And now I remember why I stopped flying United Airlines

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.

United Airlines 767 AMS EWR

UA767-300 in Star Alliance livery

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.


  1. While not exactly 5 star service, I have to say this isn’t that bad for United. You should honestly be relieved you didn’t have any kind of delay that exceeded your day of travel. Whenever I get a United survey, I always answer “relieved” when asked how I felt when the trip was over. I’m not apologizing for United but it’s basic air transportation even in the premium cabin. If they get you and your bag there within an hour or two when promised, consider it a victory for yourself. If you want to feel cared for and/or have a premium experience, you’ll have to look elsewhere than UA or AA.

  2. @al – totally agree that it wasn’t as bag as it might have been. I have done a lot of AA flying in the two years from United, and whilst they are slipping, you still find the odd member of staff who cares about passengers. I honestly don’t think I encountered any employee on Saturday that cared about me as their passenger. I have filled in my survey.

  3. What app is the one in the picture (EWR-LAX)? It is pretty awesome! Also, I would like to congrat you for the review, they just don’t have the level! Too much fleet expansion since it merged with Continental…

  4. i kind of agree this doenst seem so bad

    as a almost 3mm mile flyer on untied who occasionally takes other airlines, i am struck by your note

    i took american SFO to ORD roundtrip saturday returning last night for a friends father’s funeral,

    my outbound was 6 hour delayed and my return had the plane taken out of service as we were all boarded and the door closed,

    thankfully American found another plane and we were only 90m delayed, but it increasingly seems the worst airline is the one your flying, and the worst cell phone carrier is the one you have,

    it’s just the way it has become

  5. No fan of the operational weakness at AA & UA over the last several years, but have to say most of the issues were not United’s fault, except for the late pilots+minor mx issue, which probably contributed about 30 mins of delay to your trip total. You still made your connection, and you did say the cabin crew were trying.

    The security theater is not in UA’s hands, the NYC area has had record high temps recently causing warm cabin issues regularly across airlines, EWR gate traffic holdups are unavoidable due to the airport’s tight taxiways and over scheduling, what can UA do about turbulence, and opups based on status on an oversold flight are standard practice (and a good idea in my mind) and don’t change boarding priority into a rev vs non-rev.

    The meal service order does seem strange given FEBO, though…

  6. @mark – you may be right – I worried that I was nitpicking, but it as clear at every stage that United cared only for its Global Services passengers. Making elderly passengers stand for 30+ minutes whilst ‘Global Services’ members were plucked from the queue and escorted to the chairs seemed just wrong.

  7. Your experience is par for the course for UA. I fly them minimally. I prefer AA over UA. Ever since Slimesek was in charge, they have been awful. Now that Oscar is in charge they say all the right things, but their front line employees just aren’t good. Grouchy FAs. Grumpy GAs. No communication to passengers regarding delays, you name it. I know why you gave up flying them, they just aren’t very good.

  8. You don’t realize the difference between AA and UA is of little consequence. People always talk how they’ll never fly either one or the other again but In the long run they both will step in it. Air travelers will switch as how the wind blows on a given day.

  9. @warren – of course I accept that other airlines do have problems but it’s the lack of care that the staff show that tells you everything you need to know

  10. The same happened at AMS when I flew KLM to SFO and flight was delayed. No one regardless age and disability could leave small area without any sitting available after security clearance. It’s the way that airport operates. But my experience on united from AMS to IAD was great as we only had 46 ppl in Y on 767. Almost everyone had own row. I don’t think it’s fair to give your negative opinion on something that your sample size is one. It would be fair to say what your experience out of twenty trips or so.

  11. I am fine with UA, but I travel out of HNL to Asia and am fortunate to have the Narita crews and weather is not usually an issue. No trips to the mainland this year.

  12. This is just my experience, but the last 3 times I have utilized UA’s p.s. service on the 777 between EWR-LAX, the cabin crews have been surprisingly good- attentive and flyer friendly as advertised.

  13. Here’s the problem with you mileage flyers. You expect everything to be aboout you. Boohoo, nobody cares about me. Boohoo, I didn’t get first class. Why do you all think getting on an airplane is any different than getting on a bus any more? When is the last time anyone you received a service from really cared these days?
    Quit complaining. You got your cheep fair. Now live with it and spare the rest of us your whining.

  14. Bloody well read this Oscar, it’s typical of the UA experience. Instead of believing all that bullshit that those 20yo Marketing gurus feed you with, instead of telling us how great UA is, you’re bloody well not mate. I too won’t be flying UA, after a few million. They sicken me.

  15. Having done a million on UA, I now tart myself around. I’ve done some on BA, some on LH, some on AC, some on TK and a little on AA. At first, the change was great and refreshing – I was lucky and my flights went smoothly and I focused on what each airline did better than UA. Apart from AA, I flew each sufficiently to experience problems and I have found that none of them handle them better than UA (which is not to say that UA is great at this – it’s just not worse). In fact, I’ve eventually concluded that I’m just as well off with UA as anyone else, with a slight soft spot for LH.

    I think the post is fine as far as it goes, but it only deals with the issue of everyone being herded – an issue that’s common to pretty well all airlines and airports. It doesn’t deal with problems such as missed connections, lost baggage and the myriad other things that can, and regularly do, go wrong. I’ve found UA handle those better than most.

  16. This is nothing compared to what happened to me with UA last month.
    Flight delayed because of a storm. That happens. But the gate was changed twice before it was cancelled. If you didn’t have the app you wouldn’t know.
    Then put on another flight. Great. Except one of the flight crew was missing. We sat on the plane 3 hours. Why did they board us when the co pilot was not available.
    Rescheduled for the next morning.
    Bags arrived 3 days later. But that’s another horrible story.

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