United? Maybe. Customer Service? No!

On the way back home from Las Vegas last Saturday evening, my spouse and I were stranded at the Denver airport “due to aircraft maintenance”[1].

I understand this happens from time to time, in spite of our best efforts to reduce or eliminate mistakes. Humans have their limitations, technologies have their limitations, etc.

“Don’t worry about perfection. You will never achieve it.”
Salvador Dali

Still, it’s distressing anytime you have a flight canceled. You probably don’t have a fallback plan, so you have to make it up as you go. (If you have a fallback plan, you’re probably a masochist.)

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

It’s a bit more distressing when the airline tells you they’ve rebooked you on a flight late the next day, which – if you accept it – will result in you missing a very important appointment. You may be able to book an earlier flight, but that’s not a given.

But as luck would have it, we were able to book a flight leaving early Sunday morning. It would not be a direct flight; they flew us to STL via MSP at no additional cost[2]. Oddly (or was it?), that flight was on another airline. United also gave us meal and hotel vouchers for our trouble.

The assigned hotel and one dining establishment[3] accepted the vouchers without question. Another restaurant, inside the Denver airport, rejected the meal vouchers. We had to use our own funds because there wasn’t time to search the entire airport for a restaurant that would accept them.


Source: “Air Travel Consumer Report”, US DOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Sept. 2012

A statement on the voucher reads, “For use at: ANY PARTICIPATING FOOD VENDOR”. Which vendors, though? There isn’t room on the 3-1/4 x 8” voucher card for a list of vendors, unless there’s only one vendor. There wasn’t a toll-free number on the card that we could call to see which vendors participate. There was no website address given where we might have accessed such a list (for example, “united.com/voucherparticipants”).

That’s not customer service! If United wants to keep customers satisfied — if they’d like their customers to sing their praises rather than vilify them — it’d be so easy! Make it easy for the customer to connect with you. (As it stands with most companies, it’s so difficult to make contact with anyone, let alone those who could make a difference, that only those who are really irked will bother.)

Also, expect that some of your customers will encounter problems. You will never satisfy everybody all the time. To your customers who are dissatisfied – regardless of how or why – offer them fast, painless, and effective solutions. Accept all comments and complaints and respond to them immediately. Don’t get in the way of a great customer experience!

Keep detailed information on all complaints – and compliments. Analyze the data for trends good and bad. Never forget — every complaint is an opportunity for improvement.

“The organization shall monitor information relating to customer perception of
whether the organization has met the customer’s requirements.”
ISO 9001:2008 clause 8.2.1, “Customer Satisfaction”

So, did I make a complaint to United Air Lines? You bet I did. If I don’t, they’re going to make the same fallacious, contemptible assumption so many companies make: No news is good news. Wrong! “No news” often means those customers have moved on…without you.

Will I fly United again? I’ll have to, at some point. Given that there are so few options (i.e., mergers have assured virtually zero competition), I don’t have much choice.

Will I recommend United on its website or on social media? At this point, very unlikely. It’s up to them to change my mind.

Do I accept customer complaints and concerns? You BET I do! Customers don’t expect me to be right all the time but they do expect me to acknowledge them, listen to them, and do what I can to make them happy — not unreasonable of them, for the most part. Not everyone’s going to be happy with me but I do the best I can and hope that’s good enough.

Now, about that aircraft maintenance issue…

* * * * * * *


  1. Bachman, Justin, and Sasso, Michael, “The Making of United’s Summer from Airline Hell”, Bloomberg News, July 17, 2015 — http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-17/the-making-of-united-s-summer-from-airline-hell.


[1] Their exact words

[2] Other than the inconvenience

[3] Which shall remain nameless because it would be far from my first choice if I had options. To paraphrase an infamous U.S. Secretary of Defense, you eat at the restaurant you’re given, not the one you’d like.


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Posted in consumer value, cultural change, Customer experience, opportunity for improvement

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