united airlines failure

United Airlines Failure of Values and Culture

There’s a definite failure of Values and Culture which ultimately points to a failure of leadership at United Airlines. We’ve all heard the stories of the poor guy who got the crap beaten out of him because he wanted to be able to stay in his seat and fly home on his full fare ticket. He just wanted to fly home on the ticket United sold him… not an unreasonable request.

It’s not that any of the individual United employees aren’t kind or don’t try to be helpful. They work within a system of process that values expediency, efficiency and cost savings over customer service.

Here’s my United Airlines Failure experience:

Friday morning, May 5th…. Getting ready to board United Airlines Flight 4928 for the joyous occasion of my youngest son’s graduation from the University of South Carolina, Columbia SC. My wife and I are dreading becoming one of the horror stories of customer service failures to which United Airlines has become famous. But wait…. As we get to the gate…. I ask the gate agent Tony at Gate A2 for advice on luggage and our need for luggage tags.

Tony is gracious, cheerful and helpful. My small bag can go on the plane, my wife’s bag must be checked. It’s not allowed on a plane this small. No way!!!! He gives us a luggage tag and we’re ready to go. Mr Cranky is happily surprised he tweets a thank you to United.

We board the plane greeted by a friendly flight attendant. Take our seats… and the plane sits, and sits and sits.

There’s some confusion between ground crew and flight attendant in the front of the cabin. So let me digress with a little background.

United Airlines Flight 4928, is a small commuter jet flight. We’ve taken it numerous times during my son’s 4 year college experience (yes!!!!! Graduated with a job in 4 years). The plane is a small Embraer E145. Seats 48 passengers. Each row consisting of 1 seat on the port side and 2 seats on Starboard.

It’s the kind of plane where the airlines will not allow you to carry-on a standard size carry-on bag. You must check it. My bag is small enough (I don’t need as many shoes on this 3 day trip as Mrs Cranky). The wife’s bag is too big to carry-on board. Nope United would never let you carry-on a standard carry-on on board this flight.  It’s unsafe or something…. never ever ever…. Unless of course it is for United’s convenience. Than screw you if you’d rather have leg room.

Back to our story. As we sit and the confusion up front subsides, the flight attendant makes a PA announcement. Because of weight restrictions, they are going to take some of the carry-on bags that were going into the cargo section and are never allowed in the cabin and bring them into the cabin where they are never ever allowed. If you see your bag, identify it and the airlines will attempt to crush your baggage under your seat, just in case you weren’t uncomfortable enough in the seats that already had no leg room and in case you didn’t care that your clothes are getting wrinkled and shoes mangled. 

Question? How does putting a bag in the cabin make it weigh less than in the luggage compartment. Is it the difference in gravity because the bag is now 4 feet higher in altitude?

Now they’re bringing on board soaking wet bags from the tarmac that were sitting in the pouring rain. First they remove things from the overhead compartments forcing customer to keep their coats in their laps and stuffing smaller bags under the seats.

The poor kid behind me complains that he just got soaked.  The wet luggage they put in the compartment above his seat had just drenched him.

Now all the overhead space has been rearranged and they still need more space for bags. The flight attendant, “Who’s bag is this?” My wife, “That’s mine.” We’re going to have to put the bag that we will never allow you to bring on board if you wanted to bring it on board and put it under the seat in front you where you already don’t have close to enough leg room. We’d like to put it in the place we would never let you put that bag because if you wanted to bring your bag on board we wouldn’t let you and we know you don’t have enough leg room. We want you to have even less.

Mr Cranky, “Wait… What? We don’t have any leg room as is and that bag won’t fit under that seat, the seat’s too small and the bag too big. We literally couldn’t get the bag to clear the front of the seat. It wouldn’t fit.

Flight Attendant, “Let me try.”

So we vacate our seats and the flight attendant has a difficult time, putting all her  weight into the bag, to crush it past the seat. With much grunting and pushing, she’s able to crush the wife’s bag and all her stuff inside it under the seat and we sit down with no place for our feet to go and less leg room than the no leg room we had prior.

Well it’s only a one hour flight, and maybe we can get better seating for the graduation in wheelchairs we’ll need after this one hour of flying.  At least they only sprained our ankles and didn’t break our nose or knock out any teeth.

I understand the airlines must deal with logistics. But when they deliver substandard service in order to deal with their logistical nightmares, their should be some kind of compensation… a free drink of scotch, a thank you maybe? Nope nothing. Nada. Suck it up…. Sucka!  United’s culture is to make United’s problem the customer’s problem.

United Airlines… still plagued with bad service…not because of their people but because of their procedures and their culture.  First world problems… I know. At least we landed safely. Maybe we’ll get one of those electric cart rides to to the pick-up area since we’ve lost all feeling in our legs!

Epilogue: back in our room my wife finds that the rain has soaked through her luggage and her way overpriced Valentino Blouse is stained with a wet spot. Thanks United… you still suck.