Chris Smith


Thoughts on life.

Where has customer service gone United Airlines?

TL:DR; Reflecting (with some ranting) on a bad experience flying United Airlines and wondering how customer service gets so bad, and giving some thoughts on improvement such as:

  • Give reasons for problems
  • Take ownership of your service
  • Use technology to create a unique customer experience
  • Show you care, ask for feedback
How customers feel about United Airlines - pic from Sunday 6/15 United flight Newark to Providence

How customers feel about United Airlines - pic from Sunday 6/15 United flight Newark to Providence


An 8 hour trip from San Francisco has so far turned into a 24 hour trip with multiple gate changes, flight delays, and a cancelation with little to no explanation, apologies or empathy for the entire wasted day.  I'm glad I'm not the woman sitting next to me who was supposed to take her sick kid to the hospital, the student starting his summer program tomorrow in a new city, the 80 year old couple delayed for 11 hours for a 45 minute flight or the numerous others stranded in limbo.  With technologies to automate and improve processes, find efficiencies, get feedback, and the obvious value of managing your net promoter score, why do some companies still provide such poor service?

The short story 

It started with a 45 minute delayed red eye flight out of San Francisco due to "awaiting flights" and now I'm a-waiting flights all day long. We arrived 45 minutes late just in time for me to miss my last flight.  No apologies on the delay or real reason shared.  Atleast tell me why it was late.. "We screwed up, but we're working on it.. Thanks for putting up with us." Would be nice to hear.  Even "We know things happen, we're working on our communication with flight controllers and trying to improve our maintenance plans to reduce problems like this in the future.  Leave feedback for us to continue improving at..."  

Stuck in Purgatory

Then I get into Newark, am told I can fly standby on the 3 pm flight which is soon canceled for "air traffic issues" and told it is not United's fault so no voucher/compensation, leading to more waiting around in a semi zombie post red eye flight purgatory.  I get booked on the last flight of the night at 10PM.  A group of passengers congregate discussing the experience and how surprisingly bad it is.  We continue to wait as it is announced that the next aircraft is broken and another is on the way in 20 minutes.  20 minutes later we are told another 20 minutes and a new gate, and then another update that it will be another hour.  The flight got in to Providence, RI 2 hours late and after all of the public transit options had finished running leaving the only option for many people to take a much more expensive taxi.  Fortunately, one of the passengers stuck delayed was nice enough to drop me off in Newport.

Suffice it to say, it took an extra 15 hours to get to my destination, I wouldn't normally complain but this experience stood out as astoundingly bad save the final flight who's captain and crew were very nice and obviously frustrated with the lack or organization with the new plane delivery/gate changes/luggage etc.

Nickel and Diming

No I haven't complained about the par for the course pay for movies and food in flight, but...  Doesn't the value of giving a $.30 cookie for free largely outweigh the customer experience of nickel and diming? I mean it could be the most mediocre cookie I've ever had.  What's more make it memorable, call it the Super United one of a kind airline cookie only available on United flights- put a pun on it to brighten a passenger's day.. Even better make fun of airline service, you cheeky cost cutting flying cookie company. Mention it in your miserable preflight instructional video, "We know you've just waiting in lines, been through the hassle of security, and lugged your bags all the way here.  To thank you for flying United, we've packed a tasty treat into your seatback pocket.  Take a deep breath and enjoy the treat.  The first one is free, so savor it but we've got more for sell if you like."

And only providing movies that you have to pay for.  Sure it works for the 1 person who really wants to watch something but the other 95% of the plane doesn't want to pay but is happy watching advertisements. And because I'm tired of writing this post I'll just end bluntly.  Take advantage of the technology, add a social layer to your flight, create some community.  

Use Technology - Ideas

  • Local wifi to connect with others on the plane or use the current system
  • Chat with other people on the plane sitting far from you, serendipitous connections
  • Multiplayer gaming
  • Watch films together, social commentary
  • So much room for innovation here


How does a company get to this point, where is the accountability? Why does customer service suck so much at United? Of course I won't be flying United again if I have a better option, how else can people help this people turn around.

Thanks for reading this rant.