United is Winning Me Back

September 30, 2016. Update to this post. United has not won me back. Loyalty has been broken. I pick my flights based on price and availability. Same goes for American.

In the early ’90’s I frequently found myself on an airplane. Calling Chicago home is really a good thing for so many reasons. But one of the best reasons is lots of planes land there on any given day, so it’s much easier to get home than if you live on either coast. Two carriers own Chicago’s O’Hare airport, United and American. During those days I took dozens and dozens of trips to New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, racking up some pretty hefty flier miles. My airline of choice was United. I prefer the Boeing aircraft over the McDonnell-Douglas planes American flies. Not a big fan of the MD-80, and after last week, I probably have a lot of people with me. United always treated me well and it seemed that a new 757 or 767 was entering the United fleet weekly. I was on a lot of those brand new planes.

But right after the employees took over the airline, things began to go south. I remember being in Terminal 1 at O’Hare on the day they took ownership. Everyone from pilots to baggage handlers were walking the terminals shaking hands and passing out pamphlets explaining why it was going to be so much better. Well, it wasn’t.

They lost my loyalty, so much so that I wrote them a letter after being diverted to Philadelphia from my original destination, New York. It was a personal trip, so it was even more disruptive. I came to learn that these diversions were commonplace. Overall the customer experience just fell off a cliff.

So I did what most customers do when they feel this way, I tried the competition, American Airlines. Since 1997, American has been my first choice. Naturally, it helps that the company I started working for in 1999 has a corporate relationship with American. My wife also has an American Advantage Citibank MasterCard and thank goodness all that shopping has helped us fly around the world. But at the core, American has done very well by me. You can read a previous post here about a recent experience that is typical with how I have been treated.

However, in light of all the problems American has had over the last week or so, I am having second thoughts about them. I was in Los Angeles when the MD-80 grounding took place, but fortunately was not affected, as my flight back to Chicago was on a B-757.

After a brutal winter in Chicago, my family deserved a little R & R, so we choose Arizona. We needed sun and warmth. I started at United’s website which was relaunched a few months ago. Very clean, easy to use and fully alligned with their brand. The fares were less expensive than American’s and once I booked, United offered me an opportunity to move to Economy Plus for less than $300 for all 4 travelers. A must on a flight of this length. This booking was on Ted, flying an Airbus 320, seats 7A, B, C, and D.

Image Credit: Ming Lee & Associates

Terminal 1at O’hare was a great experience in 1988 when it opened, and continued to be a great experience this past weekend. United has refined and extended their EasyUpdate concept with flat screens at each gate giving the customer critical information during the wait time. Type of aircraft (including a seat map), up to the minute status on number of passengers that have checked in, upgrade and standby lists, weather on both ends, and more.

During boarding the Captain and First Officer greeted the passengers. My three year old was interested in seeing the fight deck and they were more than willing to show him. They let him enter and explained the various controls. Even offered to have him sit in one of the seats. He was a little shy, or this post would have a great photo.

Everything about the flight experience was first rate. Bottom line. My next personal trip will begin at United.com.

One comment

  1. I had become one of United’s biggest fans but my most recent experience has been very negative. My husband is a frequent flyer and he recently selected a promotional award for travel and designated me Premier Associate status as part of the award. He received an email confirming his selection. I was thrilled and proceeded to book a flight to the UK to visit my elderly, ailing mother. The Premier Associate status would allow me access to the Economy Plus seats at no extra charge. My ticket was already costing us almost $1300 because there was no availibilty for a seat with Miles. The online booking (I DO think United’s ebsite is excellent) would not allow me to select the Economy Plus seats without an extra charge. Thinking, this to be an administrative blip, I called United Reservations to get the seats. United Res told me that my United Mileage Plus did not reflect the upgraded status and that they would transfer me to Mileage Plus who would be able to take care of it. I was then transferred to an automatic system that after entering my mileage number, transferred me to an agent, putting me on hold for ever and finally with the announcement, “we are unable to complete this, please call back later.” I was then left with looking up the contact number for Mileage + (or is that Minus) and calling again. I got smart this time and gave the automated attendant my husband’s number and was finally put through to an agent in the Phillipines. I explained my problem and was told that it takes 2 – 3 weeks for the Premier Associate Status to go through. We had not seen this on our communication so I asked to speak to his supervisor. The supervisor “Cat” repeated that this was in the terms and conditions. When I reviewed and read the email sent to my husband, the terms and conditions did not mention this anywhere. Cat said that it said it where she was looking and vaguely told me to go to the web site. I still could no see it. I tried United Reservations again, explaining my dilema. The man Aaron, I spoke to was very optimistic and put me on hold while he spoke to his supervisor (I hope because I never got to speak to this supervisor.) Aaron returned to the line and asked me if I would be travelling with my husband. No was my response (if I was I would not need to call). My husband will be travelling on business to Asia on the same dates. With profuse apologies for my inconvenience and frustration, he said that he could do nothing. I was so upset, I asked him to cancel my flight. No problem, (I guess they have too many customers anyway.) I would also like to mention that after checking the seats on these flights, Economy Plus was wide open so it wasn’t for lack of availibility. Aaron suggested I go back to mileage plus again because there was a note on my account saying that there was a problem with my address (it was correct).

    I called Mileage Plus once more and spoke to both Jetan and Vikran. Vikran, was the section manager and he said that he was unable to access the seating. He verified that the email sent to my husband did not contain the terms and conditions quoted by Cat. He was reluctant to apply blame but said that it was simply a misunderstanding. I explained that I shouldn’t be blamed because I did not originate the email. He suggested I called Customer Care (not to be confused with Customer Service or United Cares because there isn’t any and they don’t). He told me to tell them I had feedback or they would just flip me back to his department and advised me that “they” could conference with any other department that they chose. I called customer care and spoke to a young man who after sympathizing with me a great deal told me he would put 3000 miles in my account because I was a new member. I’m not that new, I just chose to collect Air Canada miles before. I have lost track of names that I couldn’t quite hear and couldn’t spell but finally ended up with an obiously American (or Canadian) woman. I went through my situation again, reiterating that it shouldn’t be that difficult for them to resolve. At the end of my schpeel, there was absolute silence for at least 2 minutes. I said, “What have you hung up on me already.” After about 30 seconds, the woman replied that she had not (she was probably out on a smoke break or something because she certainly wasn’t listening.) I realized then, that I had been on the phone for at least 3 hours and should be starting to make dinner. The woman repeated the 2 -3 wk thing, website…….with a real smug arrogant tone and I asked for her name. She is Arlo from Robinson, South Dakota. I suggested that she change her tone before talking to the next customer, told her that she had not been any help and said goodbye.

    I rebookd my ticket the next day and paid $182 for economy plus because my mother is dying and she shouldn’t suffer for their inadequacy. My husband said I should have paid a premium and flown Virgin Atlantic. He would have paid it. There are a lot of good people at United who will one day wonder why they no longer have jobs. Common sense should still dictate business decisions. They managed to turn a positive into a negative. We will be trying other providers in the future.

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