A little under two years ago I resolved not to fly United Airlines again. Frustrated with so many aspects of an airline that I had flown for over 3,400,000 miles over 20 years.
I wrote this article in November 2014 which explains why I left.
Of course United didn’t care, what’s one customer in many millions?
So, only after a very cheap fare from Amsterdam to San Diego I decided it was time to give them another go. Did the trip so far win me back? Far from it; it reminded me why I had left.
So let’s take it in segments as yesterday unfolded.
Amsterdam to Newark
This plane was always a B767, but at various times it had been a two class and then a three class and then a two class again. In the brief period that the service was a three class plane I managed to upgrade to Global First. When the change back to a two class config occurred, United refused to refund my miles and cash co-pay until after the flight was taken. I am still waiting, but hopeful I can sort this out on Monday.
So fast forwarding to the day of the flight and I got a text message that the flight was running a little late due a late inbound aircraft. No hassle here, all airlines have delays. It was what happened at the gate that made me feel uncomfortable.
Security is pretty tight on US bound flights out of Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, for understandable reasons. You have to go through a security check, either at check-in or at the gate which involves a series of quiz questions – where are you going, why are going, how long are you staying, who are you seeing…. etc. At the gate, if you don’t have the sticker of the day you have to do the questions there. All this was fine for me as I visited the check-in desk, and we were only going to be 45 mins late. The staff went down the boarding line checking for stickers and pulling people out who didn’t have them. If you had one you moved to the next barrier. Here people were asked further questions about what they had been doing at the airport. Then we waited, and waited. Global Service members were pulled out of the line to be allowed to sit. The rest of us had to stand, for nearly 45 minutes – not age, disability, kid nor adult mattered. As you had been security checked you could not get out of line. The agency gate staff could not be bothered with us at all.
Eventually we boarded and got to Newark pretty much on time. The onboard staff tried as much as they could to make people comfortable and I ate and slept pretty well.
We arrived in Terminal B so had to take the Airtrain to Terminal C, clear security – PreCheck was in operation and made it to the lounge.
Newark to Los Angeles
I had originally been booked on the B777 that operates from Newark to LA. I wrote earlier that access to the First Class seats was not available when I wanted to process an upgrade. Comments showed that UA holds these for its best customers – Global Services and they are not available for upgrade. I managed to get rebooked on a flight due to take off 90 minutes earlier and was looking for a decent connection time at LAX. Boy, was I wrong.
After asking passengers to join the appropriate queue for boarding, nothing happened for a good 30 minutes. It turned out that the plane was too warm for us to board. We waited and eventually were allowed to board. Group 1 behind Global Services, passengers needing a little extra time and passengers with children under 2. There was plenty of overhead space and I settled in to my seat on the B757 that operated the service.
About ten minutes after departure time the pilots turned up. Apparently they had been stuck in traffic on the way from the city. Whow, that’s pretty weird surely they are required to leave an appropriate time in advance. The door closed but nothing happened. The door opened and we were told that there was a minor maintenance issue and we needed to wait for the technicians to come back on. We waited and they eventually came on and the door closed again. A second safety demo and we waited. There was then an issue with push back from the gate. We were an hour late when we actually started moving.
Once in the air, our entree choice was taken with no attempt made to prioritise anyone – being in the back row I was basically told what I would be eating. Then the turbulence started and lasted for probably three hours. It was a truly miserable experience. The crew did their best to provide a service as we bounced our way to the West Coast.
We landed in LA over an hour late and causing me to jog to my connecting gate.
Los Angeles to San Diego
The First Class cabin of the regional jet only had 4 people booked in a cabin that seats 12, which I hoped would mean that I had a good chance to get my bag in the overhead. The sole gate agent was faced with an oversold flight and with spare first class seats he picked passengers based on status, cleared them in to their new seats and let them board. All this before he started boarding Group 1.
The effect? I am sure you can guess.
By the time the revenue passengers came to board there was no overhead space left in the First Class cabin. Thank goodness for a short flight time, I sat with my rollaboard between my ankles for the 35 minutes it took to get to LA.
So, United clearly doesn’t care about anyone apart from its Global Services Passengers, cannot be bothered to sort out its operational issues and doesn’t think that it needs to communicate with its passengers. I really felt uncared about the whole day yesterday.
Will I be back on United? I really don’t think so; well perhaps in 2 more years. If they are still around.