The trouble with United? Everyone has their own horror story

I haven’t piled in on the whole ‘passenger dragged off a plane’ story. Plenty of bloggers have and some have changed their views as the story has evolved. Some have explored the background of the Doctor involved whilst others have supported or blamed United.

However, the story still has legs – it made the BBC Breakfast News show two days running in the UK. That’s pretty big for a US airline.

The problem, in my view, is best explained with what is happening at the LA Times. They ran a story about a guy who was threatened with being cuffed because he wouldn’t give up his First Class revenue seat for a middle seat in Economy when the plane was downsized. What then happened, is why I think this story is truly bad for United. Ordinary members of the public started to contact the newspaper with THEIR horror stories – showing that there are many people mistreated by United.

Let’s get this mistreated thing and the ‘rules’ out of the way now. Whilst the staff at United have followed the United rulebook, they have done it without any sympathy for the ordinary passenger. United used to have a great group of staff. When they merged with Continental, the rule book came along. Gone was the ability of an individual gate agent or manager to be flexible to fix a problem. If what you wanted/needed something unusual, the answer was ‘No’. This, in my view, is what led to the videoed forced eviction we say last weekend.

Some further examples:

The family evicted from their seats to make way for the CEO of United – a slightly more complex story than the headline suggests

A whole range of complaints from passengers 

Those that read regularly know that I used to love United – 3.5 million flown miles – and even I had enough. My story – well I have told it before it bears a little bit of repeating for an exemplar of what United has become. Plus there is a new one of nearly mistaken identity.

I was flying from Sydney to DC and then back to London. My upgrades had cleared and I had been issued boarding passes at Sydney for all the flights. The SFO to Dulles flight was an old United 757 but I knew it was full. Arriving at the gate I noticed a passenger at the counter who had been on my flight from Sydney. He’d got a last minute upgrade to First Class but was moaning about his seat – a window – from SFO to Dulles. Guess what – two minutes later and I am paged by the gate agent.

‘I am sorry sir, we have had to change your seat’.

Guess what – Mr Sydney Upgrade was standing next to the counter with my seat on his boarding pass.

‘Excuse me, you have just given that guy there my seat. I can see his Boarding Pass with the same seat.’

‘He’s Global Services, sir and can ask for any seat he likes’.

Err what?

Needless to say I ended up in my original seat and had evil eye from the Mr Sydney Upgrade for the rest of the flight.

You may say, that doesn’t compare to being dragged off a plane by force. Indeed it doesn’t but I do remember the time I nearly was!

This was a case of a stroppy passenger next to me and a flight attendant who didn’t know her seat numbers.

We boarded a 767 converted for domestic service – so with 2 seats in the middle in First Class. The guy next to me would not lower his headrest – every flight attendant told him too, but he refused we taxied and then returned to the gate. Enter Security – United Security.

One of them walks up to me and says ‘ Excuse me sir, could you please accompany me off the plane?’

‘It’s not me – it’s him’ I said, before thinking! What was going to happen to me if I been forced to sit next to him for several hours having dobbed in to Security? In the end they took him off and he didn’t return. But there was a tense moment when the Security guy was sent to the wrong seat!

So, I am afraid, United is reaping the whirlwind now, from all those who have stories about being mistreated and I suspect it will take some time to stop.

United 767 AMS EWR



  1. Back in the first century Roman law said that any soldier could ask a citizen to carry government property one mile and the citizen was required to do so. Jesus Christ said on the Sermon on the Mount not only to carry it one mile but also go further, two miles. The world would be a better place if people spent less time thinking about themselves and just do what they are asked. We are going to be wronged in this world so make the best of it with a cooperative attitude.

  2. Nice to paraphrase Roman law and Christ, both of which were involved in crucifixion. But nobody wants to be crucified by bad airline policies. Instead, the crowd assembled says spare the Christ and crucify the airline thieves. Time will tell if Oscar is St. Dismas or the unrepentant thief set up on the hill. Surely airline executives these are less liked than lawyers, politicians or Judas.

  3. Usually I don’t pay someone else to get wronged. How would you feel if you paid $800 for a tv and 20 % of the time there was a delay of 15 minutes or more in turning on? HOw about 5% of thr time is just does not work at all. Are you ok with that too?

  4. I was # 1 on the upgrade list and they announced $149 upgrades at the gate and 2 people bought the last 2 seats. A-Holes

  5. Back in 2005, I was on a United flight in Chicago where the pilot turned off the power and walked off the plane, with all the attendants, leaving all the passengers sitting on the plane in pitch darkness. People were yelling “help” “help” and the flight attendants came back with two emergency flashlights, gave them to two passengers, and said “here you go, good luck, good night”. Then then literally walked away, leaving the entire set of passengers on the plane all alone in the dark.

    No kidding. Exactly like it sounds. The luggage still up in the luggage overhead containers. A couple passengers took charge and helped us all off, we helped the old ladies and so forth.

    Everybody went to the united complaint desk expecting to be able to call the police and have the crew arrested or at least reprimanded. We figured they had intentionally put the entire passenger group at risk of serious harm. What if there had been an accident or the plane had gotten hit or something, full of passengers in pitch blackness with no crew?

    Instead the complain desk person just silently, while rolling his eyes, tore off a bunch of hundred dollar discount slips and gave them to everybody. Then he ignored us and went back to talking on the phone.

    United is really that bad. Criminally negligent. They have been that bad for years and years.

    This was back when the pilots and crew got their pensions ripped off, the pilots at that point considered that they world had stolen their lives and they stopped caring.

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