My long-standing dislike of United Airlines is well documented on Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t quite gotten to the point of having a flying playlist with mostly angry music, but it’s close. This week’s misadventure in social media with United Airlines is just so typical, and so indicative of their fundamental problems in understanding their customers (and their resultant anger) that I have to share it.
Backdrop: I was in Washington (Reagan) and flying home on an 8:00 pm departure (United Express 3900). The United Club (for which I pay a handsome sum each year) closes at 7:15pm, nearly two hours before their last departure, so there’s that bit of unreceived value. As I’m sitting in the departure area (where the seats are ripped, the floor is dirty, and there are no accessible outlets – the creature comforts I use the United Club for) I get a notification that my 8:00 pm flight is now delayed due to a late arriving aircraft. Using the United app on my phone, I see (a) the inbound is delayed due to mechanical issues (b) the inbound is supposed to arrive at 9:03 pm but (c) my outbound is still listed as having a departure time before that, which varies from 8:50-8:55 pm. If the inbound isn’t coming in until 9:03, we aren’t leaving much before 9:20 pm.
Why people find this infuriating: It’s a lack of consistency. We have access to information, via the web, that lets us piece together a logical chain of events. Providing contradictory information implies that either (a) you don’t know what’s going on or (b) you’re going to update and deliver increasingly bad news incrementally or (c) you don’t care about your customers. I think it’s a combination of all three, as I did what any annoyed but loud-mouthed individual would do in this case and used my remaining 15% iPhone battery life to take to Twitter:
Let’s spot the fails:
I tweeted just before 8:00 pm. United replied 90 minutes later, when I was on the plane. Any trivial amount of Google searching would have revealed my full name, and my itinerary. This is just someone flailing in a customer service center, seeing @united show up and then issuing a stock reply.
When I finally saw their reply (the next day) I provided the flight information (again, which United could have easily derived). United’s response: It was weather! No, actually, it was mechanical, as your own app and operations data shared with the world.
I realize that planes break, and it’s very bad for them to break between destinations, so some mechanical issues are par for the United concourse. But — this was my second delay of 100% of the flight time or more due to mechanical in my last three trips with United, and the second one where the information about departure and arrivals just seems to have been made up by someone without looking at the logical chain of dependencies. Do not, however, immediately blame the weather — take responsibility for your lack of clarity. Take responsibility for informing passengers. Take responsibility for maintaining your fleet, provide enough slack in the system to handle the inevitable issues, and treat everyone, from pilots to employees to passengers to support staff in the airports, with respect.
True to form, United hasn’t finished the conversation. I filed an online customer service report nearly 24 hours ago, without an acknowledgement. And you can no longer call customer service. There’s your root cause: They don’t want to engage. The social media fails are only the symptoms.