Dear United: What gives?

Below is feedback sent to United a little over two weeks ago about a trip that took place on August 10, 2012.  The customer has not yet received a response, so he gave me permission to share his issues via my blog and social media.

In 300 segments of travel in the last couple of years, I have never seen a worse performance by an airline as I did last night, starting with the operations team that decided to board Charlotte NC (CLT) and Charlottesville VA (CHO) at the same gate – A1E and A1F.

But perhaps that would have been acceptable if the gate agents had a clue what they were doing. Starting by calling the boarding for Charlottesville, they had scanned the boarding passes for four or five passengers before they realized that they were BOARDING THE WRONG FLIGHT! They had to send someone down the hallway to bring these passengers back. And then they started calling Charlotte.

While I don’t want to add a racial component here, the fact that neither of these two GAs were primary English speakers certainly didn’t help.

All of this on top of several other late flights being screamed and shouted at the same podium and the one next to it.

What the h*** is going on at United Airlines these days?

Below is a list of issues the customer encountered:

– Cancelled flights (they cancelled two of the afternoon’s three ATL-ORD due to weather)
– Unhappy passengers (the one flight that did go still left 20+ standbys behind)
– An “almost-a-mechanical” on the runway. Quote: “We’re being rerouted and need to update the computer, but it shouldn’t be more than a few minutes,” then the cockpit didn’t give us any further info for 25 minutes. By that point, I had signalled the FA to call and ask what’s up. The Captain said that they had a mechanical issue that took them a little while to resolve but “it’s all good now and we’ll be on our way in a few minutes.”
– And I-don’t-know-what was going on with the baggage carousel at Charlotte. They couldn’t open the door to the belt or something and so it took a half hour for me to get my bag, which was thankfully the first one on the belt.
– There were eight passengers from an earlier flight that didn’t get their bags. This was at 12:15 AM while I was watching them fiddle with the carousel.

So United, what is going on?  And why has this customer waited 17 days and counting for a response?

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Southwest Airlines PVD-MCI 5 July 2009 by VPP

Southwest Airlines Trip Details

Sunday, July 5, 2009:

WN 825 B737-700 departing PVD at 3:05 p.m. arriving BNA at 4:35 p.m. Open Seating, Got 11C

WN 393 B737-700 departing BNA at 5:25 p.m. arriving MCI at 7:00 p.m. Miss connect

Total Trip Cost: $389.70, Completely Refundable
Actual Airfare: $344.19
Actual Miles Flown: 1,398
Yield: $0.246 per mile (Business Select)
Taxes & Fees: $45.41, 11.6% of ticket price

Actually Flown

Sunday, July 5, 2009:

WN 825 B737-700 departing PVD at 3:05 p.m. diverted to SDF at 6:15 p.m. Open Seating, Got 11C

WN 214 B737-700 departing SDF at 7:00 p.m. arriving MDW at 7:15 p.m. Open Seating, Got 12D

WN 936 B737-700 departing MDW at 9:30 p.m. arriving MCI at 10:50 p.m. Open Seating, Got 11C

Actual Miles Flown: 1,473
Actual Yield: $0.233 per mile

Ordinarily, flying on Southwest is so darned simple,  it borders on boring….if it weren’t for the fact the crews are, for the most part, really fun-spirited.

But this is a great airline and a really great story, if you are curious how an airline performs when things go wrong, like the weather. Fortunately, they performed so well, I didn’t get a chance to see what happens when there’s a total meltdown.

Our travel manager secured the this ticket spur of the moment. I became aware of an emergency, last-second trip I had to make and WN came to mind first. I asked for Business Select as I like the product. Our travel manager checked me in and I got an A1 boarding position…SWEET!

At Providence, I checked luggage as I had a long trip…ultimately headed to Napa for the better part of 6 to 8 weeks.

I grabbed a bite to eat and then went to board. I was not quite the first person on as the “blue card” (minors, people that needed extra time, etc.) were allowed to board first, but I did get the best seat in the house, 11C on a B737-700.  With the best seat in the house and drink coupons in hand, I was ready for the trip!

The flight was perfect and normal…until I noticed we were nowhere close to landing and the pilot said, “Folks, if you look off to the left side of the aircraft, you will notice a huge storm…and unfortunately its right over Nashville and the airport is closed, so we’re going to hold…they are telling us 25 minutes.” 25 minutes came and went and the pilot came on and said he had enough fuel to circle another 20 minutes…but then we’d be looking for an alternative place to land if we could not reach Nashville.

Twenty minutes came and went and off to Louisville, KY we went…and the magic and genius of Southwest starts here.

On the way, the flight crew made it “fun and OK” and reassured everyone we’ll be fine. We arrived at Louisville and the crew asked everyone to remain on the aircraft and if possible, seated, as we could be released FAST.

So we were there about five minutes…and then the Lousiville ground crew came on and said, “Anyone going to Kansas City, we need you off the airplane, we’re going to re-route you.”

So I deplaned…and with skill and precision, the agent said, “Don’t worry, your luggage will be in Kansas City when you get there, sorry for the problems, here are more drink coupons.” The agents also had trouble generating new Business Select boarding passes with A1 – A15 numbers…they instead had B46…and the agent took the time to write on the boarding passes, stamp them, and instructed me to talk to the ground people when I got to Chicago-Midway.

I took my seat, we left….EASY flight…with the time zone changes, we “landed before we left.”

Once at Chicago-Midway, the ground crew was great…and made sure I had boarding position A5…where I grabbed the best seat in the house again, 11C. I had one drink coupon left…and I used that…and we landed at MCI ahead of schedule and…lo and behold, there were my bags!

How about that?

Folks, great airline…GREAT airline! I feel wonderful about being able to fly them. The detractors just don’t get it, no matter how they try to convince me they do.

And while it’s purely anecdotal, I run into more people like a gentleman I did during this trip, who is a national sales manager for an automotive company, and who just enjoys flying Southwest so much more over anyone else.

And to see they manage well through “crud” when it happens…very impressive.

Every trip I take, I become more and more impressed with Southwest Airlines. I’ll be flying them again and again.