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I have not faced this type of terrible experience and don't want to face this type of experienced.I think Employee are rude because of human nature and it's depends upon the situation and person mood.


I have not faced this type of terrible experience and don't want to face this type of experienced.I think Employee are rude because of human nature and it's depends upon the situation and person mood.



(I know I already posted this link once, but TypePad makes it very difficult to read prior comments, and I doubt the commenter to which I am replying bothered to do so.)


Who sends their 10 year old on a flight alone? I know I wouldn't!


This is too humiliating to admit under my real name, but I had a similar experience with United in college a few years ago. I was a small girl in my early 20s or maybe 19. I was attempting to fly home, but the machines were not working properly. They would not let me check in. I attempted to get some help from an employee, but they just gestured to the phone. The phones were not working for me. The computers were not working for me. I still don't know what happened to my ticket, but there was simply nothing I could do by myself. I asked for help again, but they just gestured to the phone. By that time, I was just attempting not to cry as I was ignored along with the other passengers. After a long time of me fruitlessly attempting to get the machines to work for me or get anyone on the phones, the couple behind me came to my aid, angrily demanding over and over again that they assist them and me. I'll never forget the extreme indifference I witnessed that day. I've experienced many unpleasant flights since then, but United takes the cake.


I'm not surprised at this story. I just got off the phone with United for a less critical issue, but there was no help whatsoever and the agents were very nonchalant.

I would advice your friends to look into legal proceedings against United. They should be able to sue for Negligence or Child abandonment or something of that nature.


All to legacy airlines in the US and everywhere else (JAL, European national carriers, etc) have been through bankruptcy. This is an incredibly difficult business where it's possible to lose 10's of millions of dollars a day if you are big like UA. Wages have been gutted and all the human resource has been cut to the bone.

I don't fly often any more, but I now see single gate agents where there used to be 2. Not to excuse the general customer service failure, but the fact is that the gate agents now are probably getting close to minimum wage and their tasks have probably been cut to measure - the company knows exactly how many people it needs as absolute minimum at the airport to get the tickets sold and get the planes loaded.

As a result, the gate agents do not have time (nor probably motivation, but these are separate tho related issues) to straighten out failure of other parts of the service system, like failure of a kiddy service vendor to show up. There is obviously nobody available at the supervisor level to help these people, nobody they can call and hand this problem off to. The work environment does not give people ANY spare time to do anything but their assigned task. Hence in the breach, only some kind employee who will take his/her own time to actually walk across the airport can fill in the void where there is absolutely no slack in bare bones work coverage.

People get up in arms about this 'I will never fly united again', 'they will eventually go out of business with this kind of service'. I would point out that they did go out of business already and they are struggling just to survive and not lose money every day so worrying about gradual loss of customer loyalty is the least of their problems.

This is not good, but I think this kind of distopian world is where we are headed. With so many out of work labor is getting cheaper. Any public labor force with union protection, with actually livable pension benefits, is being systematically bashed and torn down. Organizational cultures like United have been destroyed as all the workers are now pushed to the limit and had their wages crushed.

Seriously, how can expect customer service cultures to survive 'cutting costs down to the bone'? This seems to be a fundamental business and economic problem which can only get worse, especially as labor is so weak and getting weaker. Any employees who ever had 'the right' customer service ethic cost too much and got forced out and replaced by the current lot of harried and harassed (by management) low wage lot who are not paid enough nor trained to put customer care at high priority - it's not in their performance plan and they do not have even a tiny bit of extra time to spare as far as I can tell. I would love to hear this a gate agents take on this story!

From the PR response from UA on facebook, it's clear they cannot even afford professional PR folks. It seems obvious that good customer service is an inevitable casualty of 'race to the bottom' corporate competition based on cost cutting.


When my son was 12, we sent him from LA to Washington, DC on United to visit his grandparents. When I tried to buy unaccompanied minor service for him, I was told (erroneously) that at 12 he was too old. On the trip back, his flight was cancelled, and he was put onto two different flights, with a plane change in Chicago.

At LAX, I asked United to check to see if he had made the connection, and they refused. Why? You guessed it -- because I had failed to purchase unaccompanied minor service.

Over the years, I've flown United only when there was no other option, and there's always a problem: there was a pilot, during a beef with management, who stood outside the jetway of an already-delayed flight, looking at his watch, until he announced "Uh, oh, I'm over my limit", delaying the flight for another two hours. When passengers complained, he said, "Good. I'm glad you're unhappy. Tell management. It's their fault."

In Texas, when all flights were grounded due to thunderstorms at 9 pm, passengers from our flight were shuttled from gate to gate for hours, never given accurate information, until we were finally herded into a deserted auxiliary area, devoid of water and chairs, with just two agents for hundreds of people. Passengers stacked suitcases for seating, and scrounged water and snacks, for a couple of elderly passengers who were suffering terribly, and begged the United ticket agents for help, or to at least take the seniors first. The agents refused on both counts. Most of us were there until almost dawn.

And these are just the most egregious experiences I've had personally, not the petty indignities endured on every United flight I've been on over the past 10 years.

As someone who remembers how United used to be -- believe it or not, more than two decades ago, I wrote advertising for the airline -- the change is disheartening, but after all these years, I think it's permanent.

In my observation, there are two common threads to the United experience. The first is an almost pathological rudeness on the part of almost every United employee you encounter. There is something so toxic about the work atmosphere that even people who may be perfectly nice outside of the job seem to relish the opportunity to be mean once they put on the uniform.

The second is a system-wide, and deliberate, failure of communication. On United, it's almost impossible to get timely, accurate information, if you get any at all. On my last United trip, I saw a man ask a polite question about a gate change, and heard the United gate agent snap, "Do I look like an information kiosk?" Gate agents and flight crews refuse to give information on flight delays even when it would be the quickest way to make passengers happy and prevent conflicts.

And it's everywhere: you can't get consistent answers at any level of the company, from reservations to customer service to ticketing agents. There's even contradictory information on different pages of United's website.

My guess is that working at United makes employee feel so powerless that they use rudeness and withholding of information to exert power on the only people who can't do anything about it: passengers.

They'll continue to get away from this for a long time, because financially, none of it counts. Think about it: customer service experiences can't be quantified by Wall Street. Therefore nobody measures them, they have no impact on stock prices, and you never, ever hear them mentioned by financial news pundits.

If they keep this up, of course, the company will implode someday, no longer able to summon enough passengers with the need or the stomach to fly United. Executives, Wall Street, and the pundits will blame fuel prices, or union woes, or economic conditions, but no one will ever, ever say, "We failed because we were mean to our passengers and that made us suck at our jobs."


Bob, you are a good friend and I meant only to point out the bias. I feel for your friend's horror but can't for a moment understand how they thought this was a good idea.

Case in point, I took my family, all 5 of us, on another airline in June and what should have been a one-stop and 6hrs turned into a two-stop and 13hrs. At every juncture, the airline failed to deliver what one might consider a base "human experience".

Given your "day job", I imagine you are interested in root cause and paths to improvement but after millions of my own miles flown, I really do wonder if we're not just on a downward spiral.

Suffice to say, as absurd as the UM practice remains, I hope someone in a position of power (private, not public) is able to take this well documented experience and find a path to improvement. While attitude and culture of personnel is problematic, there are clearly opportunities for technology like a mandatory phone, foursquare-like check-ins, map-like tracking, radio tags, etc.

You should be protective but pointing blame at UA doesn't abdicate a parent's responsibility, no matter how incompetent a company or personnel.


@Divalicias When I made inquiries about this several years ago after this happened to my daughter, I was told that there were no laws or regulations whatsoever governing how airlines handle unaccompanied minors. Each airline apparently is entirely free to make whatever rules it wants about how to handle them.

Markj Ambrose

I believe there is an error in your 3rd paragraph. I think you meant that she was flying from San Francisco to Grand Rapids with a transfer in Chicago. That is the only thing that makes sense with the following paragraph and with United's route system.


I'm a licensed child care provider.If I lost a 10-year-old in my care, I would lose my license, my business and my livelihood. Child safety must be the top priority at all times. Is there not some FAA policy or authority governing these transactions involving transport of unaccompanied minors? Who are the people who come in contact with the children? Have they had background checks? Have they had any sort of training in child safety, child development and behavior? What sort of environments are children waiting in during lay-overs? Who is in charge? What sort of responsibility is to be expected of flight crews when unaccompanied children are aboard?


Last year I had to take a United flight from Texas to Chicago. (I was a bit apprehensive because my boss had a steadfast rule that I was never to book a flight for him on United.) About an hour into the flight, the flight attendants started gathering close to my seat. They started complaining bitterly about a man seated close to the front of the plane. They were whispering, so I couldn't hear most of the conversation, but it was obvious they were very upset. This continued for quite some time. Needless to say, it was disconcerting, and all of the people sitting in my area became alarmed. I felt the attendants handled the situation poorly. If they felt the need to complain about a passenger, it should have been done in a kitchen area with a bit of privacy, instead of in the middle of the plane, out in the open. The attendants were asked by several passengers what was happening, only to be snapped at and dismissed. I felt so uncomfortable about how unprofessional the flight attendants acted, I decided then and there not to fly United again. This does NOT in any way compare to the little girl being treated like an annoyance and essentially abandoned in O'Hare, but I thought this was yet another indication on the lack of customer service. It was akin to shouting "FIRE" in a crowded theatre.


I don't think it's appropriate to call the parents stupid for taking advantage of a service that UA offers and the parents paid for. That's like ordering wine at a restaurant and getting a bad bottle then the sommelier saying, "Well you were stupid for ordering the wine." It's not asking too much to expect good customer service especially if you've been a good customer. Unfortunately, these incidences and UA's attitude combine to make the setting ripe for lawsuits that ultimately drive up the cost of flying. I commend the parents for trying to work things out with the airline. Someone else might have had lawyers on the phone a lot sooner. Corporate culture is tricky and if you don't build a good one and set good examples from the top down, you will get exactly this.


I congratulate Phoebe for withstanding such harsh treatment so beautifully and courageously.
Secondly, I can feel the helplessness of the parents, which was so overwhelming that it has rubbed on to the writer. I know exactly how it makes one mad when you know that you are correct but are being short-changed.
The question we must ask is why were the employees of United so reckless? And I can just imagine what could be a scenario, among others. The employees are stretched to the brink. If they pay attention to Phoebe, they might miss on their schedule and they will get flak for it. They must be also aware that if they went out of their way, they will not be appreciated enough. They know someone else is assigned to the job and hopefully (?) will do it right.
All these are signs of tough management standards set by a person, set far away from the ground realities. These stringent standards were set to reduce the cost, so that it becomes a viable option and thus increase the profits.
The pointer to this conclusion emanates from the reaction to the possibility of bad PR on TV. So, the way we customers can hit back is by giving the bad publicity it deserves and inflicting pain where it hurts maximum. So, congratulations goes to the author for taking the first step.

Chris Weston

Just incredible, and somehow horribly familiar. I read the letter to United, the obscene fact is that they will not care, now or ever about this incident.

My thoughts on this and links to related discussions -


Wow. Well written. I felt like I was living through this awful experience. I haven't been a fan of United for years but they really have crossed the line. I wrote about it and linked backed to your blog here:


When 14 on a return trip from Hawaii at a transfer in LAX my daughter and step daughter were left in a "Preschool room". We had paid $150 each for unaccompanied minor. The stay had been stretched due to a late plane from Hawaii. They left the room , left the airport and took the bus to an LA clothiers they wanted to visit. The bought clothes more than their pocket money so we got a credit card call and knew where they were. They got the bus back to the airport & were on the plane before we got the call "We can't find your daughters". Note, we knew they were already checked in on the plane.

Negotiate for free trips. We got round trips free and 2 more round trips with a 10 year limit to be used.


To be clear I do delete comments I find to be overly hostile. I have deleted perhaps ten that were too nasty toward the family and at least two hostile toward United. One of them blamed United for 9/11. I try to be fair but do try to omit the ones that get too personal. I also suspect that other places get more attacks on the family because I make clear they are friends of mine. I am doing the best I can. I never had so many comments and have also dealt with at least 25 inquiries from the sometimes hostile media. I am doing the best I can but admit I feel protective of the family.



I doubt Phoebe Klebahn's experience would have been any different if she had flown through Newark. It certainly wasn't different for my daughter three years ago, when the Continental gate agent in Boston put her on the wrong plane, the crew of the plane she was put onto didn't notice she was on the wrong plane, the crew of the plane she was supposed to be on didn't notice she wasn't there, the gate crew in Newark didn't notice that she was supposed to be in Cleveland, and the staff in the unaccompanied minor room didn't notice either.

Note that most of those people signed the bottom of my daughter's unaccompanied minor paperwork, which spelled out clearly that she was supposed to be going to Cleveland. Furthermore, the last person in the chain, the staff person in the unaccompanied room, looked at my daughter's paperwork to get my in-laws' phone number from it to call and chastise them for not being there (in the wrong state!) to pick up their granddaugher, and still didn't notice that the paperwork said Cleveland, not Newark. for the full story.

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