United Airlines (UAL) Sucks

MCI sucks too
A little joke - buying paint from an airline
Similar humor, from Dave Barry, and his columns.

The airlines perform fairly difficult tasks, and they put in a ton of good, hard work to get us from point A to point B. For this, I applaud them loudly. However, with increased frequency, I have encountered EXTREMELY poor customer service. In my job, just like many, many professions, pleasing the customer is not just the goal, it's expected. The service I've received from United would get normal workers fired many times over. I've had bad experiences with Northwest, but fly them most often for convenience, so I give them some slack. They rate above sucking, below good. I have always received outstanding service from Midwest Express. From third party info, Delta is quite bad, and Southwest is outstanding. I usually find good fares using Travelocity.

Now, what's my big beef with United? Why do I maintain that they have some of the worst customer service in the U.S.? My bad experiences with United climaxed in 1998, when the Northwest strike forced me to find an alternative route, 3/4 of which was United.

My flight loaded on time, but waited on the runway. We arrived at O'Hare only slightly behind schedule, despite also being stacked in a holding pattern for around 1/2 hour. No problem, since it was announced that all of United's inbound flights to Chicago were similarly delayed, so outgoing connections would be delayed to compensate. Among all the misinformation United gave me that day, this was perhaps the most blatent lie. But there was more misinformation, mistakes and flat-out lies to come.

When we arrived at the gate, we were only slightly behind the original schedule. Then we waited. The jetway connected, but we stood in the aisles for 1/2 hour before the door was finally opened. After deplaning, I was informed that my connection flight had indeed been delayed, and if I ran across O'Hare (if you're not familiar, this is a half-mile sprint), I would just make it. Not having time to argue, I started running. When I arrived at the gate, not only was the plane gone, but so was every United worker for 5-6 gates. The area was dark. The flight had already left on time long before the first United worker sent me running.

I found another United worker who told me that the very last flight for the night had room, and I could take it, but only if I ran the entire way. Of course, I had to go back where I came from. Arriving at the new gate, the plane had already left. It would not have been possible for a track athlete to catch that plane, much less me. After running over a mile carrying my bag, I came quite close to tossing my dinner all over the next United worker.

Enter a seemingly helpful United worker. She made arrangements on the next available flight, on American. Unfortunately, this would be the next morning. To get compensation, and a complimentary hotel room for the night, I would need to go to customer service. This was another long haul, but at least I no longer needed to run. Arriving at United's so-called customer service, there was a line. A long line. After waiting for over an hour, I was informed that they would not put me into a hotel room after all, because every hotel in the Chicago metro area was booked solid. Yea, right. Further, since my flight was missed due to weather (huh? what weather?), I could not be compensated for what they had put me through. Well, that means that the only United worker that was providing good service, was actually feeding me misinformation. Great. It couldn't get worse, right?

I had checked in a suitcase. United has great difficulties connecting passengers with their bag under good circumstances, so I wanted it in my hands so that I could personally give it to American. This required a trip to baggage claim and another 45 minutes of waiting. A group of us were all told to head to another baggage claim area, where we would be admitted to the baggage area and be allowed to hunt for our bags. When we arrived, I was asked, in an extremely rude tone, "Where do you think you're going?". After explaining all these things yet again, I was told that my bags had been given to American a long time ago. Fine, whatever.

The next morning, my American flight was on time, but my suitcase never appeared. Knowing where the incompetence was, I went to the United counter. They told me that American had my bag, and I would now have to wait in their line. It was longer than the roped-off area, and would be 45-60 minutes. I tried explaining what I had just gone through, but was cut off by yet another United dufus, who told me to go see American again. I then related the entire story, despite further interruptions, including his attempt to call over another customer. Finally, he annoyedly turned around and said he would get someone from baggage to deal with me, even though American most definitely had my suitcase. Opening the door behind him, guess what was there? My suitcase had been sitting by the United desk since the previous night.

United didn't just suffer from weather problems. I would never hold an airline responsible for the tower putting them into a holding pattern, or for circumstances, or for honest mistakes. United went far, far beyond that. Their employees were grossly incompetnet, and downright inconsiderate. How can you ask a random individual to sprint through an airport - twice? Some passengers have heart conditions, and could find such a wild goose chase to be downright dangerous. Apparently, this does not concern United. How can you look up information, see bad news for your customer, look them in the eye and tell them something else, just to make them go away? This is the pattern of "customer service" that I received from United. From the crew that kept us sitting at the gate, to the two who told me to run, to the promise of a hotel room and compensation, EVERY United employee provided bad service. Some may simply be bad at their jobs due to incompetence, but others seem far worse.