The Major U.S. Airline I’m Actively Avoiding And Why

When booking trips, the first thing I do when looking for cheap flights is to set the search filter to avoid certain airlines. I’ve stopped looking at Spirit and Allegiant for domestic flights. If I’m looking for flights in Europe, we’re not going to book on Ryanair. If you read here regularly (and if you do, thank you!) I bet you’d think Frontier would be on that list. But nope, after eventually flying with them, they’re fine for what they are and I’d fly them again if the circumstances were right.

The airline I’m actively avoiding is United.

Here’s why…

It’s been a long stretch of bad news for United, and I’m not just talking about the last week, month or year. I listed a few down just from the top of my head and here are some of the problems United has faced in recent memory.

These are just the stories I can remember and jotted down when writing my notes about this article. I’m sure there are many more that I’ve forgotten. I just can’t believe how much is wrong with this company but the only power I have as a consumer is to simply not fly with them anymore.

So why did I make this decision? Whose fault is it? There are many reasons when a big company has a systemic problem. Every employer has good and bad employees, it’s a fact of life. When a company allows bad employees to stay bad and depress the morale of the good ones, you have a problem like United’s.

I mean, look at this video. If everyone at United was like this, I doubt I’d be in the position that I am in right now. If you’re wondering, the bagels in Newark will be much better than those in Houston.

Unfortunately, not all employees will be like this at 5:40 AM when they’re working for a company they feel is following instead of leading. Does United want to be a premium airline with the Polaris first class product or are they racing to the bottom with basic economy fares?  They tell everyone that they are losing money with their decisions but that will change when the rest of the competition meets them at the bottom of the barrel. Let’s not forget when they announced their bonuses would be given out via lottery. Employee outrage over this caused them to postpone this plan, but they’re still planning on going to this system to save money.

Is this the type of management you’d be thrilled to work for? Me neither. It’s impossible to improve morale with a defeated workforce.

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Employees aren’t dumb. If they feel management is useless and out to screw over the customers and employees, that’s how they’ll perform. What incentive is there to be helpful if your company won’t appreciate it? If you’re just a number on a graph of a PowerPoint presentation, what do you matter?

I thought there was hope when Oscar Munoz took over as CEO in September 2015. He seemed to get it. He said what a CEO who is going to turn things around needed to say. He admitted problems and said they would fix them. He noticed that morale was low and promised to improve it. Then he had a heart attack about a month later and subsequent heart transplant in January 2016 and was out for months. Thank goodness he’s OK but all the momentum was lost. United hired Scott Kirby (formerly of American and before that U.S. Airways) in August 2016 as United’s president and put him in control of the day to day operations, and it shows. Kirby’s history as a cost cutter (he was the one who said U.S. Airways planes didn’t need power or in-seat entertainment and American is still dealing with that problem to this day).

Munoz, while still occasionally giving interviews where he sounds like he knows what the problems are, now tends to end up blaming everyone and everything else for United’s problems.

How has this decision impacted the way we travel?

It’s been over three years since we’ve taken a United flight and 18 months since I swore off flying with them all together. Making this decision had personal effects on my travel. I’m cheap and this isn’t an easy thing for me to accept. I’ve had to pay more for our flights or take non-optimal flight times. Those small sacrifices are worth it for me not to support an airline that I feel just doesn’t have its act together.

My biggest test was during My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Travel Day (With A Happy Ending). I thought I found a United flight that would have gotten me out of my troubles and for a second considered booking it. As it turned out, the flight wasn’t available so my resolve wasn’t fully tested.

We canceled our Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card and I told Chase exactly why I canceled it. We have about 60K United miles but there are a bunch of airlines who are Star Alliance partners. We have trips to Europe and Asia planned in the coming years and I’m sure I’ll be able to use the miles on one of those airlines instead of United.

What can change my mind? I don’t know. Once someone makes a decision about a company, it’s hard to change. I’d have to see them start treating their passengers better. No more stories about dead animals or beaten up passengers would be a good start. Maybe standing up and realizing that some of your employees need to be let go, or disciplined when they act poorly instead of sticking up for them, even when they might be wrong like the flight attendant who put a dog in the overhead compartment where it subsequently died mid-flight:

This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.

Wait, that seems familiar. Oh yeah, it was basically the same as the apology for another dead dog in 2017.

“We are so sorry to learn of Lulu’s passing and have reached out to our customer to offer our condolences and assistance,” United said in a statement on Monday. “We are conducting a thorough review of this incident.”

I guess they’ve gotten better. This was their response in early 2017 to the death of another dog on a United flight.

“We know this is an extremely difficult situation for Miss Considine and we have been in touch with her before she posted on Facebook and since,” Hobart said. “We offered our condolences and have provided a full refund for the shipping cost.” 

 There was also this attempt from United at an apology:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” he said. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

 

This wasn’t about an animal’s death. This was United’s first attempt to clean up the mess from Dr. Dao being dragged from the plane. Um, sorry we had to re-accommodate the passengers. Really? That was all you could say?

 

So here I am, making the only decision I can make as a customer. Walk with my money. Not give it to them anymore. Cut ties with places that do, like getting rid of my co-brand credit card with Chase and telling them why I am doing so. No longer using the United shopping portal or Mileage Plus X app. Dropping the dining program. Not earning any more miles in their program. PERIOD! (Well, I’ll earn just enough miles to keep my account active). Otherwise, I’m done. I’m out.

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35 thoughts on “The Major U.S. Airline I’m Actively Avoiding And Why”

  1. I have a soft boycott of American Airlines because of their Oasis configuration and stopping putting IFE screens in the seats.

    1. Agreed! Seems baby can’t get the upgrades to first class so their whining . All major airlines are a mess and all have horror stories. If airlines just gave us respectable size seats easy boarding and exiting and passengers being a little More polite to each other the flying experience could be a little better for all of us 🙂 as for you I’m sorry you’re giving up your credit card that will show them! NOT! It also shows how little you know about airline credit cards Chase doesn’t care what you think they don’t make their money off of you anyway 🙂 enjoy your miserable time in an airplane 🙂

  2. Interesting. The way you’ve avoided United is the way I’ve avoided Delta in the past few years. Over years of being a silver with Delta, I was never upgraded. Ever. Then there were some substantial service issues on a flight back from Europe in business class with my wife. Then there was Delta leading the pack on burning the frequent fliers in a plethora of ways. Finally, Delta cancelled 4 consecutive flights from my airport to Atlanta one day when my wife and I needed to meet people out west. In sum, Delta has caused substantial misery to us personally. Your incidents are largely what happened to other people. Our experiences are personal.

    1. OMG! I thought everyone LOVED Delta — other than questioning credentials of African-American healthcare professionals, they have avoided much of the controversy of other US carriers (said completely tongue-in-cheek). I’ve never really liked Delta…never saw what all the hoopla is about. In fact, Delta is the only carrier to ever strand me overnight through a series of events of sheer incompetence.

      1. Delta sucks- it has a redneck culture that emanates – I believe- from it’s one rain storm stops the entire friggin airline- being based in Atlanta. The crews, gate agents, customer service at check in- it all sucks!!!! And they are the only airline in over 6 million miles of flying in my life where I was actually kicked of a flight for asking what time do we land in Tampa after a 22 hour delay in NYC because the flight attendants demanded silence because they were ticked off because of their own employers incompetence. I wrote 5 letters to senior management and all I received in return was a ban for for 24 months- NOT AN APOLOGY!!!!!
        (Comment edited for content) However, in fairness, every U.S. carrier is crap so the bar is so low a snake could not slither beneath it. I will fly any international airline when the opportunity affords itself. If they could charge you for using the bathroom they most certainly would!!!!!!!!!

    2. Something seems fishy here. So, if I understand your post correctly, you got kicked off a flight for just ASKING when a flight that had been delayed 22 hours was going to land? And then, after writing a letter of complaint ,you got a 24 month ban from the airline? If i was a betting person I would bet that you yelled at the top of your voice and used foul language to the employees. Maybe such tone and language were called for but you simply cannot talk to people like that.

  3. I agree. Although the final straw with me was having to go to a ticket counter when booking the cheapest fare just to check in (no bags and I was not in need of a carry on). I would have been fine with just an assigned random seat last minute like delta and american do, but no, I had to go to a counter, even though I had the app. It was planned inconvenience. That was it for me. They sure did teach me to buy a more expensive ticket… on a different airline. I will never fly them again. If they are the only airline going someplace I will drive or take a boat. I have never had that problem on even cheapo frontier.

  4. Thanks for your insight on United’s customer service issues. I certainly am concerned about service but much more concerned about safety.
    United has had a very good safety record,(far as I know).
    Do you have any comments about their aircraft safety?

  5. terrible, lazily researched and written article. United has been just the opposite for me and my family, showing nothing but promise and positivity. Check out the stock price too as Wall Street agrees with me. Your loss in avoiding a great airline.

  6. I’d say 7 out of every 10 airline horror stories I read are about United. I’ve been avoiding them for a few years, too.

    I’ve only flown Spirit once; it was a short flight for a short trip, and for that, they were fine. I wouldn’t use them if it was a long flight or I were going to be gone more than a weekend, though.

  7. I completely agree – United needs to clean up their act. Living in Houston, you almost have to fly them being the super dominant carrier.

  8. This article is absurd. I fly United about 2-3 times per month (based at ORD) and have not had a bad flight with them in years. They’ve worked very hard to improve their service and on-time performance. I can be a picky traveler, but I haven’t had any issues with any UA employees. They’re generally very courteous and professional. And I’ve flown through every one of their hubs in the past year. No issues.

    AA, on the other hand, frequently changes flights on you, and has delays (very often mechanical). Then there is their hub in Miami, loaded with some of the most unhelpful, nastiest people you would ever want to deal with. Not to mention their horrid Oasis interiors. But hey, if you want to be subject to that, be my guest!

    1. ANYTHING would be better than flying on United. i am glad that you have had a positive experience on United. Remember, even a broke clock is right twice a day.

    2. Miami is 2nd to AA in DFW. Those people must get bonuses based on there lack of customer service and there abilities to make passengers wish they were anywhere else. I would gladly fly anywhere to avoid AA in Dallas.

  9. I was a lifetime Gold member and had flown 1.6 million miles with United until they closed my account for a rules violation. They took away 550,000 points as well. No warning, just a call to say they were closing my account. I have been avoiding at all costs, but living in SF, makes it hard.

  10. I flew United for years out of Chicago. Most flights lived up to expectations, but that was around 2000. I think they quest for the almight dollar is what is driving crappy service on most airlines these days. I use American these days. I’ve not had a bad experience yet.

  11. I won’t fly United either. AA is on my list of gradually no longer flying with them. My last flight with them was JFK-Spain roundtrip and it was pure torture. The flight attendants were attentive, but the plane itself was torture, the upgrade was too expensive although the plane was empty, the food was bad, and to change anything had exorbitant fees. I fly east coast to west coast or the reverse every week, so I fly Alaska and Delta. Delta is super cheap with it’s upgrades and miles, but they seem to be improving their seats and their on-board staff is usually good. I prefer Alaska for that flight, although I hate their changes to their frequent flier program the last couple years. VERY ANNOYING and bad service to loyal customers! I actually like Southwest when I’m flying on the west coast. Their staff is always helpful and friendly and their new planes are pretty comfortable – I just took them to LAX and was surprised by the legroom and comfort of the seat. I won’t take them for long flights – let’s just say the16 hours of hell Cancun to Portland, Oregon with three kids left a bad taste in my mouth for long flights with them. UGH! I do wish SWA flew direct to Newark (can’t stand LGA) because I’d choose Southwest since they are much more generous, friendly, and flexible than the rest.

  12. I fly United several times a month. Although certain hubs(O’Hare) have trouble with timeliness, my overall experiences have been fine. My only complaint is the limited options out of Sacramento, CA. It is the freaking capitol of California yet I have to go through SF on most flights.

    Now if you really want to complain about a major carrier let’s discuss American Airlines. I’d rather take steerage on the Titanic than subject myself to ravel on that miserable airline.

  13. I wanted to read this article just to see if the writer’s thoughts were the same as mine. They are. I booked a flight on United about 10 years ago and I have never flown on United since. My experience was beyond awful. The absolute worst customer service experience of my life and I handled “accelerated complaints” for a company for many years. i have taken multi-stop flights and inconvenient flights, plus paid more just to avoid United.when I handled “accelerated complaints” I always asked right at the beginning of the conversation “what can I do to rectify this situation AND KEEP YOU AS A CUSTOMER”. Keeping a person as a customer was as important as resolving the issue IN THEIR FAVOR. In this article the writer posts “what could change my mind”. he stated NOTHING. I have also read NOTHING that would change my mind either. A few have posted that United is now “great”. They say the writer is just ranting. WRONG!! It is the writer’s honest opinion. I don’t care if they have changed to some degree my opinion is NEVER AGAIN! EVER! I don’t care if they agreed to fly me free in First Class anywhere in the world. I’m done. Btw, i am a forgiving person usually but this issue is so egregious and the so called “resolution” was so unprofessional that I have just decided to spend my dollars elsewhere. One key element of forgiving a company is for them to actually apologize. THAT never happened.

  14. Reading this rant was a waste of time. As a frequent flyer, I’m looking for helpful tips and serious reviews. This article was substandard even for a tabloid. Higher standards should be applied before publishing articles.

  15. I started working for UAL in 1966. At that time and for many years after I always felt that United was a leader in the business and an excellent choice for travel. So sadly that is no longer my opinion, for so many of the reasons stated above. I can only hope that the consistent bad choices of management will improve, and that United will regain its standing. We’ve seen formerly great airlines like Eastern, TWA, PanAm disappear due to management and I hope United avoids this fate.

    1. I also worked for United and was always proud of my airline. Their concern for passengers and employees was admirable. But my son, a frequent business traveler, now avoids United because of poor service. I always tried to use my “
      Alma Mater “when possible , have a Chase Explorer card, shop thru their program to get more points – but now agree that UAL is no longer what it used to be. I avoid it and will use my points for a Star Alliance flight .

  16. Sorry, but you have the facts wrong. Dr. Dao acted criminally and was handled appropriately. The dead dog in the overhead was a dog in a regular soft bag; no kennel. The flight attendant (or ANY other crewmember) had NO IDEA there was a dog in the bag. The bag was on the floor and the passenger was told to put the bag in the overhead. They smuggled the dog on, paying no pet fee. They denied United to do an autopsy on the dog also. Please have your facts straight if you are going to continue to write. You have NI credibikity from me until then.

  17. Maybe you should retry Allegiant. They have modernized their fleet big time in the last year or so. We fly out of Sanford FL and have seen that the airplanes now are much newer and better than they were just a year or so ago.

  18. While people are slamming the article because they have had good personal experiences with United, I think they should reread the article. It was not a rant about the author’s own bad experiences, but rather the overall failings towards the general customer base and their employees. I also do not like supporting a company who does not value their own employees. I do not trust companies that don’t adequately compensate their employees or where you see consistently low morale. This is the main reason I found this article so intriguing. The lottery style bonus scheme was especially disturbing. Thanks for an honest and revealing look at United. Food for thought for sure!

  19. OMG, I am soooo sorry. Such a great DYKWIA rant, but, sorry, No, I don’t know and don’t care. Fly, walk or moped if you like. BTW, You sound more like a jilted lover.

    If this is food for thought (sounds like a human resources phrase), you’ll starve.

  20. I’m 100% in agreement with this article. Shame on those who claim it is a “rant”. I was on the cusp of including United as an “avoid” airline along with Spirit and Ryan but now I will. United is a poorly run airline – pure and simple.The examples cited are just the tip of the iceberg. I know know two premium United customers (both out of ORD) with over 250,000 miles each who stopped using them because of repeated poor treatment and bad decisions. When your best customers abandon you. something is horribly wrong.

  21. United has been in a death spin ever since the UAL-Continental merger. Instead of raising Continental, Smisek and his clown show beat down UAL’s high quality ground, cabin, and cockpit staff, killed customer service, nickle and dimed every good service UAL had provided, and made the old PEOPLE EXPRESS look good. The crowning touch of this band of idiots was moving out of JFK–thinking NEWARK would allow them to remain even a second-class carrier. UAL is a PEOPLE EXPRESS wanna be. Oscar and the Board don’t get it and don not care. I haven’t flown them in 10 years and would prefer AMTRAK. The best ways to deal with this..vote with your feet, don’t fly UAL. Comment on social media. Fill out those surveys. And file complaints with UAL, BBB, your state and local Consumer Protection Agencies, and the FAA. Make sure UAL keeps getting the message.

  22. Very scary – The flight from Newark to Buffalo, NY – You walk to the plane, climb up the stairs. Interior is shoddy and looks dirty, I took pictures. Wings look like they are rusty. Pretzels are stale. The plane is parked behind the terminal near something that looks like a junk yard. .

  23. Ladies and gentlemen: You wanted lower fares and you got them. Enjoy! I worked for United for 40 years, Grew up with them before that. The quest for lower fares brought in a new management philosophy. Pretend you care, advertise that you care, then…..give them nothing. We front-line employees at United were screwed so many times by totally inept leadership that we finally just gave up. People only become flight attendants now for the days OFF. Nothing more. And others workers can’t even tell you why they work for the company anymore.

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