United Airlines is Bad

I wrote United Airlines is Good 7 years ago, when I just started flying to US. On one hand, my expectation was lower than today, and on the other hand, they were much better in the good economy. The trip UA858 leaving PVG on July 2, 2009 for SFO was really bad. However, this time, I was not the same person many years ago, and I started to investigate this company from the business perspective.

Morale Issues

Obviously the morale of the company was hit by the bankruptcy, the job cut, and the recent financing problems. Why I saw this? The attitude of the service attendants have never been so bad.

The guy serving the back rows asked to an elder person to put her baggage to the overhead luggage space: “You only have two choices: put it there, or out of the plane”. Then he opened the cover of the luggage space, and looked at the passenger. The behavior was unbelievable, and many passengers rose and shouted: “How bad the service are!”, “How can you be so mean!”, or “It is YOUR duty to help the passenger!” This alone does not mean a bad morale, just bad customer service, but when I saw the other flight attendants passed by indifferently, and seemed didn’t care about what their peers were doing, that was obviously a company morale issue. Who cares about this “little” things in a sinking boat? I experienced this in eBay China before.

The other thing is the Channel 9. The fewer and fewer time can I listen to the Channel 9 on flight of United Airline flights. Channel 9 is the channel for pilots to communicate with traffic control tower, and United was the first (is it the only one) offering the voice channel to all the passengers. What a great idea, and how ambitious they were to build the best airline when they launched this? Channel 9 worked before 2006 (I remember), and never worked afterwards.

No to mention Channel 9. Even the Channel 1 didn’t work – the audio of movie program. I watched three movies briefly with no audio at all – the only thing from the earphone was noise.

Details? Customer Satisfaction?

Besides the details of customer service, channel 9 (innovation), and channel 1 (basics), there are other things that added up to the bad impression.

Some of the reading light was broken, while the overhead background lights could not be turned off. It lit up for some time, and then went off for some time, and lit up again. The whole flight alternated from light to dark. Only when this happened did I realize that most flight should be completely dark during the night journey. I guess that is the main reason they gave me a apology card, and allowed me to enjoy 10% discount of next flight.

Ironically, the almost broken and shaking movie screen showed something like “Customer Satisfaction is Our Priority”. Actually, United is in big trouble: their satisfaction rate was lowest in DOT

and received 2.6 complains for every 100K passengers and was lowest since 2001. You see, the passengers can feel it.

Business behind it

Now I understand that when customer service has problem, it is not the VP of customer service, or VP of flight attendants or anyone who should be responsible. It was the strategic choices the CEO made.

Actually, customer service is not that important if United wants to be another Southwest Airlines, whose mission is to provide lowest possible fare. United really need to lower the cost of their service. However, that does not mean the attitude issue should not be solved. United was stuck in the middle: they cannot provide service at the same standard as before due to cost constrain, and they cannot lower the cost further to compete with the low cost players in this bad economy. Something must be done to save this company.

15 thoughts on “United Airlines is Bad

  1. STLPlace

    Yes, Southwest flight is pretty nice. I like their safety instruction announcement especially (not the typical announcement you will hear). I remember once the flight attendant sing a song after landing.

    Back to United. I remember seeing a verbal fight between passenger and flight attendant in a flight between ORD/PVG (don’t remember which way). It seems to me the fault is at the passenger side (too aggressive), that being said, the flight attendant has a hot temper. I think a lot things look strange is due to culture difference. Here in the US, if a passenger is very aggressive, the pilot can ask that person to leave the plane (security risk). This is just a reality after Sept. 11. If the passenger has a legitimate complaint, he/she can ask for the supervising flight attendant.

  2. kole

    wow, thanks for the update. i live in shanghai (from new york) and was thinking of flying UA home for a visit next month. now i’m thinking i’ll try another airline, maybe AA out of beijing.

  3. JH

    All big US airlines are pretty much the same when it comes to the service quality. I don’t know it there will ever be a cure. Maybe one day they will all disappear and be replaced by foreign companies?

  4. Patricia

    United is the worst, but all US airlines are really bad. I fly many world airlines and routinelly try to avoid US airlines. I only fly them when there is not other choice. I resent the way US airlines treat their passengers. They make us feel as if we are training in a military camp.

    United’s widebody fleet is composed of very old, dirty and unreliable airplanes, that breakdown constantly.

    Ticket counter agents, gate agents, Red Carpet receptionists all have a terrible attitude problem. They all behave like military officers and they are patronizing. Even when they attempt to be nice they are not, because they look and sound fake. I avoid United and all the other US airlines like they are a pest. They should send their front line employees to be trained by Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Air France or, even, LAN Chile.

  5. Scott

    While United has many problems, and you are spot-on in criticism of the CEO, your example of the carry-on bag is absurd. In no way should it be the responsibility of a flight attendant to stow your carry-on bags. That is insane! These are YOUR bags. If you cannot stow them yourself, then you should check them. I see people carry all kinds of crap on board aircraft — too many, too big, etc — that they have no business even taking onto a plane. But to expect somebody else to lift it and stow it for you? Pathetic. Flight attendants are there for everyone’s safety and to a lesser degree, comfort. They are not porters. If you cannot check your bag and you cannot stow it yourself, then hire someone to accompany you. This kind of attitude is something I would expect from an entitled American traveler.

  6. zjemi

    Uh Oh. I already have tickets on United to Shanghai in the fall. A few years ago, when American Airlines was creating nightmares for their customers and USAir employees watched a colleague have a nervous breakdown and threaten customers but did nothing to help us, United was about to go bankrupt but their employees were polite, gracious, and cheerful. I was so happy about them. I guess by now things have changed.

    Now at least I am prepared for horrible flight attendants and bad service. Maybe it will be better than I expect and then I will be happy. They have already changed the US leg of the flight time to an hour earlier so we will have to wake up at 3am to get there and the return several hours later so we won’t get back home until after midnight. :-(

  7. jin an

    China Airlines or most Asian airlines give far superior service.China Airlines from Honolulu is my favorite .

  8. Lawrence

    flew from sfo to pvg on oct 9 (UA857) and back to sfo on oct 18 (UA858). worst experience i’ve ever had on both flights. imho these stewardesses should be retired. they are old, they have no motivation to work thus bad customer service. when you look at their faces they looked like they don’t want to be there. maybe UA can’t fire them coz they are union workers with many many many years of seniority. whatever the case i will NEVER fly UA again. NEVER!!! i normally fly singapore air, asiana, korean and china. but b/c of the last minute booking UA was the ONLY choice… now i know why UA had open seats when all other airlines are booked to the teeth.

    i normally sit by the exit to have a bit more room. also with the exit seat i was right next to the cabin crew rest/food preparation area. on both flights i saw them arguing with each other. on my way to pvg during the snack time these old white stewardesses just look at you. if you are asian they give you instant noodles and if you are white they give you sandwich w/o asking you what you want… hahahah!!! WTF!!! first i was pissed then i told myself “well, this the united way. fvck this airline. i will never fly again…” but i booked the round trip and i wasn’t looking forward to the return flight… :-( on my return flight it was same bad experience with different crew. this time another old white stewardess was yelling at an old chinese passenger to sit down. she sounded really pissed off and was venting her anger at his old guy as if he was a criminal. it was no use for me to intervene so i busted out laughing in front of her face. and she toned down a bit… what a fvcked up crew, fvcked up customer services and fvcked up airline… never again… never… never… never…

  9. Lawrence

    correction: sfo to pvg on oct 8 (UA857)… just want to get the record straight… not that it matters much. i m sure 857 on oct 9 was just as bad…

  10. Donald Oder

    For those of you that want to complain about United’s horrible customer service or any unresolved problem, call the United CEO directly Glenn F. Tilton at their Chicago Hdqtrs. All dissatisfied customers should call this number and inundate whoever answers the phone with inquiries until someone who can actually assist you comes on the line. 312 997-8000!!!

  11. miki

    Language: English (change)

    I just flew to Europe with United Christmas Day….vary bad service, plane waited on the runway then got back to the gate. One passenger was ordered to leave the plane for questioning. After hour and 20 minutes we took off.

    None of the stewardess was smiling during the flight.They couldn’t´ locate passengers with special food, people had to pay for drinks, many of the tv screens didn´t work. First they had 2 meal choices very little food. When they got to me with the dinner flight attendant told me “only thing I have left is pasta – do you want to eat or not” ? I could´t believe it they can be so rude and get away with it. Second meal after 6 hours was one yogurt and a little apricot bun 1.5×3 inches and hard. Because I missed my flight connection in Europe I went the counter and ask if I can use there phone to make phone call I ended up calling from the payphone. I asked If I can get some food voucher because now I was stuck at the airport foe another 5 hours. They told me that it shows that flight was delayed because of the weather condition so no vouchers for anybody. (I So why one of the passenger had to leave the plane when we were ready for take of did he get to cold?)

    I would never fly United again it is such a shame and embarrassment in this days.

    This company should be out of business. Don’t fly with them.

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