Aggravating: Customer Service Erosion at United Airlines

Ugh, as prices move up on American airline fares, services get cut and airline passengers are treated like cattle. Sadly, this is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t infuriating.

I recently flied United, my long time preferred American carrier from Chicago to Beijing. My employer does reimburse me for additional luggage fees up to $200. Still it stung to learn that the second bag on an international flight gets charged. I really felt badly for the travelers checking in down the way who were getting charged $200 for a third bag. Two hundred dollars?! Are you really going to try to tell me you aren’t making a huge profit there, United?

The check in process was further frustrating because of the aloof attitude of the employees with whom you now have to beg for help as you navigate the self-check in kiosk that is so poorly set up. The touch screen is certainly not state-of-the-art as I had to poke and poke and poke to get my data in. Moreover, why should I have to type in my name and passport information after the machine’s scanned it all? Isn’t that the point of the computer reading the bar code. The bar codes do work at customs in China, Korea and other countries so why not at O’Hare? As if that’s not enough of a minor inconvenience, it’s particularly irksome that when I told the clerk that I was having a problem with the screen not reading what I input and in fact the screen told me to contact and agent* the man behind the counter, who could not read the screen assumed I was wrong to ask for his help. He just said, “Follow the directions.”

Hello, the directions say, “Contact an agent.”

It took a lot of pleading before anyone assisted me. When I commented that the service was going downhill, Sharif, the “agent” shrugged his shoulders. Usually, you have to seek out a 7-11 that employs surly teens with aspirations of movie fame to get this sort of indifferent customer service.

What was particularly striking about the bad attitude present at United was the gap between United and Apple, Starbucks or the local nursery Chalet in terms of service. These three other companies make shopping or even dealing with problems a joy. The day before I had to take my laptop to Apple. While I did have to wait past my appointment time, the associates were aware of the wait and checked on me. One started to assess my problem after a few minutes to get the ball rolling. When my Apple Genius was free, he assisted me in a fashion that made me think he cared and respected me. His phrasing for the situation was on the money. Clearly, he’d been well trained in communication so that the troubleshooting was a shared endeavor and the mood was upbeat.

Since you spend a good chunk of money on a computer this is as it should be. But wait, don’t people spend a good chunk of money on a ticket to China? Don’t you want the customer who flies regularly domestically to return? I suppose you should. United, you should. Yet the attitude the clerks at United projected was of complete indifference.I did tell Sharif that the luggage fees and poor technology at check out made me want to avoid United. His response, and I quote was, “Do what you like.” So at check in you’re told if you want to fly on Southwest or American, it’s fine by us. When a journey starts that way, it’s hard to believe the pilot or flight attendant who thanks you for flying the once-friendly skies.

* Since the word agent’s definition can have an emphasis on someone who acts, I feel these employees don’t fit the bill much as agents. They do represent in a highly lethargic, hands off fashion. They don’t seem to realize that soon machines will be able to provide more friendly service. If they’re just there to stand and put the bag on the conveyor belt behind them, there’s little reason to hire keep these folks.

About smkelly8

writer, teacher, movie lover, traveler, reader
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