May 1 2007

The Very Unfriendly Skies of United

The Very Unfriendly Skies of United

The 6 a.m. flight from LaGuardia to Denver is unpleasant to begin with, but the idiots who set customer-facing policies at United seem to have found a new way of making it even less pleasant.

I’ve long-hated United’s “Economy Plus” seating, which gives the first 5-10 rows of coach a huge amount of leg room at the expense of all the other rows in coach.  American, by contrast, has more leg room in all rows of coach, so I can actually work in any seat on an American plane, laptop and all.  On United, the seats in the majority of coach are almost unworkable.

United used to just automatically put you in Economy Plus if you were a frequent flier with status.  But now United is taking Economy Plus to a new level — they’re automatically NOT putting you in Economy Plus and then charging more for it on the spot.  You can move yourself into Economy Plus for free online ahead of time, assuming there are open seats in it.  So really, the new policy is just designed to hold a gun to customers’ heads at the airport.

This morning’s flight is a prime example of how not to treat your customers.  It’s 6 a.m., and coach is maybe — maybe — half full.  And the announcement comes on that United’s new policy is that you are forbidden to move seats into Economy Plus after takeoff, even if there are open seats (which there are).  You can only do that if you pay $44, and a United representative would be happy to take that money at any time.

My colleague Angela had the best line on this situation — it’s as if United has put up an invisible electric fence in the middle of coach.  Whether or not there’s a ringing and a shock, it certainly feels like United is treating its customers like dogs.  They now join my customer service Hall of Shame along with Verizon (the anchor tenant) and Fedex/Kinko’s.