Sandy Walker, who worked for United in the 80s, takes a look at what she calls the heartless airline from its inception to Jim Stanek's Fiasco.
When I worked for United Airlines in the 1980’s, their motto was ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’ but, to us employees, it was more the case of dodging the forever looming clouds. Always a number, never a name, within its corporate identity ambitions and somewhere along its road to success, the heart went out of this airline.
From its humble beginnings in 1926, when it flew the first Contract Air Mail flight in the U.S. from Boise, Idaho, to its passenger carrier inception in 1933, when it began operating the Boeing 247, enabling passengers to fly across the U.S. without overnight stops or change of planes, the airline just grew and grew.
It is now the world’s largest airline, with over 86,000 employees, and operates the second largest fleet with 702 aircraft, including Airbus A319-100s, A320-200s and a plethora of Boeing models, ranging from various series of Boeing 737s all the way up to the upcoming weighty Boeing 787-9s.
United Airlines flies to over 170 countries and has its own regional service, United Express. It co-founded the Star Alliance airline partnership and, in addition to those partnerships, also codeshares with 9 additional airlines.
It has survived economic setbacks, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001, after losing over $2 billion due to the airline industry slump brought about by the combination of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks (two of the airplanes used by the al-Qaeda terrorists were United Airlines aircraft) and sky high oil prices.
Getting the picture? Bear in mind the old Avis marketing slogan, ‘We Try Harder’. In United’s case, it doesn’t; it doesn’t think it has to.
Now, I’m not slating every passenger service agent – I worked with some lovely folk in the past and I too was my usual conscientious self – but I have also seen and heard of some awful tales of really bad customer service attitudes.
One is even reported on this site; Jim Stanek, cofounder of Paws and Stripes, talks about the shocking treatment that he and his dog Sarge received when travelling with the airline. United is being investigated by the Department of Transportation for this incident.
My advice, for what it’s worth, would be: travel with this airline if you must, but don’t expect any miracles – or even any normal day to day consideration!
About the author:
Sandy Walker worked in the airline industry for 25 years as ticket agent and supervisor until diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, resulting in a career change to freelance travel writer. Born in London, she now resides in Tuscany.