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January 24, 2007

Stuck at the Airport, Shafted by United

posted by MR WAVETHEORY at 1/24/2007 04:34:00 PM
I hate airlines. They are the worst and most inefficently run organizations in the world even after all the bankruptcies. Case in point: United Airlines UAL Corporation (NYSE UAUA). I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, but the airline attendant refused to check me in. I had well over 45 minutes left. She literally ignored me when I got to the counter and left. I asked her where she was going and she just never looked back. Gee. I guess maybe I'm not the most handsome guy in the world, but lady, have some respect. It's called the service industry for a reason.

Well, that little setback did me in, because after that snafu, I hit the 45 minute cut-off for luggage check in - apparently another one of those carefully thought out rules for preventing terrorists like me from boarding planes. I had to repack everything into trash bags and go carry on. Wonder where I got those bags? They keep them behind the counter. Rolls and rolls of them. Makes me wonder how many travelers they put through the ringer. There must have been 1000 plastic trash bags rolled up in that cylinder sitting behind the counter.

After more foray into trashdom, I got in line with my poof bag ready for the security screening, yet another useless tactic that the Bush administration invented to create useless jobs. That was another disaster. These screeners apparently had never heard of prioritizing customers by time of departure (never mind queuing theory), because they just shrugged when I asked whether I can get past the front of the line because, well, my flight was lifting off in 10 minutes. Another useless smile and shrug. What do these people get paid for? Smile and shrug.

Thankfully a few of the travelers were more accomodating than the screeners. I got through in 5 minutes flat and raced for the gate. Plane was still there. On the tarmac. Good I thought. Wrong. The clever attendants had decided to close the gate. Shafted. By United.

This whole episode makes me wonder how much dead weight still lies in these newly rejuvenated airlines. It makes me wonder about metrics like:

how many "breaks" the typical airline checkin attendant takes on the clock
how many useless security screeners just stand around waiting for the sheep to herd themselves
how many rolls of plastic bags the airlines consume just so they can make you repack your bag

Now, I don't mean to be a union hater or a union breaker. In fact, I'm all for the little guy. But when the little guy acts like a little tyrant, you have to believe that part of the reason that airline check in attendants dare to act like that has to do with the fact that the union protects their jobs. In any other industry, customer care people would be fired for being so rude or useless to their customers. But not the airline industry.

So, here I am, stuck at the airport, shafted by United, a bankrupt airline that has emerged from financial ruin but is still service-wise bankrupt. Much has not changed. Aside from a new balance sheet, a lot less debt, there's still plenty of dead weight hanging around. With service like this, who would choose to fly the friendly skies?

Update: I've now found out that the flight I was supposed to be on was overbooked by United. They were giving $600 tickets away to people who would take the next flight out. Unbelievable! I was there and they gave my confirmed seat away to someone else. I wouldn't be surprised if they purposely cutoff baggage checkin early everyday and make a hassle for their customers so they can take solve their overbooking problem. I'm not surprised to see them do this. What does surprise me is that Congress and the DOT hasn't looked into this. They're ripping people off.

More Update: The ultimate irony on this ticket fiasco ... they gave $600 to people with seats willing to take the next flight but ... they charged ME an extra $100 to book me on their next flight because they wouldn't check in my luggage. Nice. Very well done United. Glenn Tilton, Mr. UAL Corporation Chairman, you are a class act. You made me jump through hoops for you, you had me stuff my luggage in a trash bag, and you shut the boarding gate in front of me as I approached the boarding gate - only to have me clamoring back to you to rebook my ticket on your next departing flight. Never has an airline seen such customer loyalty after all that abuse. Never has an airline traveler had so few choices of airlines to fly. Never have I seen a company more worthy of bankruptcy than United Airlines.

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