Let me rephrase that; I dislike the company, not the employees. Many of the front line employees of United are great; they bust ass taking care of tons of Super-Irate holiday travelers, often enduring lots of booze-fueled abuse that would make a saint contemplate homicide. And all the while, they manage to keep a smile on their faces.
The corporate weasels at the top, though.. Those guys appear to be making some pretty f**ked-up decisions.
Like under staffing major travel hubs during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
On Dec. 24th, I checked in at the United gate intending to maximize my 5 days of hard-earned vacation time by visiting family and friends in sunny Texas. The flight tracking monitor at the gate was curiously blank, but it did have a lovely handwritten sign taped to it to let my fellow travelers and I know that we were at the right place. No sign of a Gate Agent, however.
As my departure time neared, I kept looking at my flight itinerary- It looked like I had about 20 minutes to make my connecting flight in Chicago once we landed. Assuming the plane was on time, I felt confident that I could make it. I was therefore a little concerned when I get a call from Orbitz telling me that my departing flight had been delayed 3 hours.
Once again, the delay notice came as an automated message from the company booking my flight.
Not a peep out of our missing United representative.
I informed the rest of the travelers of my Orbitz notice, and was met with looks of disbelief and non-concerned chuckles.
"I'm sure you misunderstood the message" one guy said.
"Hope you're right right," I said before race-walking to the nearest occupied United gate.
The agent there made some calls, and we finally had an actual person show up at our gate to deliver the bad news: Due to severe weather conditions in Chicago, our flight was delayed. He would do his best to find alternate travel plans for those of us who would miss our connecting flights.
While waiting in a suddenly long line, I called up United Customer Service. The woman on the phone apologized, and said that she could get me a new flight on the day after Christmas. I hung up before I risked getting myself arrested for terroristic threats, and explained my situation to the gate agent.
I have to hand it to the guy; it seemed as though he was called in at the last minute to cover for someone who failed to show up for work, but he didn't let that affect his mood. And he weathered the comments of the pissed off customers, getting us set up on other flights later that day or the following.
After wasting my first vacation day in the airport, I managed to get tickets out for the next day. This outbound flight also included a U-Turn: About 15 to 20 minutes after flying out of O'Hare, we had to turn around and trade planes.
It seems the landing gear was stuck in the 'down' position.
Long story short- I finally managed to get to my destination, but a day late. And as I wallowed in family bliss, I quickly put the unpleasant traveling experience behind me.
Until it came time for my return flight. Everything went smoothly until we approached O'Hare. After being informed that the plane would have to circle the city for 20 minutes until a gate opened up, I knew I was in for more fun.
And boy; was I right! After running to my connecting gate, I was informed by a harried Agent that my flight had been canceled. Not due to weather, but due to "Operational Issues". She gave me two new tickets, one for standby on a flight leaving in 6 hours, the other a confirmed seat on a plane leaving in 10 hours.
For the next 6 hours, I (and a couple of thousand other travelers) raced back and forth from gate to gate as departure times and departure gates were switched and re-switched in a chaotic cluster-fuck. Many of the travelers resorted to booze to dull their pain, with the expected ugly results: Lots of cursing, lots of tears, and more than a few kids emotionally scarred by pissed off parents.
As the terminal filled with increasingly tired and upset travelers, the ugliness continued to escalate. One lady tried to set her daughter down in an apparently empty seat, only to be snapped at by the lady sitting next to it:
Lady: "This seat is saved!"
Mother: "But she's just a little girl."
Lady: "And that matters why?"
As the travelers sharing my destination finally settled in at what we hoped would turn out to be the right gate, some of the folks surrounding the flight status board cursed in disbelief as departure times were pushed back 20 minutes, then an hour, then 2 hours. And in each case, the reason for the delay was either listed as "Operational Issues" or "Flight Delayed". None of the delays were due to weather.
As my ears grew numb to the cursing and crying, I noticed that two of the folks crying were United Employees. Two flight attendants had a bit of a problem- one had flown in to O'Hare, only to discover that she was no longer scheduled to work the next flight. Unfortunately, The Powers That Be failed to secure a hotel room for her as well. She tried to trade with a friend, who thought she was going to be getting off. Unfortunately, the friend couldn't sign off, and the new girl couldn't sigh in. And the person who had the authority to switch the schedules was off, and couldn't be located.
Hours later, as I finally settled in for my flight home, I overheard another passenger speaking with some authority on the United Airlines SNAFU. From what I could gather, United was trying to maximize profits by thinning out the workforce. Apparently, less employees in the airports = more cash going to the bottom line. Not to mention the fact that employees who voluntarily quit due to stressful work conditions would be less likely to collect unemployment compensation from the company.
I don't know whether or not this guy was talking out of his ass, but it makes me wonder...