute to find a significant mechanical fault.
    4) UA choosing to not purchase gates with jet bridges
    4a) UA choosing to not purchase gates with acceptable amount of physical space for its customers to wait in.
    5) UA club being unacceptable in form and function. (Subjective, but dingy IAD D8 UA lounge is way better -- and boy is that saying something!)

    I've made an objective determination that I am better off trying TAM or AA for my next GRU trip. I've made an objective determination (based on my regular transcon flights and my first international flight with them) that United Airlines is very broken, and that other carriers are less broken. As a business man, it's clear to me that Southwest, Virgin America, Emirates, Cathay, Virgin Atlantic, and in my experiences, even British Airways, run a better airline with better hard and soft products and remarkably better employees.
     
  12. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    So is pretending they're viable for service between North and South America. :-:
     
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  13. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    Pure hyperbole, just to cite one: To expect UA to have control over facilities in a foreign country is way out there...

    Are you somehow feeling over-entitled, Garp74?
     
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  14. Garp74

    Garp74 Gold Member

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    NYCUA1k, please try and keep disagreements civil and argue your position without ad hominem attacks.

    My understanding is that airlines purchase gates. They decide what gates to be at, and what level of "facility" to buy in to. So in this case, UA has purchased the Gate 4 area (which I wouldn't wish on anyone - it's just awful), in lieu of spending (presumably) more money to always have Gate 3 or 6 or X, which is a more "normal" gate with a waiting area that can accommodate a certain number of passengers, a jet bridge, and the accompanying services. The gate agent who seemed to be in charge complained that it's been like this at GRU for 25 years - that United is set up the same way today as when they were flying 707s. So that tells me that United has eschewed opportunities over the years to offer a better service - one that is minimally acceptable to its customers.
     
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  15. jonspencer

    jonspencer Silver Member

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    United sucks, forget who flies to where ever

    save all the excuses UA fan boys :eek:

    there are many issues the carrier cannot control, their customer service is something they definitely can but fail to more often than not
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
  16. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    You're right. The shot was unwarranted and I apologize.:oops: It remains that this living example of Murphy's Law ("anything that could possibly go wrong will") still seems a bit much!
     
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  17. avflyer
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    avflyer Silver Member

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    You know what, if I shelled out $9,200 and ANY of this happened to me (except the mechanical and hard stand things), I would be FURIOUS. Not acceptable at all. I agree with the theory put forth by the OP, that if UA wanted to, they could have better facilities, but they choose not to. Whether it is simply a matter of economics or Uncle Jeff putting the screws to the budgets, I don't know. I feel just as bad for the GA's as I do the pax. It's good times right now for the airlines, it will roll around to them again....trust me.

    BTW Garp...eschew? You get the award for $10 word of the day!
     
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  18. Garp74

    Garp74 Gold Member

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    I shouldn't have mentioned the $9200. Company pays and it's the cost of doing business. I was just really surprised by the metal stand. Like I said earlier, I've been to 17 countries (over approximately 40 trips) and haven't encountered it. From the other responses, my experiences may be abnormal. I don't know.
     
  19. Captain Oveur
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    Captain Oveur Gold Member

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    For perspective, this is coming from someone who hasn't flown a revenue UA mile for 18 months now.

    I have experienced the metal stairs at Frankfurt while disembarking and sometimes even boarding a United 747 or 777.

    I sympathize with everything mentioned in the first post, with the small exception of the mechanical going out. The plane may have arrived early, but it's not unreasonable for the pilots to pick up on something that might not have been detectable until that check happened. If it was something the previous crew wrote up and wasn't attended to, then there's a legitimate beef....but nobody knows for sure.

    As some others have alluded to earlier, do what I did....vote with your wallet.
     
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  20. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    In practice I disagree, as an airline's ability to call the shots about airport facilities may be a lot more limited than you make it sound, especially on foreign soil. Money is not all, sometimes:
    GRU is clearly a big mess. To lay blame on airlines that even dare to fly there is, well, out there...
     
  21. avflyer
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    avflyer Silver Member

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    Never been, so perhaps, I speak through the wrong orifice..........
     
  22. Seacarl
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    Seacarl Gold Member

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    There's no question that UA's product, especially departing from IAD, is far from the quality of what you can experience from Cathay or Singapore.
    IAD is by far UA's worst airport facility and rather an embarrassment for our nation's capital. Although I would have to say that GRU is probably even worse since it is significantly overtaxed and has probably the worst lounges and gate areas I have ever experienced. That will be true on any airline departing from GRU.
    No question that some UA crews could be friendlier, but my last 4 UA crews on flights to/from Asia were friendly and service oriented. There are good crews and bad crews on every airline. Foreign airlines have far more ability to dismiss employees than (and mistreat them) than do U.S. airlines. I don't find that there's a material difference between AA, UA & DL in average crews, though some say UA's worst are IAD-based.

    Sorry that you experienced a mechanical. As others have said, if the problem were known 6 hours prior, it would have been fixed. Some problems only make themselves known when the aircraft is started up for flight. That can happen on any airline. You are lucky that UA had a spare aircraft available. Had you been flying on TAM or Emirates, your flight would have been delayed until repairs could be made, including waiting for any spare parts which might not have been on hand. It probably took them that long to get another aircraft and remove all the catering and baggage etc.

    The U.S. is relatively unique in that the airlines generally control their own gates. Most airports worldwide have common use gates, and the airport operator assigns the gates in real time. And many airports have remote gates - heck, even LAX uses them. FRA MUC IST MLE USM are some where I've been at a remote gate in the last year. They are quite common. The airline doesn't generally control whether it gets a gate or hard stand for any given flight.

    Your understanding is incorrect. I have departed on UA flights from regular gates from GRU.
    It's hard to believe that you've never had hard stands. They are common in Europe and Asia. I have less experience in South American and Africa, but I'd expect them in those continents as well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
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  23. NYBanker
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    NYBanker Gold Member

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    You had a toughie, that is for sure. Though some here may take exception to some of the details, I understand exactly the frustration that you feel. While perhaps any one of the situations you experienced likely wouldn't make an individual upset, the totality of the circumstances certainly would.

    I've had a few journeys like yours on US-flagged carriers when flying overseas. Indeed, their soft, and, in many cases, hard products are laughable compared to many of their leading foreign-flagged carriers. On domestic carriers, service (if you can call it that) mishaps are the norm, not the exception.

    I too have voted with the wallets I control and rarely fly domestic carriers across the ocean (nor do my staff). That's all you can do. While like you I generally elect non-stop service regardless of carrier to get where I need, if need be, I'll go for a connection to get on a top carrier if it allows me to avoid UA/DL/AA over the ocean. Thankfully, being based in NY, that's not usually an issue for me.

    (The one caveat for GRU: I'm not sure how much better you'll find any of the South American carriers!)
     
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  24. LarryInNYC

    LarryInNYC Gold Member

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    Your complaints seem to me to be a mixture of legitimate (rude cabin crew) and completely off base (it's perfectly normal that a problem with one of the flight system would not be found until the plane was powered up and put through its pre-flight tests, and absurd to imagine that any airline would somehow prefer to enplane and deplane an entire passenger manifest, press another plane, suffer a three-hour schedule delay, and have all that reverberate through their schedule to performing elementary maintenance).

    But you really lost me with the complaint that one of the flight crew was too fat. While it's true that some foreign carriers maintain the old practices of hiring for appearance, regularly weighing their stewardesses, and firing anyone who violates their physical and age criteria that's obviously not done by American carriers. If that's one of your criteria for worst flight ever, or whatever, I hope you won't find too many people that think that way. Reviewed in light of the fat comment, the actual instances of rudeness you cite are a flight attendant who spoke too loudly (and therefore disturbed you when providing service to your seatmate, which she apparently did frequently enough for it to be an issue) and another who you feel should have said "thank you" instead of "not talking tonight?"

    On the issue of the hard stand, I was in Brazil last week and had hard stands on at least three occasions, including arriving GRU on Avianca and departing GIG on TAM.

    I have no desire to defend United and, in fact, cannot recall having ever been on a United plane in my life. By all accounts, they're a pretty bad airline at this point in time. But a mechanical issue discovered at boarding, a fat flight attendant, and a hard stand in a country where they're common do not a poor airline make.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
  25. ssullivan
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    ssullivan Gold Member

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    Hard stands are the norm at most airports in Africa. Even airports that have lots of gates with jet bridges, like JNB (one of the few truly modern airports on the continent) operate many flights every day from hard stands. And, at many airports, there are zero jet bridges.

    And I've certainly done the hard stand thing at airports in Europe and the Middle East, including a 777 at CDG and 330 at IST.
     

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