Shuttling the Profit Units

My wife was in Grand Junction, Colorado attending a wedding over the weekend. She was ticketed both ways on United Airlines. On the way over, her flight to Denver was diverted to Colorado Springs because of bad weather. She missed her connection to Grand Junction but was able to get a later flight.

Yesterday afternoon, she left the wedding reception early to make her flight to Denver. It was delayed as no planes were allowed to land in Denver due to tornado warnings and storms. After several hours they finally took off, but her plane arrived in Denver too late to make her connection, which had left about an hour before, just as soon as the flight ban was lifted.

When her plane did finally land they didn’t pull up to the terminal but instead immediately evacuated it down steps, because there was a fire in the  under-floor area (which they had not announced to the passengers).

After that, there was a “customer service” line that she said was four hours long. Finally she got a boarding pass for the next flight which was at 8:30 am this morning.

That was it. No room, no food, no corner in the Admiralty Club, no blanket, no “we’re sorry”. Nothing. Since the delay was due to weather, it’s beyond the airlines’ control and they are legally not required to do anything for the passengers, which is, of course, exactly what they did: nothing. But then they really don’t have passengers, or customers, do they? They have business units or profit units, obviously all the airlines see when a human being enters an airport, gets on an airplane.

So she was stuck. To make matters worse, the seating at Denver airport has fixed armrests between each chair so it’s not possible to lie down on a row of seats. SHE HAD TO TRY TO SLEEP ON THE FLOOR with her ticket, purse and carry-on bag clutched in her arms. She said the floor was cold and hard, she was bone-chilled and the night cleaning crews just told her to move – not gently – as they went through with vacuums and floor polishers. She said she wasn’t too worried about robbery or rape as there were security guards around, but it was an awful night.

Finally this morning she was able to get some coffee (the restaurants had closed at 11 p.m. while she was still in that “customer service” line) and a muffin at McDonalds before she got on her plane. Still not the slightest sign of apology or sympathy from United Airlines. Her plane got to Orange County at 10:30 this morning and I picked her up and brought her home. After some breakfast she took a shower and went to bed. She’s still asleep now.

I am furious but of course there is nothing to be done except shrug it off. The airlines have no responsibility to the passengers, or “business units” or “profit units” or whatever the correct designation is. With the kind of treatment they give, certainly “passenger”, “customer” or “human being” aren’t in their vocabulary, except, perhaps, in the jokes they tell behind the backs of the unfortunate people who go onto airplanes.

I certainly won’t be one of their objects of scorn, ridicule or punishment. If it is humanly possible to avoid it, I’ll not fly again. Yes I’m furious and yes this was typed in anger. Perhaps I ought to apologize for the rant, but right now I don’t feel like it. It was all I could do not to fill this account of events with expletives.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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20 Responses to Shuttling the Profit Units

  1. Chris says:

    Airline travel does indeed suck, and your rant is well-earned. I’ve been lucky, as any problems I’ve had have been during business trips, so when I get held over I whip out the expense card and bill an extra hotel, meal, whatever it takes. If I can possibly drive somewhere, though, I do. It’s just preferable all the way around.

    My mom was in England for two weeks recently. Her luggage never arrived during her entire stay. So now she is wrestling with claims BS proving the things she had to buy — extra clothes, etc. — as a result. What a nightmare.

  2. Mark Twain said you have to be a masochist to travel. And that was before United Airlines! I sympathize with you and your wife but we live in a time where customer service is the first thing corporations cut.

  3. Patti Abbott says:

    All too familiar. We are nothing more than rats in a sinking ship.

  4. Bill Crider says:

    Excellent rant, and of course you’re right about the situation. We’re old enough to remember when flying was kind of an adventure, even fun. But that’s just a dim memory now as we slide down the behavioral sink.

  5. Drongo says:

    This is par for the course at DIA. I’d like to get rich enough to buy and operate my own airplane, just so I can avoid doing business with the airlines.

  6. What a nightmare, Rick! I don’t blame you for being angry. Not that any of the other airlines are much better, but this is a prime reason why I refuse to fly United. I’ve hated them for years. For what it’s worth, I’ve found the only enjoyable flight I’ve taken recently has been with British Airways this year.

  7. Evan Lewis says:

    A true horror story. As it happens, I’ve spent a LOT of time in that Denver airport, and can doubly sympathize.

  8. You certainly have a right to be upset for what your wife had to endure. As Bill said, flying is not as adventurous as it was at one time. More of a chore these days.

  9. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Rick, I think your rant was amazingly temperate compared to what they deserve. Yes, delays happen and yes, United wasn’t at fault, but…this exactly matches up with what I’ve found true for years.

    They just don’t give a sh!t.

    As far as I’m concerned (I’ve given this a fair amounf of thought as it’s happened to us more than once) the airline has certain minimum standards that need to be followed in these situations:

    1. Keep the passengers informed. This may seem incredibly obvious, but it’s rarely done. You’d be amazed how far a simple, truthful announcement goes.

    2. Be polite and apologetic even if it’s not your fault.

    3. Do what you can to make the passengers comfortable. After all, presumably you want them to fly your airline again, right?

    In general we fly JetBlue whenever possible. We’ve had any number of problems over the years with American, including lost luggage in both San Francisco and Phoenix.

  10. Patti Abbott says:

    My husband reminded me on the one time we flew in that Denver airport, we had a near miss with a plane flying out. What is it about Denver?

  11. Richard says:

    Thanks to all for the sympathy and agreement – Denver has it’s problems with wind and weather, but I think this goes beyond any one place, it’s “we got ‘cha by the ear and you don’t have a choice” thinking. Bah!

  12. Chris says:

    I think United’s service definitely is the worst, at least of the handful I deal with on a regular basis. As far as airports to avoid AT ALL COSTS, Chicago’s O’Hare gets my vote, hands-down. I’ve had my share of experiences in Denver, but nothing like the hassles I’ve endured in Chicago.

  13. Cap'n Bob says:

    I’ve had bad experiences at Chicago and San Jose with Continental and Alaska. The whole cattle car experience of flying is so glum and dehumanizing these days I hate it. You should send your rant just as it is to United.

  14. Richard says:

    For whatever reason, United sent my wife a “satisfaction questionnaire” today. Ha! She gave a factual accounting of her experiences and answered the questions., Then – calmly – she really blasted them in the additional comments section, including sleeping on dirty carpeted floor, etc and used my term “profit unit”, saying she wants and expects to be treated as a human being, not a profit unit. I hope they do more than think yeah, yeah, blah blah blah… before they delete it.

  15. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I wrote to the President of American Airlines after two particularly awful flights, citing dates and details. Once my letter was ignored, the other (first, and worst) time I actually heard back from one of his minions with a $150 voucher.

    Yes, the flight was that bad.

  16. Todd Mason says:

    Further condolence to your wife, and further congratulations to you, Rick, for the utter clarity and elegance of your condemnation. Like Cpt. Bob, my least favored experience as an adult has been with Continental, which has just merged with someone (United?), while having rather reasonable experiences with US Air, oddly enough (the law of averages has to kick in, I suppose, and Somebody has to have a decent experience with US Air…call me lucky, or consider how rotten old Conti made US Air look good by comparison). Of course the worst flight I ever had was with Piedmont, long in their justly-deserved grave, on a flight back in the smoking days in a plane in which the a/c failed, and the cabin quickly filled with cigaret smoke, to such an extent that my father, then a two pack a day chain smoker, was finding it difficult to tolerate, much less me, already hostile to the stench of tobacco.

    However, if I need to fly any time soon, I will look for a reasonable upgrade to first class, so that I can actually sit like a normal person rather than like a refugee packed into the last plane out of Hell.

  17. Richard says:

    Thanks again for your kind comment. Yes Todd, it was with United that Continental merged. The upgrade to First Class is something I would pursue if forced to fly. My best experiences were on Midwest Express when I flew to Milwaukee once, and with the local carrier Southwest, which, though it has the cattle car syndrome at least is a little flexible on scheduling and does seem to maintain it’s aircraft. If I’m going anywhere under a 10-12 hour drive, I go by car, which is what we’re doing this October when we go to San Francisco for Bouchercon.

  18. Jeff Meyerson says:

    JetBle – newer planes, comfortable seats with more legroom, free Direct TV at your seat and – almost always – a still pleasant crew.

  19. Barbara says:

    What’s happening with the airlines is unfortunately just an exaggerated version of what’s happening to a lot of corporations. We represent dollars to them, and yet most of them seem determined to make us so unhappy we will never do business with them again. I really don’t get it. By the way, we stopped flying several years ago – never again unless we travel overseas.

  20. Richard R. says:

    My wife is a little dismayed at my saying I refuse to fly any more, as she has been hoping we’d go to Hawaii one of these years. Maybe if we get a cheap upgrade to first class, which seems unlikely to me. Even with that, airports and airlines are so dehumanizing it’s a trial for me to go through the steps.

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