Jun 28, 2012

Fly the Friendly Skies

I had to fly across country this week.  United.  Did I hear a collective sigh?  Everyone has their stories of flying United.  For our family, there was the flight to Hawaii for spring break when our daughters were still in school.  When we arrived at the gate, we discovered United had overbooked the flight by about twenty passengers.  We did not have seat assignments and did not make the cut.  We sat and sat, hoping someone, anyone would volunteer. No one did.  We finally accepted their flight coupons  and they assured us we would be placed on the next flight to Maui, but when we arrived at the gate, we learned it had the same overbooking problem the first flight had.  We had to wait through the excruciating gate side auction again, "We're offering a spot on the 10:45 p.m. flight and $400 in vouchers."  "How about a spot on the 10:45 flight and $600 in vouchers?" "Oh, c'mon, $1,200 in vouchers and a free toaster?" "Sold!  To the woman in the pink hat and the man in the Bermuda shorts."

Our return from Hawaii was the same story.  We were on an island so it wasn't like we had a lot of options for returning home.  We couldn't rent a car and drive home.  And it was spring break, which meant every family from the west coast of the US of A was in Hawaii or wanted to be in Hawaii.  Did I mention that I bought our seatless tickets five months before departure?  At least I learned a valuable life lesson: always, always make sure we have seat assignments.

Then there was the time we went to Europe on United.  When we showed up at Heathrow for our return trip, we were greeted by a United employee who had not yet attended charm school and who told us our flight had been cancelled.  We were to be put up in a Heathrow area hotel and put on a flight the next day.  They told us we would be fed all our meals and everything would be hunky-dory.  What they didn't tell us is that we would be fed buffets of Jell-o and trifle and would be in a location from which you could not walk anywhere for actual food.

So, here's my new United story, from my travel this week from San Francisco, CA, to Burlington, Vermont.  I flew from SFO to Washington/Dulles without incident.  It was the leg from Dulles to Burlington that was the problem. When you fly to Burlington, you're always on one of the little puddle-jumpers.  We boarded the plane; an extremely nice stewardess greeted us. An extremely likable pilot talked to us over the speaker. (Wait, is this really United?  Am I on the wrong plane? Seems like the Continental merger has had a good effect on United's interactions with the public.)  We taxied out to the end of the runway, and the pilot announced there was a troublesome light on the dashboard and we were taxiing back to the terminal, disembarking, and waiting for repair.

About an hour later, we were told to reboard.  We taxied to the end of the runway again, those scary propellers and the clanky engine made a lot of noise, we revved up, up, up, the wheels barely lifted off the tarmac, and the pilot decelerated and brought the plane back to ground.  He told us the repair had been an illusion and we were repeating our visit to the terminal for more downtime, while we hoped for a replacement plane, and were free to purchase any packaged foods we could find within shouting distance of the gate.

About five hours from our original scheduled departure United appropriated the next United plane that was scheduled to fly to Burlington that night and put our passengers and crew on it instead, leaving the other batch of passengers in who knows what position.  As far as I can tell, our passengers tried not to talk to those passengers and spill the beans that we were getting their plane.  This time our flight was a go, there was applause at lift off, the wise and kind stewardess gave free drinks to whoever wanted, the other stewardess made everyone laugh, and the pilot apologized many times over the course of the evening.

So, while none of this should have happened in the first place, United does seem to have improved in P.R. Ironically, their motto used to be "Fly the Friendly Skies of United."  Now they use "It's Time to Fly."  Really?  How about " You Never Know When It's Time to Takeoff"?

P.S.  Tomorrow: what I found in the Sky Mall catalog.


  1. I'm glad to hear that you made it safely. That sounded scary!

  2. Yes, glad I made it safely! Thank you.