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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US 4158 ROA-LGA 2 July 2009

Scheduled
US 4158 ROA-LGA 4:48 pm – 6:51 pm Dash 8-100 Exit Row Aisle 4C

Actual
US 4158 ROA-LGA 7:25 pm – 9:06 pm Dash 8-100 Exit Row Aisle 4C, delay due to earlier weather and subsequent ATC delays

We pushed at 7:18 pm and departed at 7:25 pm.  I had no seatmate, which was nice.  We had a full in-flight beverage service.  I purchased two Bloodies for $14, which consisted of two minis, one plastic cup with ice, one can of Bloody Mary Mix, no lime, no stirring straw/stick, which meant I had to swish/swirl the cup to mix up the beverage.  I had purchased snacks and water at ROA, so I would have something to eat.  I had to ask for a napkin. The flight was otherwise uneventful.

I do not recommend this flight.  According to flightstats.com

Route: Roanoke to New York
Date Range: April 15, 2009 to June 15, 2009
Flight: (US) US Airways 4158

0 of 5 Very Poor
On-time: 43%>
Avg. Delay: 65 min

This flight has an on-time performance of 43%.

This flight has an average delay of 65.0 minutes with a standard deviation of 54.03 minutes.

On-time Arrival Performance for this Flight
On-time 23 43%
Late 5 9%
Very Late 7 13%
Excessive 15 28%
Cancelled 3 5%
Diverted 0 0%

Delta Business Elite CVG-JFK-LHR March 8 by J. Augusta

Talk about a perfect weather weekend- with temps in the 70s the whole week it was a nice departure from the cold and grey in London. Of course all good weather comes to an end and it looks like I got out just in time. I arrived at CVG approx 2 hrs before the flight to a very empty airport, got my shoes shined, and skipped the Crown Room in favor of a large Sam Adams and pretzel sticks at Max and Ermas for one last dose of good food. The flight boarded about 30 minutes early- a Trans-Atlantic configured 757-200 (The same plane I took over from JFK that I didn’t write a report on). While boarding I ran into my seatmate from the flight over who was headed back to JFK on the same flight, I love odd airport coincidences like that.

For those who are interested the DL TA 752 feels very similar to the CO ones- although in a bit better condition since they’re newer and they have the leather seats. The seat, although different from CO’s, has a very similar feel as CO’s. One note is that there is no underseat storage in any seat up front. However the recline was great and there was plenty of room in the overheads. I think this would certainly be a decent plane to spend 8-9 hours on up front. Once on board a pre-departure Heineken was in order. F had about 6 seats empty on boarding, but 5 were taken by deadheading crew leaving one seat open. The back was mostly empty too. Talk about a light load for a Sunday night flight- although I guess it was a bit late of a flight to connect to most international flights so that may explain it. We left on time and were #1 for takeoff. Flight time was under 1:40- FA did several beverage runs (Club Soda and vodka for me with some biscoffs and chips). Delta on Demand was at every seat, although the movie selection is the same as on the 767 so I chose to listen to my Ipod instead. We arrived into JFK about 45min early keeping my early arrival trend alive (I arrived from LHR into JFK 45 min early and into CVG from JFK over 1 hr early)—what a difference light loads and nice weather make on JFK flights!

At JFK I decided to kill some time at the Crown Room sipping a bloody mary and making a few phone calls to friends and family (“Surprise, I’m here in the states… but I’m leaving tonight!”—doesn’t go so well with the parental units). Boarding started about 40 minutes before departure- sort of late for a transcon flight- but boarding was completed on time. Note that since Europe isn’t in Daylight Savings Time until later this month most flights were leaving an hour later than scheduled.

The flight was another 763 and also in good condition. Delta 1—always cool to fly the flight #1. I took a seat on the left side today- 5B. Business was full and Y looked to be about 80-85% full. Just an observation but I recommend the other side of the plane as it is closer to the bathrooms and seems to get less traffic. After a brief chat with my seatmate I sipped a glass of bubbly and read through the menu. Unfortunately Delta is much like Continental in that although they rotate their menu- this is the 3rd time I’ve had the same choices in food (including starters). I guess I need to start timing my flights on Delta to be on months that have the other menu rotations. Or maybe I fly too much.

Starters were a cold shrimp with some sauce I don’t like, tomato salad with blue cheese on romaine (served with Balsamic and Ranch), and a tasty tomato soup (my description, not Delta’s!)

The mains (as copied from the website):
• Grilled filet of beef with grain mustard sauce, served with redskin mashed potatoes, baby carrots and sautéed Belgian endives
• Fettuccini Alfredo with Broccolini garnished with roasted tomatoes and hazelnuts
• Cold plate of roast beef and gravlax with a deviled egg and heart of palm
Grilled chicken Ras el Hanout with yogurt sauce, accompanied by sautéed zucchini and leek medley and olive couscous

When the friendly FA came around I placed my order for the chicken. They used to let you choose 2 of 3 starters but gave up on that and just give you all 3 now—which is good because they catered all 3 the other times and usually threw the extra away.

We pushed back on time and were #1 for takeoff.-Another big surprise coming from JFK! The pilot announced that with the 100 mph headwinds we’d most likely arrive at LHR about 1hr early. Once in the air nuts (not hot) and drinks were offered. I decided on one last glass of champagne and then water with my meal as I’ve drank way too much this weekend! I turned on my Delta On Demand unit and started playing around- decided to watch the new Bond film again as since I had seen it once I could afford to fall asleep during it. No need though as my unit kept resetting after like 20 minutes while tuned into any movie (and I overheard others so it seems I wasn’t alone here). I took it as a sign to get some sleep instead.

The meal was served quite promptly. I know I’ve complained about Delta service in some reports last year (they seemed short staffed up front to me) but either I’ve had good crews recently or things really have improved as this flight was awesome in terms of service. I did have my own “dedicated” FA come around often with water refills and extra bread. And others were doing the same all during the service. One of my complaints with CO is the time it takes to serve the meal… this wasn’t the case here. Starters were on our table about 10 minutes after the nuts were offered, and the meal followed directly after the starter. The starters were okay- although the soup was quite good as mentioned before. The chicken was actually very nicely cooked and tasted relatively healthy (At least that’s what I told myself)—so much so that I decided to do the ice cream for dessert. Delta’s sundaes aren’t quite as good as CO as the topping choices are a bit more limited, but it was a nice end to the meal. After finishing my sundae and some peppermint tea I decided to try and get some sleep.

However it never fails, I really can’t sleep on overnight flights. I probably dozed off and on for about the next 3 ½ hours while listening to my Ipod. It wasn’t that I wasn’t comfortable, I just can’t sleep (something about being overwater on an overnight flight just keeps my body from being “trusting” enough to shut down for a few hours- if that makes sense?… I’ve done about 20 of these over the past 2 years and it’s still an issue!). About 1 ½ hrs before landing they started with breakfast service. Unlike CO they didn’t turn on the overhead lights, which allowed people to keep sleeping until the very end (A nice move!). I passed on breakfast since dinner was only about 3 hours ago but did notice how diligent the FAs were to check with everyone within about 30 seconds of them showing signs of waking up. Another sign of a great crew!

As we got closer to LHR we were placed in a short hold giving us a nice circle around the London/Westminster area. We still ended up landing about 1:15 early- making this 4 for 4 flights with early arrival this trip—average early arrival time of approx 1hr. Customs was quite empty and by the time I went to change in the bathroom (no arrival lounge yet…) my bag was on the belt. Luckily my driver checked the flight info and was waiting for me at the other end of immigration. I was actually at my office (40 miles away) within 10 minutes of my scheduled landing time.

I must say I’m very impressed with Delta. The only thing keeping me to Continental is the 2x EQMs they offer EU residents- otherwise I’d probably choose Delta more often as I’d say they are at least on par with CO. When taking a short 4 day weekend break being on time is of great concern and I was a bit worried flying through JFK but Delta (and luck) delivered. And service was great on all 4 flights. As business class flights continue to be dirt cheap (Flights in Nov are pricing at $1,600 round trip) I would highly recommend giving Delta a shot- if you get the luck with JFK traffic and weather you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t get so lucky- don’t blame me. Thanks for reading.