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.
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.