Dear Jeff Smisek,
Last month, I passed the 25,000 mile mark and became a Premier Silver member on United Airlines. I expected the typical feelings of pride and self-importance that "status" usually confers, but my feelings were tempered by the many bad experiences on United in recent months.
These experiences were not typical air travel nightmares. What made them unique was the particular attitude of the United employees. They empathized with my pain, and seemed genuinely embarrassed to work for such a badly-run company.
1. On a flight from ORD, we were delayed on the tarmac for nearly two hours. The pilot began his remarks with a lot of throat clearing: "As many of you know, the merger with Continental has not gone well. There are many problems with our systems. We are waiting for the weight balancing information. This usually takes a few seconds but for some reason, its taking much longer. I'm really sorry about this folks."
2. From IAD, the pilot was exasperated that we couldn't push back from the gate for 30 minutes because nobody was around to retract the jetway. His fury had the unexpected effect of calming mine.
3. From ORD, after loading a full flight, we found out there were pre-existing maintenance problems with the aircraft and had to deplane. The flight attendants were genuinely embarrassed and understood our frustration.
4. During the ensuing three-hour delay, the flight status was listed as "boarding," so no one could go to the lounge or walk around the terminal. When I pointed this out to the gate attendant, he looked at me painfully and said, "I know, I've been trying to fix it for the last hour."
I applaud your employees who have the character to empathize with the customer when things go wrong. But the more it happens, the more I detect a subtle message. If you listen close enough, you can almost hear them whisper unintentionally, "These things happen all the time, Don't Fly United."
If it makes sense for me, I'll switch and will hope that over time, your dedicated and conscientious employees will do the same.
Follow Jonathan Ezer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonathanezer