United Airlines Crosses a Line


I usually don’t bother to write about airlines, since its not news to anyone that crappy experiences happen all of the time. But things crossed the line on United Airlines flight 6314 from Des Moines to O’Hare on July 23rd.

Part way through boarding, a young man with some clear physical challenges sat down in the bulkhead seat. He had a smile on his face, but couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds, had his arm was in a sling, and one of is legs was immobilized by a brace. The passport in his hand was foreign, and I noticed a small American flag poking out of his backpack.

Being the bulkhead, the flight attendant came over and told him that he needed to put his backpack in the overhead for takeoff. His English clearly failed him, and he looked confused. She follows with “That can’t be there” in a loud, stern voice. He understands that, so picks up the pack as if to hand it to her. Stern and loud again: “No. You need to get up and put that in the overhead bin yourself.”

At that point a couple of fellow passengers jumped up and took care of it for him, since it was clearly going to be a physical challenge. I said “geez, that’s some customer service”. The attendant turned to me and angrily said “I would have expected some more courtesy out of the other passengers to begin with”. At that point she did her safety talk, went on the intercom to declare that the flight was too short for any service, and she sat down and read magazine for the rest of the flight.

Upon landing a couple of us got up and collected the fellow’s items, and helped him out to his wheel chair on the jetway. Not a lifted finger or word from the attendant the whole time. We got a friendly “thank you” from the young man as he was wheeled off.

In the terminal I sought out a United service rep and explained that I felt our flight attendant had been abusive to a disabled passenger. Without looking up from her computer she said “That’s too bad, please go to our website if you’d like to report it.” At home I did that, asking to speak with someone. A few days later I got an email saying that if I had something to say, I needed to write it up on the website and they’d get back to within 7 to 14 days.

So I tried to talk to United, but since they insist I type everything up, I’ll just put it on my blog.

Over the year’s I’ve met some great United employees, and I’ve had bad experiences with specific employees at other airlines. But United has, by far, the highest fraction of employees who just don’t give a shit, and make no effort to hide the fact that they consider customers a major nuisance.

In an ideal world I could just stop flying United, but there’s a few trips I do where there aren’t any practical alternatives. So I work hard to fly someone else whenever I can, and use them as a last choice.