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Guest Flight Review: United Airlines Doesn’t Live Up to Expectations

Flying on a CRJ 700 down to LAX to catch my flight to Hawaii. Photo by Maresa Gochanour

Flying on a CRJ 700 down to LAX to catch my flight to Hawaii.

Maresa writes the blog Around Puget Sound and when she was recently taking a trip to Hawaii on United Airlines, I asked her to write up a review from a non-airline nerd perspective. This is her review in her own words: 

My United Airlines Review – The Beginning

I’m on my way from SEA to LAX to ITO (Hilo, HI). It’s time for a vacation; to get away and escape from the fast paced life we all seem to live in these days. I’m hoping for good weather for hiking, biking, and snorkeling. I’ll be staying in my very favorite vacation rental: Papaya Sunrise on the East side of the Big Island during the week of my visit.

Currently, I’m traveling from Seattle to L.A. I’m riding in a CRJ700 and it’s tiny! I’ve never been in a commercial jet this small on the mainland before. As many of you know, Hawaii has many inter-island jets that are about the same size.

We took off from Sea-Tac only about 10 minutes late, but our expected arrival is still ‘on-time’. I have about a four hour lay-over in LAX, but the way I see it is I’d much rather have way more time than necessary than be stranded somewhere I just didn’t mean to be.

It’s always exciting to fly. I love the views I get over Washington. I feel extra fortunate when I get the added bonus of flying past Mt. Rainier–talk about a spectacular view!

One of the nice parts about the smaller jet is it took hardly anytime to board the plane. Also, United was willing to check larger bags for free at the gate that were too big to fit in the narrow overhead compartments. My carry-on bag fit just fine, but it was nice to have the option to check it and to have enough space up ahead for my backpack. The folks on the flight who did check their bag will be able to pick up their bag right after getting off the plane without going to baggage claim.

Right now, the woman next to me is dozing with four radiant sunflowers clasped in her grip, undoubtedly from Pike Place Market. It’s a good reminder of Seattle, of the summer to come, and the sunshine that I’m on my way to see.

I’ll let you know about the next leg of the trip when I get that far…

From LAX to ITO, I rode on a Boeing 737-800. Not this exact one, but one like it. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

From LAX to ITO, I rode on a Boeing 737-800. Not this exact one, but one like it. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Over Five Hours Later

Wow, LAX was huge! My connecting flight wasn’t too far from where I landed. I have to tell you though, this second flight is shaping up to be much stranger and unpredictable than the first part.

When my fellow passengers and I were waiting to board, many people were struck by how rude the gate agent collecting boarding passes was to fellow passengers. “No, don’t go in that line! I said the right line–not the left!” The United/Continental worker shouted to customers. “No, rows 30 and higher may board, only rows 30 and
higher!” Calm down lady–I think you’re taking this all a bit too personally.

I found out a few minutes later that she wasn’t looking or scanning at the tickets she was collecting from people either, which meant that anyone with a ticket of any sort could board the aircraft–and someone did. A man got my plane to Hilo but didn’t find out he was on the wrong plan until he found someone sitting in his seat–how could there
be two people in seat 28E? “Isn’t this flight going to Denver?” The man asked. “No, we’re going to Hilo as in Hawaii…” The flight attendant responded sounding surprised. The man quickly grabbed his things and deboarded the plane. “In all my six years of working as a flight attendant, I’ve never had that happen!” The flight attendant said shaking his head.

After only 20 minutes in the air the pilot informed us that we’d be experiencing some turbulence for the next 150 miles–how long it would take to pass through, they didn’t say.

Now I’ve done a lot of traveling and encountered some pretty bad turbulence but this far surpassed it all. The flight attendants were all losing their footing and desperately trying to hold on. The SnackPacks were bouncing all over in the carts and were about ready to bounce out onto the floor. At the moment that I thought someone might
actually start to panic, one of the flight attendants actually did. He exclaimed, “Buckle up, buckle up! We’ll come back with the drinks and food, is everyone buckled, because I need to go buckle up.”

After a while, the turbulence settled down and the beverage service began again.The flight attendants were going right along and missed my row entirely. I called him back and wound up drinking a flat Ginger Ale. Great.

Photo by Maresa Gochanour.

Mauamai Beach on the West side of the Big Island.

Right Now

The flight attendants have just come back with another round of beverages and somehow they missed my row and walked right passed us again. When the attendant was called back by my seat-mate the man serving the drinks said abruptly to me, “What’d you want?” “Cranberry juice please,” I asked. “Here–” the man says shoving the can of juice
at me.

United/Continental, I was not amused…not amused. I heard one passenger say, “Never have I seen passengers treated with such disrespect,” but thank you for getting us all to paradise safely.

If you are looking for things to do around the Puget Sound region either as a resident or a visitor, be sure to check out Maresa’s blog, follow on Facebook or Twitter.

38 comments to Guest Flight Review: United Airlines Doesn’t Live Up to Expectations

  • Alex

    For some reason, I’ve encountered the worst FA service on flights to/from Hawaii. Guess its because they’re high seniority and figure they’re immune from any and all reprisal from giving poor service.

  • Rosa

    Wow, that was one nasty trip. I hope that crew had some time in Hawaii themselves. Sounds like they needed to absorb some aloha spirit.

    Our family lives in Hawaii so we go pretty often. Our son is also going to school there. We always, ALWAYS fly Hawaiian. Have never had a bad experience. Their food isn’t as exciting as it used to be, but that would be true for all airlines now. But, they provide service with smiles and are always courteous. AND…they fly direct to HNL and I believe Maui and Kona as well. No LAX! :)

    Aloha!
    Rosa

  • Peter

    Sounds like there’s no excuse for that much lousy treatment on one flight for so many people. Makes me glad I don’t fly UA.

  • Mark

    The “flight attendant” was collecting boarding passes??

  • FS

    FYI: The LAX-ITO flight was operated by CO, not UA…

    • If it acts like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck — is it a duck?

      For a few months UA/CO has been operating with one certificate — technically meaning it was a United flight.

      UA/CO still have two reservation systems, which is supposed to be changing by the end of 1st quarter 2012.

      There is not true and obvious moment when CO will cease to exist anymore, but for most purposes, it is all UA.

      David

  • Ray

    I’ve never encountered that level of rudeness from either gate personnel or FAs on any airline. I hope she took down their names so she can file a complaint about them, for all the good it may do.

    I haven’t flown on UA for about 20 years and Maresa’s review doesn’t give me any urge to try them again.

  • Drew V

    Sorry the experience wasn’t that great. Perhaps there is some nervousness with the merger. Still doesn’t excuse the behavior.

  • Dan

    I’ve taken ua out of both lax and SFO on united metal. The flight attendants have always been very nice. The CO flight on the 737 is fairly new compared to UA and maybe they just don’t have the Aloha spirit yet. . UA flies 757’s and 767’s out of la and 767’s and 777’s out of SFO. The 777 is definitely the way to go. I think flying a 737 for that long a trip could make anyone cranky. Hopefully it gets dropped and ua will upgrade the service to match Hawaiian airlines. Should be interesting once southwest starts up their service.

  • I appreciate the thoughts folks. The experience really wasn’t stellar, but maybe Dan’s right, maybe they just haven’t quite figured out the Aloha spirit yet. Time will tell…

  • FWIW, I’ve flown almost 100K miles on UA (well 888 of that on CO) in the 20 months and haven’t had a bad crew. Some of the crews have been amazing, some have been good, but none have been bad, and that includes the ground staff. Obviously not every crew is great, but the cast majority are.

    Soon enough the 767s will be the way to go because they have started the process of putting flat beds up front on the domestic fleet.

  • Wow! It truly was interesting to see what a non-frequent flyer/avgeek gets out of a flight.

    I would never consider gate-checking a plus. Nor would I call a CRJ700 tiny. I would probably get annoyed with the passenger going in the wrong line, not the gate agent – the signs are clear and the announcements usually are too. Instead of wondering how long it would take to get through the 150 miles to turbulence, I would be wondering whether it was statute or nautical miles. Instead of complaining about the FA shoving juice at me, I’d be happy that I got the whole can…

    Very interesting trip report indeed…

    • I’ve flown on CRJs for long flights, up to >1,000 miles, and while I would rather be on a mainline plane, it isn’t too bad (and I usually am in a window seat, which on a plane that small is probably the worst). Not scanning or even looking at tickets is inexcusable on the part of the gate agent, but how a passenger ends up boarding a flight that is announced as and advertised as (behind gate agent, on the status screen, etc) a completely different flight, I don’t know. Nothing you can do about the turbulence, it’s a part of flying. If you were on Delta you would have the same experience flying out.

  • Paul

    I’ve found that UA boarding procedures aren’t consistently handled and are quite often chaotic. Sometimes Premier Executive FFs are boarded from one line, sometime from another. Quite often the gate agents are out in the crowd telling folks to get into one line or another – but those lines don’t match the signage, etc.

    Living and traveling in Asia has spoiled me though – all U.S. flight attendants come across as rude and pushy compared to the Asian level of deference and service – and I still can’t imagine why a flight attendant would sit and read a magazine or work a crossword puzzle when they are supposed to be “on duty”. Gate agents talking on their cell phones with friends and family (since you can overhear their conversation you know they aren’t talking about “work”) is a pretty clear communication that the customer doesn’t matter. UA isn’t alone in this… it’s a general trend on U.S. airlines, I’ve observed, and probably accounts why many who have the option choose a foreign airline.

    • The difference between Japan and the US is pretty astounding. I don’t have a problem with the US boarding, and unlike you, I have found it to be very consistent. In Japan they make sure you are in the right line and it is very orderly, although I don’t think that is very feasible in the US (certainly on narrow bodies).

    • Tim Lope

      What do you expect the crew to do during the entire 6 hour flight? Stare at the wall after their service is done? Most flight attendants (I travel globally for work) do this after working. They’re not robots like in Asia.

  • Victor

    Just another example of why foreign airlines should be allowed to carry passengers within the United States. If other industries (auto, comes to mind) need to compete with foreign competition, then airlines should too. I would venture to say the “attitude” of alleged customer service agents, gate agents, and flight attendants would change.

  • The CRJ-700/900 are very nice aircraft especially compared to the -200. I’m not sure what exact date your flight was but I just flew FUK-HNL and we had some rough turbulence headed into Honolulu.

  • R Lopaka

    Rohit Rao got it right.UA/CO (CO’s I belive) may be operating under one certificate but still two separate flight operations.As Boeing learned on the 787 it can take some time to get everything integrated and working smoothly. FA friend tells me all U.S. passengers come across as rude and pushy compared to the Asian passengers level of deference and respect.

    • I have seen that, the whole Asian mindset is much different. The gate agents make sure everyone is where they should be so there aren’t zone 4 people in line with 1Ks, etc. Generally it seems that there isn’t much “gate lice” in the Asian airports I have been to, for most flights in the US you can count on 20 zone 1 or greater pax in line with 1P+.

  • harmison551

    Hi david fantastic experience of journey to Lax………Thanks alot

    Cheap Flights To Brussels

  • Mallthus

    Sounds exactly like a typical United flight. Not sure what expectations the author had that’d be any different from this.

  • Matthew Shanks

    Jeff Smizek needs to take his golden parachute and resign along with his other cronies, since the board and shareholders aren’t smart enough to fire them. Thus the share holders need to vote out the Jeff’s hand picked board members as well since they don’t seem to care about anything but their personal financial arrangements as well in light of directing a good business. They took Continental which we know was a great airline with the best recent flyer program and most devoted and loyal customers and failed miserably.

    As a 20 year platinum customer with over a million miles flown on Continental, I have been reduced to being treated like a first time flyer on Delta who’s is ranked the worst US airline. Granted United is # 3 but now with Continental gone (who was number 9 out of ten), United is the true winner for that # 1 spot. Move Delta into Continentals old spot as a jump from 1 to 9 for Delta isn’t that big of a leap after United’s dysfunctional airline practices.

    Expecting the same Onepass service levels? Forget it those jobs have been outsourced to India and your service time is now 10 times longer than before the merge. Not to mention they can’t find your account in their system, and you are on the phone for at least an hour each time unless you hang up because the flights you are trying to book take off before they can even book you on them. Yes they are that slow and that incompetent.

    Time for all levels of Continental Elite members to take a stand and switch. As well as a great opportunity for American or Northwest to capitalize on launching a large scale campaign to move us over!

  • Toejam

    I’ve flown Continental International (Europe) & Domestic to the west coast for many years. I started noticing a very strange and somewhat disturbing attitude shift in the Continental flight crews about 24 months ago. Since I fly pretty regularly in Business/First I get a chance to spend quality time with the Flight crews and flight attendants. They were ALL Continental until this March and believe me when they spoke to me there wasn’t one kind word uttered about United.

    Many were worried about 1) lay-off, 2) reassignment & 3) A less favorable “union contract” which would see lots of their benefits and possibly salaries diminish.

    I fear my next journey on the “Nuevo United airlines” will not be a happy pie-in-the-sky experience.

    In closing I’d like to sing the praises of the “old Continental” personnel. I never had a bad experience and their demeanour was most pleasant and very professional. On numerous occasions I even managed to corner Captains and first officers and ask technical quests, which were met with enthusiasm and a pleasant exchange of information.

    So long Continental, it was a beautiful relationship.

    I fear the future!

    • I have been hearing similar things from others as well. It seems that many airlines get distracted during a merger and I can only hope that UA is able to get their act together a bit more once things settle down.

      David

  • Interesting the comment about GA’s using their cellphones for personal calls in position at the gate…where I work (WestJet in YVR) we just received a communication titled “Guest Perception” that addresses that very issue…cellphones are a no/nicht/nein while in uniform and on duty. (So are non-reusable coffee cups at your work station).
    And in regards to the barky “get in that line” gate agent…one of the cornerstones of our World-Class Guest Experience is “Stress Free.” We are told not to shout and not to order people about. Sad that people actually have to be told this nowadays. But I figure travel is stressful enough already what with traffic, parking, then security, I want to be the nicest person my guests encounter on their journey.
    Finally, when I transition to Flight Attendant this summer, I plan never to be seen sat in the back galley reading a magazine! I am going to be the one who always volunteers to do the 15-minute aisle checks.

  • Kevin

    I purchased a roundtrip full fare ticket $1957 from Washington D.C to Zurich Switzerland.
    I would not recommend flying with this line because:
    1- For the price that I had paid, they gave me the worse sit in the back of the plane.
    2-food was horrible.
    3-Plane was very old and the sits were very uncomfortable.
    4-They lost my luggage on returning from Switzerland (which has had never happened to me before flying the same route that I have been traveling for the past 30 years). It took me a lot of phone calling, spending many hours and many arguments to finally get my luggage back 48 hours later at 2 am.
    5-If I have choice, I would NEVER fly with this SORRY airline.

  • Bhanu Bhattarai

    I was in connecticut for my PE exam last week just before hurricane Sandy. I took United Airlines flight from Pittsburgh to Connecticut via Cleveland because Vayama.com told me that even though I was willing to pay the price they were displaying on their website for the direct flight, somehow I could not have it. It is ridiculous on Vayama’s part to tell me that I can’t have the ticket even though I was willing to pay for it. Well, I reached connecticut bored by a two hour delay in Cleveland.

    The PE exam comprised of two four hour sessions, morning session of four hour starting at eight AM. I thought there would be a break of an hour before the afternoon session however, the second session started only at 1:45 PM and ended at 6 PM. When I finally got out, it was almost 6:15 PM and I missed the flight which was at 6:55 PM since I reached the Bradley International airport exactly at 6:55 PM. I previously had good experience with United Airlines where one of my missed flight was rescheduled easily without any fee. I was assured that they would again do that for me.

    Two of their counter personnel tried to put me in a flight for the next morning. There was no other flight for the day and the first flight was at 5 AM (Connecticut-Cleveland-Pittsburgh)and another one was at about 2:30 PM (Connecticut-Dallas-Pittsburgh). I decided to choose the second one because I wanted a good rest after the 8 hour long exam that day. The united personnel could not figure out the fee I needed to pay for the flight and had me wait half an hour while himself figuring it out over the phone with some other United Personnel somewhere. Finally he said the fee was $936 and blatantly asked me whether he should go ahead and charge my credit card ! I was appalled by the question and his conscience and stamped off having being told that there was nothing they could do for me.

    I had a good impression of United but not any more. I will try my best not to step into one again. All the airlines are the same, they would never look for the customers because we are always expendable.

  • john w

    My experience with refunds.
    In all my travels I have never seen such disrespect, lack of sense of duty, confused behavior towards me before.
    I booked a ticket meant for January 18 from Eppley Airport in Omaha ne to Houston airport. Returning on January 19 2013. The travel agent were Priceline. 15 minutes into buying the ticket I realized the return leg was not favorable for the reason I was going. I called Priceline and they cancelled and subsequently voided the ticket. This was on January 7 2013.
    Priceline told me I will receive refund from united. When I called united, they hang up on me like 30 times. Finally somebody was kind enough to take my information. And he come back and told me they have no records of me even buying tickets from them. I called Priceline, and they called united and told me they have resolved the issue with united and that united will send the money. I called united again and it is the same problem. Am trying to get the appropriate authorities to deal with this people. I just want to put this out there for everyone to be aware of how you could be potentially treated

  • Kathleen M.

    I have had two recent similar experiences w/ United 4/7/13 and 4/14/13 on both legs of our trip coming to and from Jackson Hole, WY (JAC)from Columbia, SC (CAE). I started my trip on April 7th, 2013 in Columbia, SC – Flight 5700 to Chicago (O’Hare), which was delayed several hours, due to crew needing rest. You all don’t plan for this? Do you realize that a delay in one place causes rescheduling and long lines? My husband and I are both handicapped. I have neuropathy in both feet (not visible to you all – but horribly painful), but my husband is on crutches and has cerebral palsy (this is very visible to you all). We stood in line for over two agonizing hours, while only two customer service techs took people very slowly and inefficiently. They took people from later flights before ours, when ours was finally boarding, causing the flight to be further delayed. They seemed oblivious to the fact that they were inconveniencing people. One large black man spent 45 minutes with one couple chatting. The line was 50 people long, “chatting” was not needed. Because the flight was further delayed, due to your inept CAE staff, we missed our connector flight from Chicago to Denver, which we would have made if the flight would have left on time, even with the original delays. For the first time in Chicago someone did offer my husband a wheelchair, and he took it but had to laugh, being no accommodations had been offered in Columbia during the two+ hours on line. Starr and her group at Chicago (O’Hare) were the only group to ever provide accommodations to my husband. She rescheduled our flights and got us to the next flight on time. Our last flight of the day was flight 3867 from Denver to Jackson WY. The stewardess on this flight was nasty. She seemed to take pleasure in jumping on people in an embarrassing/loud manner. She announced no beverages would be served due to turbulence. When things quieted down, I asked to use to bathroom. She loudly said she would not allow me to. I was in physical pain (I am missing organs). She then began to serve water to people, so I got up to use the bathroom, when she loudly yelled at me to get back in my seat. I fired back, noting that I thought that if she could be up and about I could go. She yelled at me again, saying it would be “on me if I got hurt.” I said ok – It was that or crap my pants. This is crazy. She was not subtle, so I was not subtle. I thought this would be the end of bad customer service from your airline, but I was wrong. Then came the return flight. Flight 4895 From JAC to DEN was delayed over two hours due to mechanical issues. The mechanical issues were discovered by the pilot with us in the plane ready to go. The flight crew were very surly to say the least. Mr. Sweeny from United said all of us would be rescheduled by the time we reached Denver. He lied. We checked for our new schedules as soon as we got off the flight. No changes had been made. We stood in line for two hours there at customer service. No wheelchairs were offered to my husband. And, a woman from United would come from another office to the customer service line and randomly take people to reschedule their flights. I noticed that she never chose people from the front of the line, would pick people in front of us, and in back of us, and completely ignored the man on crutches standing for two hours. Once again, no accommodations were made for disabilities. When I finally received our new schedule, I noticed the flight from CAE from Dulles did not have a gate number. Being, we only had an hour to get out of the back of a huge plane and get across a large airport with a man on crutches, I wanted the gate number/letter. The man at the Denver gate for the Washington flight refused to look this up for me. He said it was impossible to look up. But, the stewardess on the plane looked it up (A2F) and even gave us the schematics of the airport. Funny how some people are helpful and others go the opposite extreme. The man in Denver knew why I needed the information, he just did not care. In the end, our luggage got to Columbia a few hours earlier, because, it was automatically rescheduled, but we were not. Funny what your priorities are! We are going to Seattle this Summer. I have already scheduled the whole trip with another airline.

  • soltani

    REQUEST ID:15521269

    To “United Airlines” potential customers,
    The airline brand name is in quotation marks as the true name for the company should have been cheating airline, ruthless airlines, or perhaps professional liar lines. If the company got bigger and bigger by lying and enjoying the cash that should have been refunded to the customers like me, please note that most people like me work hard for the penny and can’t afford losing that to liars like “United Airlines”. I have given up so much to save for the airline economic tickets to Canada to visit my parents that I have not seen for 4 years. I paid $2,383.80 on October 2012 for the round trip for the family of 4, my husband and I with two kids who were 2 and 4 years old. A few weeks before the trip, my kids got sick and their health conditions got so severe that I ended up cancelling my tickets which were for December 19, 2012 from Sacramento to Toronto with multiple stops. Frustrated with sick kids, I ended up taking them to the hospital a few times.
    After numerous calls to the intermediaries and the airlines, an agent told us that the refund will be upon providing the medical documents showing that the kids were not able to travel due to severe health conditions on that day. Ok, that seemed reasonable, the airline wants to prevent people abusing the system asking for the refund and they need the backup to make sure the cancellation was for the legitimate reason.
    Now I am going to the hospital back and forth and begging the boss to give me a couple of unpaid hours off to get the medical backup documents from the doctor. It is specifically stated in the doctor’s notes that the kids were in critical conditions and they were “UNABLE “to travel that time.
    After giving up a lot of my working hours traveling to the hospital and getting what would get me the refund from the ruthless airline, I sent the documents over to them and guess what? !!! The airline does not refund ! For god’s sake, if you guys are in the business of making cash by getting people’s money like me, why didn’t you tell us in the first place? You think your customers are idiots to fall into your traps? Your company didn’t lose money as it sold the tickets right away in the busy season.

    “United Airlines” cannot screw over people like me to make more money and I want my refund and I will NOT STOP showing your potential customers the true picture of your company till I see my money that I earned with my effort.
    Soltani

  • united airlines screwed me

    United airlines couldnt be a worse company. Spreading misery to hundreds if not thousands of paying customers. Hope that dick that calls himself the ceo actually has to fly on one of his shithole airplanes one day. Go f yourself United.

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