hate_unitedI recently flew United Airlines from New York to Denver and was surprised by a series of rather unfortunate events that said as much about the deterioration of customer service in general as it does about the sad state of air travel in the 21st Century specifically.

Since I typically fly Continental Airlines out of it’s hub at Newark airport, I may have had a somewhat sheltered view of other airlines and their procedures and ways of doing business.  Granted, Continental is far from perfect, but after subjecting myself to the “United Way” since they had the best deal to Denver out of LaGuardia, I have vowed never to fly them again.  Here’s why:

Now, I don’t know if this is the case at other airlines, but don’t most of them board from the back to the front of the plane (after first class, frequent flyers, etc)?

Not the geniuses at United.

Not only do they try to upsell you at every turn for different levels of preferential boarding when checking in at the kiosks (yes, for only $39, you, too, can board ahead of that shlub who didn’t pay the extra fee) , but now these upgraded boarders are getting on in essentially random order.  Front, back, middle.  Who knows?  You paid more so step right up.

Then, the riff-raff like me, who didn’t pay the extra boarding fees, are boarded in a bizarrely Byzantine method of A’s Bs, Cs, Ds, that have nothing to do with back to front but factor in such things as window, middle seat, isle.

The bottom line is that at both ends, coming and going in New York and Denver, the lines to board the plane were the longest and slowest I had ever experienced.  People were openly grousing and commenting about the weird boarding method.  When I got up to the airplane door to board, I calmly said to the female flight attendant that they should really take a fresh look at their boarding procedure.

What I expected was a frozen smile and a pat apology but what I got was a reprimand that complaining would land me off the plane.  And don’t bother telling us, the flight attendants, anything, she said, because nobody listens to us anyway!

Really?

As the owner of my own business with clients, I could never imagine telling one of them to quit their complaining.  I might think it.  But I’d keep my mouth shut.  And why wouldn’t upper management want feedback from their frontline employees?

When I receive client complaints, I remind myself that complaints are really just opportunities in disguise.  Complaints allow me to remedy the situation and come away looking like a hero.  Or at least let them vent so I can actually learn something that may improve the process next time around.

Anyway, I could go on and on about United’s other customer service issues related to carry on luggage and paying for meals, but all I know is that the experience left me and my wife vowing  to never fly them again. 

And in a final display of a seemingly bad culture-wide attitude, the pilot himself actually told me, as I had some last words with him when we got off the plane, “maybe we’ll both be better off” if I never flew United again. 

Indeed.