Book Me For A Speech

My Writing and Ranting

Press Room

Good Books

« "Ascent of the A-Word" Geoffrey Nunberg's Great New Book | Main | A Call for Change at United: A Statement from Annie and Perry Klebahn »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.



1) You have zero evidence that Professor Sutton is censoring comments on his blog to favor a particular point of view. I believe him to be a man of integrity, and I find the baseless accusation offensive.

2) Here is what my wife wrote when this happened to us three years ago and people said it was our fault for allowing our daughter to fly unaccompanied: .


All these horror stories about United ...

I've know for quite a few years about United employees' attitude problem - and the fact that it got worse after the employees got, and later gave up, ownership of the airline.

So I was very worried when Continental decided to merge with United, and even more worried when they decided to operate under the United name. (Sure, United had greater name recognition than Continental, but United's reputation was far worse.)

I was a very loyal Continental customer for a long time, and back in the '90s, Gordon Bethune and Greg Brenneman (chairman and president) did a terrific job of turning the airline around and making it a place where employees liked to work. That showed in every interaction I had with Continental employees.

Not surprisingly, both execs are gone now; I can't help speculating that they would have turned down a merger with United because the brand was so toxic.

Even so, I can't help wondering if the Klebahns' experience would have been different if young Phoebe had been transferring in Newark or Houston (old Continental hubs, presumably staffed largely with former Continental employees) rather than O'Hare (a longtime United hub).

Myself, I've been lucky not to have had any terrible experiences with United, before or after the merger. I still have my Continental/United frequent flyer membership, but lately (because of the particulars of where I live and where I tend to travel these days) I usually take Delta - or, more often, Delta's regional airline affiliates.


My story doesn't compare with the seriousness of losing a child, but I too will no longer fly United. Traveling on a business trip from Huntsville to Dulles, they managed to lose my GATE CHECKED bag. On a direct flight. For 3 weeks. At Dulles, after waiting 30 min. in the gate area for my bag, I was to go to the baggage carousel for the flight. I waited there for over an hour, then was told by Baggage Service to go all the way back to my gate to "be sure it's not there". I did. When I returned, I was told to "wait another hour and see if it comes up" before they would file a ticket. Then, they decided I needed to go check *all* the other baggage areas in Dulles to be sure it wasn't on another carousel. At the time I had a broken toe, which was very obvious as I was limping and wearing shoes with holes cut out for my toe. If you've ever been to Dulles, you know that it's a huge place. I asked repeatedly for a cart to help take me all the places they wanted me to go, but they said sorry, those have to be reserved in advance of the flight. They were completely uncaring, and each time I spoke to Baggage folks I had to wait in line 15-20 minutes, while only one of the 3 people at the counter was actually serving customers (the other two were just talking and drinking coffee, ignoring all the customers, for a period of several hours while I came and went). I never found my bag, and United never lifted a finger or called anyone (even when I asked) to try to help me. Finally, 3 hours after landing, I filed a missing bag report. My bag never showed up during my trip, so I had to wear the same clothes for 3 days. They said they were "out of" the little packages of toothpaste, etc. they usually hand out in cases like that, so I had to buy my own. On my flight back, the plane was late, and the passengers were told NOT to leave the boarding area or they would risk losing their seat. There were no restrooms nearby, so even though I needed to "go", I waited to get on the plane. Then, with NO advance warning, once we got on the plane... the only restroom was "Out of Service". When I asked, they would not let me deplane to use the restroom; if I did they said I'd lose my seat and would not be eligible to be rebooked (the next day) without paying for the flight because I'd "abandoned" my flight after boarding. They didn't care that I had to "go", that wasn't their problem. To say I was uncomfortable during the 90 minute flight would be a gross understatement. But back to my bag, here's the best part: after calling United several times (including baggage service and the United counter at my local airport), everyone told me they had searched and searched everywhere for my bag but it was still missing, either it was stolen or all the tags on it must have come off. So I filed the "long form" missing bag report after the 14 day waiting period. Then, about a week later, a Delta representative called me from my local airport. They said they had seen my bag in the common baggage area, noticed it had been there a long time, and saw my name and local number clearly on the 2 tags on the bag... so they took the initiative to call me. I went and picked up my bag from Delta, and ALL the tags were still on it, including the gate check tag. United apparently at some point routed my bag back to my local airport... but never called me, and never entered that fact into their system. i never heard anything more from my "long form missing bag" report, and was never contacted or compensated by United in any way. I filed a complaint with Corporate but got no reply. Needless to say, no more United for me, and I now tell this story to everyone I know.


Look United gate service employees make between $10-$13 dollars an hour. Of course they don't care. You get what you pay for.


Bob, you seem selective about what comments to show on your blog. They all seem to support your contention that UA is bad and lost your friend's child. I'm not a fan of UA, quite the contrary, avoid the airline. Which makes this situation even more peculiar given friend's elite status. Suffice to say, UA never actually lost their daughter. They treated the child like they treat all passengers: crap. I could be flip and add -- what do you expect for $99? Suffice to say, I'd never put my own child in the care of strangers on a cross-country flight. Heck, I don't even trust my bag to the airline, why would I trust my child, aged parent, pet .. and yes, guitar -- or any possession I dearly loved. Your friend's should have known. Moreover, they should have given the child a cell phone. Moreover, they should have accompanied the child to Grand Rapids -- nice to take your kid to camp. Experience to treasure.

I suggest you accept a more balanced view in your blog. Given the coverage of this story -- comments on major media seem to be running 50/50 for/against UA but mostly condeming the parents for their stupidity.

Let's see if you post this one.


In the ever increasing demand for higher profits, corporations are required to squeeze every single dollar they can from wherever they can. Morality has no place in profits and efficiency. A corporation is a soulless entity created and nurtured to make money.

While I am certain there are many corporations which fit this mode, there are also many which do not.

There's no intrinsic reason why morality would be at odds with profits and efficiency. There are plenty of businesses, large and small, which are profitable, efficient, and moral and which treat their customers well.

Indeed, one could argue that while treating one's customers poorly might yield short-term profits, in the long term it is bad for business.

For example, thinking back on the numerous software companies I've worked for, the majority of them considered delighting their customers to be their primary path to success, and some of them were even profitable. :-)

I've not flown United for over 2 decades, which is around the time they became, as a company, so despondent. Somehow, they, as many other companies since, lost their way & ended up in the mire of apathy.

They USED TO care. They had decent food & their employees were friendly. You had a good feeling sitting in one of their planes & knowing you would arrive fairly on time but in a good mood regardless. You could hear in the "buzz" of conversation if you listened (I'm a geek that does that kind of thing). In my life, paying attention to how customers are reacting to a business, whether a fast-food joint or a hospital, tells me what I can expect as a client. If the "buzz" seems negative, you can bet I'm not going to stick around. &, in the end, that's what you want to promulgate as a business: the concept of customer satisfaction. You don't get that if your management doesn't care 'cause it's their treatment of employees that eventually permeates their customer service.

I didn't understand that until I got to work at a youth hostel. Our staff was given room & board in exchange for cleaning & maintenance, so you, as a manager (or asst mgr when I began) had to make it a daily mantra to motivate all the young adults who "worked" w/ us.

The mantra: we are a service industry. If we don't have satisfied customers, they don't come back & tell others to stay away. & if we don't get positive feedback, that's ok, because the NEGATIVE feedback of lousy cust svc is SO much WORSE! & No customers means NO job! & NO job means no hostel for you to stay in or to work for. & THAT ultimately was the clincher. I'd tell them: DON'T burn your bridges. Leave a place with the ppl in them missing you & knowing they will greet you with a smile when you return. 'Cause you never know when you have to cross THAT bridge.

United has forgotten. Maybe they thought that good customer service didn't save them from bankruptcy, money did, but how many more times will they be "acquired", & in increasingly worse compensatory situations, until they regain some semblance of good management? The resulting improved cust satisfaction as a result of good cust svc might just save them but it HAS to come from the top.

In my case, whenever my boss made noises about the cost of hair conditioner & disposable shavers & ear swabs, I'd argue that they were the incentives that made the staff stay. My carrot, so to speak. The stick? I'd fire a staff member on the spot for bad behavior in front of customers or whoever argued w/ the cooks (really!). Those fired "kids" would start to realize, and complain, about the cost of providing their own meals, paying for their bed, having to buy their own toiletries & generally all the "extras" beyond the basic room & board. That kept the apathy to a minimum & despite having a fairly low occupancy rate, I didn't have too many negative customer comments & most of my staff have remained friends.

Someone needs to up the ante over at United.

Lucia Pena

I agree with United being the "worst" of airlines and this article scares me to death as I sometimes bring my grandchildren unaccompanied from AZ to OR. I have had two different personal nightmares stories with my travels on United.
I disagree with comments that it is our fault if we continue to fly with them.
1. We have a small airport with United Express connecting to flights with United and prices are double just to fly to a hub. The nearest major airport is a 4hr drive away.
2. Not everyone can afford to upgrade to 1st class. I have to to search for flights based on cheap costs.This year I couldn't afford the outlandish costs to bring my grandchildren here. Flights prices have doubled and tripled plus the fees for unaccompanied children and baggage fees.


Wow. I was just about to purchase three cross-country roundtrip tickets on United, but I think I'll look for another airline.

These stories are consistent with one I heard this weekend. A friend was flying from LAX to Maui, and his United flight was cancelled because United didn't have a pilot to fly the plane. When he finally did board the plane, he was seated in coach behind a honeymooning couple who had purchased tickets in first class, but since they weren't on their original flight there was no room in first class. My friend asked the flight attendent if he could purchase them champagne, since he knew she was serving it to the first class passengers, and she refused, saying it was just for first class. Didn't matter that this sweet young couple had actually paid for first class. Same thing happened when he asked if he could pay for the nice first class meal for them.

No more United.

Account Deleted

United Airlines is by far the worst airlines company on the face of the planet. I have flown a lot and I cannot even describe to you the sheer frustration I experienced and observed in their employees the last time I flew with them. I will spare you the pathetic details of how my 8 month pregnant self and two year old daughter ended up abandoned in El Paso and had to provide ourselves with a hotel room for the night for the next flight. I will tell you my father nearly had an anneurism as he exploded at the despondant and condescending gate staff, who, refused to allow my daughter and I on a flight we were thirty seconds late for (they were told we were coming and to hold the flight beacuse it was THEIR fault at the front desk for our tardiness getting through security). Walking away from the gates that day we were in complete shock at how a company could be, for lack of better words, so F***** up. Really, from the heartless ticketing agents, the EVIL gate staff, to the incompetent phone operators and system, their computer system, EVERYTHING is an abysmal MESS. And everyone who has commented on here is right. So uncaring and practically sociopathic. Lacking in empathy to the tenth degree.
A little down the hallway hanging our heads in dissapoinment, my father picked up a little and started to giggle. He then jingled a couple of keys in the air as his eyes sparkled. What are they, I asked. That idiot gatekeepers desk keys, he answered. WE both laughed. United belittled us to the state of stupid helpless abandoned children in the airport terminal that day and we did exactly what children in that situation would do.Exact revenge in the only manner we could when no other sources of help or comfort were offered. Those keys are tucked away and offer a little chuckle when I glance upon them, the only consolation UNited could offer me and a reminder to adamantly tell the entire world: NEVER FLY UNITED.


I'm glad Southwest works out for you, but I will never fly them. I'm overweight, and several times now they have been abusive of overweight passengers. They have also been abusive of Muslim passengers. It is a pervasive pattern and they can apologize all they want, but flying airlines is tough enough, I'm already afraid to do it because of the TSA's shenanigans, and I don't need humiliation from the airline itself on top of that.

So, chalk it up to TWO airlines now that I refuse to fly. Or to send my daughter on til she's about thirty, apparently. I say that tongue in cheek, but I hope you get what I mean.

(I shouldn't have to say this but yes, I'm losing the weight. But you can't tell by looking at a fat person that they are losing weight because it's not visible in real time. Which is part of the problem with judging us worthy of humiliation, if being over normal BMI really is worthy of punishment. Which I'm not saying you agree with or anything, I just thought I'd throw that out there.)


I wonder whether United employees can be prosecuted criminally for child endangerment. If I were the parents, I would have skipped the incompetent United customer service service and immediately called the police, filed a missing person report and asked for an Amber alert. Perhaps that would have gotten United's attention. I do hope a lawsuit follows. I have been a loyal United customer but now believe families should boycott the airline. This is just so totally negligent, bordering on child abuse.


In the ever increasing demand for higher profits, corporations are required to squeeze every single dollar they can from wherever they can. Morality has no place in profits and efficiency. A corporation is a soulless entity created and nurtured to make money.

How can anyone be shocked that it would take "bad PR" to spur them into action?

If everything said in this story is true, I understand what a shock this must be, but to expect better treatment from any corporation is more shocking to me.


Check out "United Breaks Guitars" on YouTube - sad but hilarious.

There is no reason for poor customer service yet it abounds. United is at the bottom of my list for airline choice. There are a few local businesses in my town that I will not go to anymore because of the complete lack of service and general piss poor attitude to their customers.

Justin Boyan

Well, if sharing United customer-service horror stories is the order of the day, here's mine, from earlier this summer:

Don't fly United.


@Bob Aho

I think there is some truth to what you say, but there is also a huge flaw in your argument... There are a number of successful (i.e., profitable) airlines whose fares are as low as United's, if not lower, and whose treatment of customers is far better.

I think it's much less about cheap fares leading inevitably to poor service, and much more about the mishmash of regulation and deregulation causing an unfair playing field which makes it hard for smaller, more consumer-friendly airlines to compete with the huge, uncaring airlines on many routes.


Meeting my 13 year old after her unaccompanied trip from SOUTH AFRICA. Flight arrived early. Counter was understaffed. It took 45 minutes to get a gate pass. Agent sent me to the wrong gate. Agent at wrong gate, when asked which was the correct gate, ignored me (not an exaggeration). When I escalated, she chastised me for being late, and continued to refuse to answer my question. I ran to the next available gate agent (five gates down) to find out the correct gate. By the time I learned the correct gate, her plane had deplaned. Total service meltdown nightmare. Never again, United.


Reading this story I'm surprised United doesn't have a lost child protocol. I've volunteered for the Burning Man festival for several years and they have an extremely well drilled protocol for handling lost children - page 26 of the manual

In the instance described, had that been my daughter, I think I'd have hung up on United way earlier (as soon as they admitted to not being able to locate her) and called Chicago PD and the TSA to report a missing child - in my experience law enforcement take lost kids very seriously.


Great good heavenly day. I was reading this and thinking that some of it, like having the return flight canceled because I missed the connection on my flight over, sounded extremely familiar, and I looked up what carrier flew me to my high school reunion in May and screwed up so thoroughly, and it was United!

I will say that I was fortunate enough to be flying home from a tiny airport where the employees did back flips to fix the problem. But let me tell you, when I missed my connection due to weather, it took me absolutely hours to get myself onto a connecting flight.

How could this not be something that was planned for, that people coming into Chicago might be going on to someplace else, and if the flight was delayed for two or three hours, people might need to reschedule connections? It was as though such a thing was unfathomable. Now I know that it is part of United's business model, "We Don't Care, and Even If We Do, We Can't Do Anything."

On the other hand, I had such spectacular customer service when I flew Jet Blue earlier this year and a mistake was made on the dates (which may have been my fault) and the whole trip needed to be re-scheduled and they did it with no change fees, that I told them that they had a customer for life.


My experience, eight years ago, posted at my blog. I work on four continents, and United Airlines is the single worst flying passenger flying experience available in America.

Never *ever* again. Never.

Die, United, die.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Asshole Survival

Scaling Up

Good Boss Bad Boss

No Asshole Rule

Hard Facts

Weird Ideas

Knowing -Doing Gap

The No Asshole Rule:Articles and Stories