I’ve about given up on United. I’ve flown more miles and segments with them than with any other air carrier (tracked via OpenFlights), and they never cease to disappoint me. It’s the rare trip where things go perfectly (SEE: My Kids Magically Fixed United). Or even fairly well. More often than not, everything goes off the rails.
Take my most recent trip flying the “friendly skies”. I booked an open-jaw itinerary and an additional one-way award ticket to get me home on a recent combined work/leisure trip. Over the course of all my segments, I experienced 7 hours of delays. I could have flown to Europe or Asia nonstop out of SFO in the same time it took me to get mostly across our own country.
My woeful travel week
In mid-June I flew back east for work for the fourth time this year. The last flight on my outbound itinerary was a regional hop on a CRJ-700 out of O’Hare. My gut told me I wouldn’t be making it to Roanoke by 9:08 p.m. scheduled arrival. The last time I flew in or out of O’Hare, there were delays showing for many flights. A delay had to be in the cards.
My inbound to Chicago from SFO was delayed, causing a high level of anxiety among all the passengers aboard our A320. The frantic scramble when the seat belt light turned off was a sight to see. I just sat tight. I’d turned on the app and been notified that my connection was now delayed by two hours. Typical United. At least I didn’t have to be part of the mad rush off the plane.
Then 2 hours turned into 3.5 hours, including a taxi down the runway before heading to another runway. We finally landed at 12:25 a.m. and the rental car counter was closed. Yay.
My flights five days later to Springfield, Missouri to visit friends were happily uneventful. I also got my second complimentary upgrade on the ERJ-175 leg (SEE: 3 reasons why the ERJ-175 is my favorite non-wide-body jet). But my last travel day was awful. It started well with another (unexpected) first-class upgrade, followed by a long layover in Denver where I got some work done and visited the Timberline Grill. But everything was downhill from there.
My last leg home out of SFO was delayed by 3.5 hours. After taxiing nearly to the runway, the captain announced the ERJ-175 was having computer problems. We had to return and deplane and wait for another aircraft. You cannot imagine how happy I was to finally see Arcata Airport late that evening.
A reasonable resolution
Because United isn’t proactive like the better airlines around (think Southwest and Alaska), all you’ll get is a follow-up survey when things go wrong. To hopefully rectify some of my cumulative 7 hours of delays over three separate travel days, I submitted a complaint through their online customer service form. This now marks the fifth time I’ve submitted a complaint in the past 3 years, and 4 of those times United has responded by either giving me miles or a voucher.
For my effort this time, United gave me a $300 travel voucher. It also processed way faster than previous ones, probably now because I’m a United Silver member (SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge). I guess this’ll get to at least give them another shot.
United has the worst satisfaction of the major U.S. airlines
This statistic has never surprised me. I’ve realized recently that I’d much rather fly Delta (SEE: Puking on planes, booking a family in basic economy, and why Delta wins). Alaska continues to impress me (even during delays). And now I’m giving American their first real shot with four itineraries totaling 11 segments over the next month. United may turn out to be my least favorite U.S. airline. It is ironically the only option out of my local airport.
United has a lot working against them. They can’t blame it all on the David Dao effect. That PR nightmare has come and gone, but they’ve had many more in the interim. They’ve managed to murder a dog in the overhead bin and kill a bunny. While I’d never fly with an animal anyway, if you ever do catch me with one, I surely won’t be on United.
Their on-time performance typically lags behind the competition, although they may have a good month now and then. Well…maybe it is because Delta had a bad quarter with some major schedule disruptions, including a fire at their enormous Atlanta hub.
Speaking of hubs, United’s generally have poor on-time performance. This may not be entirely their fault, but it adds to the experience flying with them. It doesn’t matter which hub you’re at, you’re at one of the worse airports in the country. San Francisco, Newark, and O’Hare all perform poorly when it comes to flights departing on time. SFO and EWR were dead last on the list of 50 biggest airports. Out west, American and Delta fare a lot better, as SeaTac, SLC, and Phoenix are among the best. United…chose poorly.
So many flights I’ve booked with United are subject to this little note:
They should just really turn it into “always delayed”, especially for Skywest flights out of SFO late in the day.
Finally, United’s service is a step below Delta, and three steps below either Southwest or Alaska. The best FAs at “United” are arguably those working for SkyWest, who tend to be younger and a whole lot less grumpy than the mainline flight attendants. I had one offer me a free drink for switching seats; he was the most cheery FA I’d flown with in quite a while. And the one redeeming aspect of our 3.5-hour delay.
United’s only good thing is going away
To top it all off, United is discontinuing the ONE thing they have going for them: the stroopwafel. Yes, folks, it’s true. United plans to do away with the stroop. This was the only thing that redeemed 6:00 a.m. flights out of Arcata. Well…getting upgraded might do that. I just might be a sucker for airline status…
Given the popularity (maybe it’s just my perception) of the stroopwafel, I was surprised that United was doing away with it. But then I wasn’t. It seems that every time United begins to have at least a reasonably good idea, they trash it. They’re not even fully committed to rolling out a good premium product, as their CEO “doesn’t believe in Polaris.” They’ve recently rolled back their only unique offerings. Check out this experience trying to order a drink.
So it makes sense that United is ditching the stroopwafel. It’s just par for the course.
It’s true that flying really isn’t a glamorous endeavor. I might be in a small minority that still looks forward to most of my economy flights, but that is simply because travel and the aviation industry are interests of mine.
But I do have some baseline expectations. When you can’t rely on an airline to get you from point A to point B in a timely manner ~50% of the time (in my personal experience), it’s time to look elsewhere. And that is simply where I am at with United. I’m sure I’ll end up flying them again, but it’ll be with full expectation that they’ll let me down again.
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