Monday, November 23, 2015

The Unfriendly Skies of United Airlines...Again!

Yesterday I flew home from a wonderful nine day cruise on the Crystal Serenity.  Other than a very early wake-up and a short flight from Nice, France to Frankfurt, Germany, I was relaxed and happy...And then I was smacked in the face by yet another United Airlines example of how unfriendly its skies are.

United Airlines allowed a 6' 4"+, 350+ pound, man to sit in a middle seat
like this one.  If it wasn't for the solid barrier I would have
had even less of my aisle seat!
I had the perfect Economy Plus (premium economy) seat:  16C on a 777-200 aircraft.  It is a bulkhead aisle seat with pretty much not even a bulkhead in front of me.  Lots of legroom and a view forward (rather than of a seat back and a head).  Things had been looking good with the middle seat empty the day before the flight (and United, in theory...as you will see) is supposed to keep those middle seats open if there are Premier status folks in the adjacent seats unless there are no other options.  It would have been perfect for me to actually get some work done (like writing and posting some articles!), but then reality struck.

I arrived at the gate to find those long boarding lines for all groups, even the "exclusive" Boarding Group 1; which was so long I was waiting in line next to the airport's public women's bathroom for 15 minutes (as United delayed boarding without notice).  And then it got worse.

Rather than recount it, what follows is my email to United Airlines, which pretty much sums it up:

Dear Sir/Madam:

My flight yesterday could, possibly, be the worst experience I have ever had with United regarding a flight that operationally had no serious issues.

Note that as I write this I am seriously stressed (recovering from my extended, but mild, claustrophobia attack) , sore (my back is out), furious and extremely disappointed.  

As my history with United Airlines reflects (Mileage Plus No. [XXXXXX], I fly with you often and complain rarely.  I say this with us all knowing the bar for service and performance at United has slipped horrifically over the past years with the focus having been placed on squeezing out every dollar through abusive practices rather than earning business through providing a great product.  Thus, and this is coming from a “loyal” customer (what are my options as I live in New Jersey?) who used to being abused, it is with that caveat that you must read this complaint.

In short: When I pay for my seat, I expect to get all of my seat.  If someone cannot fit within the confines of the assigned seat that should be his and United’s problem.  This is especially so on a 9+ hour flight.  See https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/specialneeds/customersize/default.aspx.

I am 5’ 10” and weigh 195 pounds.  I am not a large person, but obviously not exactly petite....I, even more than normal, obviously seek out bulkhead aisle seats when I fly; especially on long flights.  That said, please note that I have flown about 995,000 revenue miles with United (and hundreds of thousands more on codeshares and rewards) and I have NEVER had any sort of claustrophobic issue. 

With that…

Yesterday, November 22, 2015, I was on Flight 961 from Frankfurt to Newark sitting in the bulkhead aisle seat, 16C.  All was fine with the seat until a United agent placed an obese (350+ pound) man who was at least 6’ 4” next to me – when sitting his legs were at least 50% wider than mine and his knees were about 6" further from the seat than mine - in the middle seat of what are much narrower seatsIt was physically impossible for him to sit in only his seat.  As a result I was required to sit on literally one of my butt cheeks leaning into the aisle for the entirety of the flight…with my head pushed against the raised portion of the head bolster.  It was so cramped that I literally had to leave my seat in order for the gentleman (he was a nice fellow) to be able to eat his lunch!

Let me add a bit of a bonus:  In my conversation with my seatmate he told me that he did not have status with United and that he normally flies on other airlines (and it is not really a frequent traveler).  How that heck he was given an Economy Plus bulkhead seat next to a Platinum Premier member (where the middle seat is supposed to be kept free if possible) is beyond me. (And there were other middle seats available on the flight…even in Premium Economy.)

And, of course, knowing the bulkhead seats are significantly narrower how a United Agent would put him…or better:  allow him…into that seat is beyond comprehension. 

But there is more! 

-       I complained to one of the flight attendants before we departed.  She offered me nothing other than to give me a card with the email address of where to complain.  That’s it! (Oh, yes, she never did give me that card.)

-       The flight was ridiculously hot.  I mentioned it to another flight attendant, who agreed and told me she was sweating herself (Really?).  She said she would lower the temperature, but only after the drink service was completed…and I was in 16C on a 777-200!  About an hour later she came by to say she lowered the temperature a bit, but it would take some time for it to change up front.  Seriously?  I said to her that she should note that virtually nobody was using the blankets, to no avail.  It was so hot that twice I literally sat in the bathroom for 5 minutes to get some cooler air blowing on my head. (I am sure that the heat emanating from my obese seatmate added to my temperature issues!)

-       I did spend about a total of 20 minutes standing by the midship lavatories trying to regroup from the mild claustrophobia caused by this massive incursion into my space coupled with the heat.

Being in the travel business, I am very much aware of United’s numerous failures - starting with not requiring the other person to purchase two seats or not allowing him to board.  There was much that could have been done, but other than belatedly slightly cooling the cabin to closer to normal temperature literally nothing was.  I say this noting that United’s website specifically states:
The additional seat must be available without downgrading or unseating another customer. If an additional seat is not available on the flight for which the customer is confirmed, he or she is required to rebook on the next United flight with seats available for accommodation. United will waive penalties or fees that may otherwise apply to this change.
If the customer is away from his or her home and must rebook for a flight for the following day, amenities including applicable meals and hotel accommodations for one night will be provided as appropriate. When the customer is able to rebook for a later flight on the same day as originally scheduled, amenities will not be provided

If you did not want to impose these requirements upon my seatmate, you should have at least offered me the same option.

I am sure that you can appreciate the gross incursion into my seat combined with a hot aircraft over a period of almost 10 hours (boarding, flight delay and flight) is totally unacceptable and is not a minor issue.  Being a Platinum or Gold Premier member by actually flying on United consistently for many years makes this treatment even more unconscionable.

I appreciate that United Airlines cannot undo what has been done.  I hope that my stress and soreness subsides soon, but also that United will address this an assure that the supposed more customer friendly United actually is.

Thank you and I look forward to your prompt assistance.