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.
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.
- Jan 2017 – All flights grounded due to a computer problem
- United announces Polaris in June 2016 but they’re still in the process of renovating planes and the date to have the entire fleet updated with the new seats isn’t until late 2020.
- In April 2017, things got worse when a bloodied Dr. Dao was dragged off a United plane and the viral video caused one of the top 10 PR disasters of all time.
- Did anyone forget about #leggingsgate, from March of 2017?
- United’s horrible rollout of Basic Economy fares.
- In February 2018, this United employee was caught on video trying to tell a passenger her bag was too big (after removing it from the sizer).
- Due to a string of incidents in 2018 with pets either being sent to the wrong airports here and here or dying while on United flights at a rate three times higher than all other US airlines COMBINED, United stopped transporting pets in the cargo hold for four months until their PetSafe program was evaluated by American Humane – they continues to monitor the program.
- In February 2019, A United employee was charged with disorderly conduct and sued after using racist language when talking to a passenger
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.
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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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary