Damon Cortesi's blog

Musings of an entrepreneur.

United - We Fly the Feudal Skies

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I’ve had the unfortunate need to fly on United quite a bit in the past few months. And it seems with every flight I take, my hatred of that airline grows. There are several reasons that I harbor this hate toward that particular airline. Allow me to expand.

  1. Economy Plus - This is quite the amazing scam. When checking in, United gives you the option to upgrade to Economy Plus (some 5 inches of additional legroom) for a given fee. Now should you choose to accept that, you will be guaranteed a nice roomy seat as requested. However, should you choose to bypass the offer there is another means of obtaining an upgrade to economy plus…simply by asking the gate staff! Now that doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be able to do that, but it’s still frustrating that they’re trying to scam the money out of you up front, when a polite inquiry can get you the same. Which leads directly into my next point,
  2. Customer Service - I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been greeted with a smile at the gate, or even acknowledged at all when walking up to the counter at the gate. Wait, let me rephrase that. When I haven’t had the fortune to be a first-class customer, United’s customer service is abhorrent. I understand treating first class customers a little bit better, but this is beyond that. Those in coach are simply treated as stains on the bottom of the plane that they would rather be rid of that get a blanket for. Perhaps it’s just my personal experience, but I’d like to think that I’m a fairly nice and engaging guy and do my best to be polite and friendly to the flight attendants. If only they would give me the same in return. However, the level of disparity between the customer service in first and coach is sickening.
  3. Everything is based on miles - When you have enough miles to reach a certain “status”, they treat you like gold. Until then, well…they treat you like another lump but it’s certainly not gold. This was made even more apparent to me last week as I was going stand-by for a flight that, oddly enough, was supposed to leave later than my original one (more on that later). As people’s names were getting called from the standby list, one poor passenger complained that several people ahead of him had already been called. What was the explanation? Because they had more miles. There is no first come, first serve on United…it’s $$ paid, best served. No wonder Southwest has been making such a bundle.

Now, as I mentioned I had a slight delay (2.5 hours) last week on United due to “Aircraft Availability”…whatever that means. Unfortunately, I had a delay of similar length today when traveling on Southwest Airlines. For some reason, I didn’t feel nearly as slighted as I did when traveling with United.

Perhaps it was the fact that there was no United representative at the gate to assist with the delayed flight. Perhaps it was the fact that a flight originally scheduled to leave later…left earlier. Perhaps it’s the fact that when I’m traveling on United, I am jammed into a smaller seat simply for wanting to save a buck. (I’m a small guy…it takes a lot for me to be jammed, and compared to Southwest…I was jammed.) Perhaps it’s the fact that Southwest, I’m rewarded with a standard size seat simply for wanting to save a buck. Perhaps it was the never-ending smiles and humor of the Southwest crew that kept my spirits up. Perhaps it was logical fashion in which Southwest had us transfer planes that was not engineered to screw half of us over. perhaps it was the illogical fashion that United uses to order standby passengers that grates on us “common-folk’s” nerves. Perhaps it was the fact that United never apologized for the phantom aircraft. Perhaps it was the constant, emphatic, and heartfelt apologies of the Southwest crew. Perhaps it was the customer service…

Whatever it was, it was interesting to be able to compare the two airlines in similar lights in such a short amount of time. And I really have to commend Southwest. As one of the few, if not the only airline to continue to post profits since 9/11, Southwest must be doing something right. And as in so many other industries, customer service is playing a big role. Allow me to quote Southwest’s Customer Service Commitment:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

Their president, Colleen Barrett even mentioned in this month’s spirit magazine that maintaining their culture has been difficult, but they have implemented numerous culture programs to maintain the quality of their customer service, and it shows.

I thank you, Southwest, for realizing that a smile still counts in this day and age. United - While I’m sure those that have no problem dropping $1,000+ on a ticket love your attention, those are only 24 seats out of a much larger plane.

With United, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been greeted with a smile at the gate, or even acknowledged at all when walking up to the counter at the gate. With Southwest, I can count on one hand the number of times they failed to make me smile…and I barely get past my thumb.