A wow experience from United Airlines. Wow.

It’s rare these days that a company impresses with customer service. It’s even rarer when that company is an airline, especially an American airline. That’s the experience I had last week when I was flying home from New Orleans on United Airlines.

It started out pretty awful. A few hours before my flight I received a text message that my flight was delayed. Then another. By the time I arrived at the airport, my originating flight had been delayed more than two hours, ensuring that I’d miss my connecting flight in Denver. As it got close to the new departure time, we were told that there was a mechanical issue. After a string of “we’re waiting for an update” announcements, we finally boarded three hours later when a new plane arrived.

Based on experience, I was braced for the worst when I arrived in Denver: a 90 minute wait for a harried customer service rep who would look for every excuse to not put me up for the night. Before leaving New Orleans, I’d tweeted “United already knows who will misconnect. What are the odds they’ll be proactive and have hotel vouchers waiting?” I would’ve placed them at 1000:1, best case.

But that’s exactly what happened. After we landed the gate agent came on board and announced that they had prepared packets with hotel and meal vouchers for everyone who was stranded. Three people were staffing the desk, despite the fact that we arrived around 2 a.m. They were polite and directed us to the hotel shuttles.

Within 20 minutes of landing in San Francisco the next day, there was an apology in my email box for the inconvenience. A link in the email invited me to select from a list of appreciation items, including a $250 travel certificate.

The immediacy and the proactive nature of the response made a very positive impression. It’s great to see companies using IT in this way.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
This entry was posted in airlines, customer service, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to A wow experience from United Airlines. Wow.

  1. john says:

    What an inspiring story of when companies actually take their customers seriously and treat them how they would like to be treated.

  2. Nancy says:

    Wish I could say the same! We had an awful experience with United. Started out with me trying to use 15k miles for an upgrade the night before – something went wrong in the system and I called for assistance. Ended up with a “customer service rep”, if you can call him that, who REFUSED to let us speak to his supervisor and eventually hung up on us. So I had to add time in the morning to go to a real person at the check in desk to print my boarding pass. Then in Chicago, we were delayed over 4 hours due to mechanical problems. We had four pilots in the back with us explaining that the reason it was all taking so long was because of miscommunication between the jetway people, the mechanics and the pilot. Had they brought an electrical unit on a cart to begin with, the delay would have been only an hour. We got absolutely nothing for the problems. The poor people in coach were suffocating for lack of air and finally a bunch came up front (we were in business) and demanded to be let off the airplane. It was getting ugly. Flight 245 on May 4 from Chicago to Denver. Sure United gave us a new connection to our final destination, but 5 hours after we landed. The folks onboard the plane were great and were embarrassed for the problems. The customer service people in India are absolutely worthless – I have never had a positive experience with them. How does United expect us to do business with them when they offer such poor customer service?

  3. graphics boy says:

    Interesting post. You have obviously done the research on this. It can be hard to find decent information about this in my experience. i will bookmark this site and check it out again in the future. thanks

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  5. Ken says:

    I did a google for United Airlines customer appreciation and ran across your blog. I’m glad you had a good experience, but the way I see it, United screwed up in the first place so I wouldn’t award them for trying to fix a problem they shouldn’t have had in the first place.

    My experience was similar. I was on a flight from SFO to HNL for a gig that would start immediately when I landed. We had THREE attempts to take off until we finally left. I think one or both of the failed attempts were due to mechanical problems, which prompted us to return back to the gate and wait for mechanics. The whole delay ended up being 5 hours. The flight itself was supposed to be 5 hours.

    All we got was an intercom message from someone (maybe it was the pilot or just some other employee) saying they apologize for the delay and that we’d get compensated for the inconvenience. Then he tells us the Customer Appreciation website (you’d think if United had to put a dedicated page JUST for these problems that they must have A LOT of delays and problems all the time, correct?).

    So I got to the website and get the $250 e-certificate. No option of simply getting a check for those of us who NEVER want to fly on United again…
    So now a month later, I decided to try and check on some flights to Hawaii again and see what I can get. I see flights for a little under $400 on United’s own website. Then I do the search again for the exact flights with the e-cert and guess what? It’s NOT $250 less. I see flights that are maybe $50 cheaper. This is the price they say after the supposed discount is applied. Is that BS or what?

    Come on United! I can understand flights can get delayed… it happens, any company can screw up. But how can you screw your customers again a second time with the attempt to fix the first screw-up?

  6. J van Laar says:

    Nice for you that they arranged compensation, but I don’t think that United Air (and also US Airways) really care about their costumers. If they did they wouldn’t structurally overbook passengers, and use crap equipment. I used to fly ‘cheap’to my family in Philly with United or US and have experienced huge delays and problems. Nowadays i just pay the $200 extra and fly with British Airways or Northwestern.

  7. UAL employed says:

    You see folks, United itself has the route structure that captures repeat business even on a small scale. Perspectively, your inconvenience due to mechanicals is basically called flight safety. God forbid if the situation happened when in flight. Concerning vouchers due to delays, judgement calls by station agents using protocol as a required guide are not always fair especially to those passengers inconvenienced. So there you go, We all have the right to be safe and happy but unfortunately at a cost. If the cost is inconvenience, that is cheap. Pay the price, its worth it.

  8. Michael S says:

    I agree with UAL. I just came off of a 4 hour delay in Frankfurt. No fun as it was raining, hot, humid and the Germans were in the process of saving energy by shuting off the AC in the Airport.

    All in all, it sucked to get delayed, miss the connection, go to a hotel in DC with no cloths, get a 15 dollar meal voucher and lose a day’s vacation because of a mechanical failure. BUT given the choice of going through all that or plowing into the Atlantic at Mach 3…well, I say flying safe and putting up with the BS is still better than walking.

    Thanks United for being safe.

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  10. that what i call customer service, very good public relation, how i wish all airlines could take a note from this on how to treat its customer.

  11. that what i call customer service, very good public relation, how i wish all airlines could take a note on how to treat their customers.

  12. Not Impressed says:

    I wish I’d had an experience like that. Flying Phoenix to Chicago, between the initial delay, mechanical problems, and then messed up paperwork, we boarded 8 hours late. (And all the food vendors were closed when they let us off the plane after the messed up paperwork).

    Landed in Chicago 4:15am, again food places were closed, no offers of freebies there. My connecting flight was at 6:30am. Also, Chicago staff were very rude and unhelpful, I literally only got help once I started to cry from frustration. I had also been told to pick up my bags in Chicago, then go back through security, this was not the case and the employee at the baggage claim snapped at me “I don’t know why you’re here, it says your picking it up at your end destination!” (apparently I’m supposed to know that, even though I was told otherwise).

    Then lo and behold my bags are lost, waiting for them to be found and shipped to me now.

    I haven’t checked what kind of amends they’ll make on the website (won’t load) but not really over-enthused… If it’s vouchers for another flight, why would I want to fly with them again and put myself through that? All the traveling I’ve done I’ve never had delays like that, and I had a similar experience on the way TO Phoenix on United as well (four hours delayed, less rudeness), no offers of food (there’s only so much complimentary glasses of water can do), and severe rudeness varying by location. (Phoenix most polite, Chicago most unhelpful).

    I missed practice, class, and work through all of this. It was definitely a “wow” experience. Wow, I can’t believe they treat people like this.

  13. mauibound says:

    I agree that safety is a priority, so I was glad that when our flight was delayed due to mechanical problems, that they did send another aircraft.They did offer “snacks”@the airport which was closing @ 12:00 midnight .The snacks turned out to be half a can of pop and a small bag of goldfish crackers?What are we , 5 year old kids?
    The flight was delayed 2 hours , however it caused us to miss a connection to Seattle.They did book a flight for us when we arrived for our connection ,of course it was the next day. They offered to put us up for the night .We opted to fly to Portland and drive to Seatlle(2.5 hours drive )
    The baggage was a nightmare as they could not find out where it was ,causing us to wait for it in Seattle.So far we can not connect to the United Appreciation website, not that we would want to fly their airline again .
    Once you board the flight is usually ok but I just find all the employees , especially inflight unfriendly and indifferent .
    I will fly Alaska Airlines instead ,even considering they use smaller aircraft.

  14. Gloria says:

    Agree with people they United AIrlines (UA) never care about their customers. They have the the worse customer experience I have ever met. I missed to attend my grandma funeral due to their stupid reason( not weather not mechanical) My long haul flight from Chicago to Hong Kong (UA895) was cancelled (on 14 Nov 2012) due to the series of reasons provided by them, plane was over weight at first, the tank valve has problems,problems fixed and we were on the take off lane and they went back for unknown reason, and finally the flight was cancelled after sucking 4 hours on the plane and the reason is their crew has been working for so long that they couldnt start the long haul flight. They arranged us for overnight hotel and I can say the staff is very rude, cold-blooded,no sympathy, no apology and say joke to customer. Because of the flight cancelled, I couldnt attend my grandma funeral eventually. We emailed to the customer service to complain, it has been 2 months, there is no reply at all, and for the appreciation, my husband who has the same class with me, he got $400 gift cert but I only get $200 gift cert, I dont know why it is such unfair. And the worst thing is UA doesnt allow us anyway to complain or get in touch with the customer service agent. Do u think we should trust this airline nowadays? I am a desperated customer, my email is glorial.jc@gmail.com, I hope any UA management can view our comments and do something to improve or u will keep losing your customers!!

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