I got up early today with the intent of crafting a letter to United about my bad experience. When I was researching the UAL Board of Directors (yes, John H. Walker and James O’Connor, you’ll probably get a letter from me too), I found a bunch of information about United. I find it interesting from a business standpoint (especially with Bramble Berry’s commitment to fanatical customer service). You may find it totally useless. If so, thanks for indulging me.
United might have the worst customer service in the industry. Or maybe not. It depends who you ask. According to JD Power & Associates, they’re about average. University of Michigan disagrees. Their surveys found that United did indeed have the worst customer service in the industry with the highest dissatisfaction rates.
United is the 2nd largest carrier in the world, with some of the youngest planes of any fleets in operation. United does over 3,600 flights per day with over 55,000 employees. I wouldn’t plan on flying much of January 2010 since the entire United employee group (pilots, mechanics, engineers, flight attendants) is up for a contract negotiation.
Brace Fredric, the CFO of United, keeps selling shares (like crazy!). One does wonder what he knows. Or maybe he just has a kid in college to pay for. The Chairman of United, Glenn Tilton, doesn’t seem like a bad guy. After all, he serves on the board for an after school non profit program and a museum in Chicago. Then again, he did work for the gas and oil industries for years (Chevron Texaco and Dynergy). No word on whether he was the Chairman of Dynergy before or after they were accused of massive fraud and corruption. He was in the top 500 top paid executives in 2006 and the highest paid executive of any airline, despite losing massive amounts of shareholder money, in 2005. His total stock return % to shareholders during his entire tenure at United Airlines? A whopping 0%. He’s been paid over $11million dollars over 4 years to lose money, go into bankruptcy and return $0 to shareholders.
Passengers complain, a lot, about United. They had the highest number of customer complaints per 100,000 passengers in 2006. The most recent, February 2008 reports (covering the year 2007) on United show that only 66% of their flights arrived on time in 2008. Ouch! 8.8% of United’s flights actually arrive late over 70% of the time. Only carrier American Eagle beat United out for this um, distinction. They cancel almost 7% of their flights, putting them 4th in that category. Compare that with Delta who only cancels 2.2% of their flights. Graham Atkinson, the Chief Customer Service Officer, for United certainly has his work cut out for him.
Between October and December 2007, there were 937 other travelers on United that were forced to give up their boarding passes and bumped. A full 16,380 were voluntarily relieved of their boarding passes (volunteering to give up their seats for some sort of travel voucher). Presumably United was so thrilled with their record in this area, they managed to come in 5th in “Involuntary Denied Boarding Pass” contest for 2007, kicking 4,448 people off flights.
United’s competitive spirit was in full force for December 2007, when they handily outpaced every other airline in the entire industry with number of customer complaints with a full 16% more passenger complaints.
That’s one dubiously bad achievement. Here’s to hoping that 2008 will be a better year for United and its customers.