Culture April 17, 2017
LOS ANGELES – “Hi, I’m Jeff Smisek.”
Who? Jeff Smisek, the previous CEO of United Airlines.
I still recall his smug, stereotypical phony attempt at sincerity in the video that greeted all United passengers during his reign at the once-great airline. He went on blathering about being the best airline in the sky, dedicated to customer service and the passengers love us for it. Yeah, right.
The below YouTube Jeff Smisek parody captures it a little better:
Smisek was ousted in a scandal involving implied bribery in return for special routes that favored a certain government official, among other unsavory practices. And the new CEO, Oscar Munoz, unfortunately hasn’t done much to change the culture of what some might term customer abuse and intentional overbooking.
Those who were in United’s home base of Chicago can probably recall the glory days of the 70s and 80s when flying United was desirable, even prestigious. “The Friendly Skies” were indeed just that for the most part.
But then, what in my view two seminal events that changed the nature of commercial air travel forever occurred: first, the federal government eliminated the Civil Aeornautics Board and deregulated the airline industry under President Carter in 1978. Thus began the trend of less service, higher cost for passengers – which admittedly one would think the opposite would occur with less government regulation. Then after 9/11 it was game over. The panic over security allowed the airlines to basically cut cut cut to the bone, overbook with limited repercussion and eliminate hundreds of flights and destinations. All in the name of “passenger safety.”
So here we are today, where United can drag passengers physically off the plane and get away with this inappropriate behavior. I, for one, have experienced a variety of bad service practices on United. The latest incident only serves to publicly highlight how much this once proud bird has deteriorated over the years.
Here’s one of my favorite United Airlines horror stories: I experienced a mosquito infestation and attack on a United flight returning from Mumbai, India. After not seeing a single mosquito during my stay, we were lined up in the damp, un-air-conditioned jetway for United non-stop to Newark, and many passengers found themselves under siege. Upon bringing this to the attention of the clearly battle-weary veteran flight attendant, we were told that there was nothing that could be done to remedy the situation. As we boarded and the jetway doors slammed, nothing changed as the entire aircraft was overrun with the little blood-suckers!? On this particular trip, I was sitting in Business Class so upon making a bit of a fuss about this madness, I was given some insect repellant spray which did help mitigate the attack. However, the other 250 people in Coach were not given any relief and had to suffer for the entire flight. Can you imagine, United with its very own caste system?
At any rate, I should add that while I remain appalled at the “passenger removal” incident, I do sympathize with United on the “leggings incident.” Those girls were pass riders, or “non-revs” as the industry calls them, as in no revenue for the airline. They are essentially guests of the airline for that flight, as a benefit to the family members of United employees. Thus, United is entitled to have some basic dress code for those passengers. They are not paying customers and as such I think it is fair for them to have some restrictions placed upon their ability to board the flight. United got unduly attacked in the media for only trying to bring some semblance of decency and civilized behavior back to the cabin. I don’t know about you, but I have grown weary of passengers in bad tank tops, worn out flip flops and a dog or two sitting next to me for hours on end.
At this point, I am soliciting your comments … let’s see some lively dialogue about this United passenger removal as well as other horror stories – or hero stories for that matter – about customer service or the lack thereof on today’s United Airlines. I look forward to receiving your anecdotes, thanks in advance for your submissions.
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