United Service

What is “united service” ?

I am writing here about the approach to offering customer service and fulfillment to airline passengers by one of the biggest airlines in the world – United Airlines.

Sometimes, there is absolutely no choice while travelling within the U.S. but to use some specific airlines – either because of their widespread network, or they are probably only one of two airlines serving a remote destination, or they are the codeshare partners of the airline from India that you have been patronizing.

While there are couple of good airlines with outstanding service records in the U.S., in general the service standards are a far cry from what we have usually experienced in Asia or even the Middle East. The U.S. airlines are no match for a Singapore Airlines, a Jet Airways, or an Emirates airline. The way customers are handled on the ground and up in the air, in any one of these airlines (there are several others) are testamount to their continued success. The U.S. airlines should send their crew for training to one of these airlines !

It is funny that in United Airlines, they (a) sell premium economy seats – for example it is difficult to get the first row in the Economy or the Emergency row unless you are a high level MileagePlus member with United, and then you would have to pay or use your miles to get those seats: it is not like in India wherein we can call up in advance and tele-check in for preferred seats with your frequent flyer number – there is no cost or commitment of miles needed ; (b) even if there are no takers for those seats, and for all the rows from 8 to 21 in Economy Class, these seats travel “empty”, and all the ordinary mortals are pushed behind in the cabin ; (c) you have to pay for everything – food, drinks, snacks, etc., in the cabin, except for water which comes along with a paper towel ; (d) the seats are a squeeze, not adequate at all for bigger folks, and leg space is abysmal ; and, (e) the TV screen in front of your seat demands money before you can even see the evening news ! I can understand they want to charge for movies (even that is not comparable with the Asian airlines where you get all movies free anyway as part of the overall customer experience), but why charge for all the other channels as well ?

In a nutshell, the airlines in the U.S. are far behind times. The reason that they have a huge domestic demand which accepts all of the above and even worse conditions, is not an excuse at all.

That is where we are in the country which almost innovated on every conceivable consumer idea over the past many decades.


Vijay Srinivasan
1st December 2012


One thought on “United Service

  1. Rajesh

    I think your analysis of airline customer service was half-baked. You have to look at customer service in the context of what you pay for. US airlines offer the cheapest fair per mile to flyers as flying has been commoditized in the US. For the money Indians pay to fly from Delhi to Mumbai, one can fly twice the distance in the US. You get what you pay for.

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