I just returned from a weekend trip–it was a great trip except for the flights. I often travel on the weekends, for a variety of reasons. I have not flown United Airlines in years, but they were my carrier this weekend. What a disappointment!
As an aside, let me say that I have not deliberately avoided United–they just didn’t have the routes I wanted for my more recent travel, conveniently and at a reasonable price. I have taken some terrific trips on United in the past and I have been very happy with their service. For this trip, they were the best choice and I chose them.
So let’s start with the things they did well. The flights were on time and relatively smooth. We landed safely. There were no mechanical problems or in-flight disasters. These are the basics–we expect nothing less, and most of the time we get it. Timeliness and turbulence are flight-by-flight characteristics and often outside the control of the airline. Mechanical problems and the associated delays are also isolated issues, usually confined to a single flight.
No, this time my complaints are more systemic. These short-haul flights–one to two hours–are little more than glorified bus rides, and this is true with every airline I have flown in the past 10 years. I get that and it is obvious that the airlines do, too.
My first flight was on a Canada Regional Jet, as small commuter type aircraft. I frequently fly this type of aircraft on another airline, so I know it can be a comfortable flight. This United Express plane had the most uncomfortable seats I can ever remember flying. I might have been more comfortable flying cargo class on a military C-130. The seats were like boards, hard and stiff with little to no padding. The entire seat back cannot have been more than 3 inches thick–a huge space-saving design, I am sure, but uncomfortable as anything. The seat bottom was so hard and flat, I seriously question whether it could be used as the floatation device the flight attendant told us it was.
To make matters worse, the man sitting next to me was very large, and did not fit into his own seat space. I felt scrunched up along the window because his shoulders overshot his seat by at least 5 inches, and his knees overshot the space in front of his seat by about the same amount. And this is with the armrest down! Every time I moved at all, I bumped into him.
The return flight was on a larger aircraft, and thankfully the seats were somewhat more comfortable, but still not as comfortable as the seats on comparable aircraft flown by the competition. What gives??
When it comes to “food and beverage service”, flight attendants usually at least go through the motions of serving some refreshments that are refreshing. United seems to have dispensed with much of that. On both flights, they offered a very small drink–smallest I have been offered anywhere, more ice than drink, and limited selection of offerings–and a tiny “snack pack” of utterly flavorless snack food. I can’t decide if this is because 1) flavor costs more and they chose to not to spend the extra money; or 2) nondescript flavorlessness is equally palatable or unpalatable to everybody. Or are they worried about somebody with food allergies having a medical issue with the potential offerings? Whatever it is, it is not a customer-pleasing strategy.
For a $500 plane ticket, I expect a little more. I have given up on being able to check a piece of luggage for that price, and am resigned to having to schlep all my stuff around myself, within the TSA restrictions. But I still expect to be able to move within my own seat space without running into a fellow traveler. I expect to be able to exit the aircraft without a major backache. And if I am offered refreshments, I expect them to be moderately refreshing. Since other airlines manage to provide this service at that price, I know it can be done.
If United Airlines wants to be a low-end bus service, then they should price their service accordingly, and let travelers choose. Otherwise, upgrade to airline service. That said, any time I have a choice, United will not be it. Especially since they are now apparently going to charge for luggage in overhead bins. Even the busses don’t charge for luggage in the luggage compartment.