Saturday, February 11

United Airlines Marketing Dream Meets Harsh $5 Reality

I am sure that most American readers who watch TV have seen the "Emmy Nominated" ads for United Airlines. I will admit that they are pretty good.

I have been traveling across the Atlantic a good bit lately, and for the most part have been flying with either British Airways, or Finnair. I have to say that I have no problems with either. Finnair used to lose my bags, WAY too often. But, that is now three years in the past and in general have had no problems in the last couple of years.

British Airways is currently my favorite, as for some reason, more often then not, they have been upgrading me to Business Class. One gets all too easily accustomed to sleeping in a bed across the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, I found out this last Friday that I had to go to Europe the next day. British Airways wanted almost $3,000 for a next-day flight, which was a thousand more than Lufthansa and United were charging. So I would not be going via BA this time.

United Airlines recently exited from bankruptcy and the news was currently reporting that United execs had awarded themselves millions in stock to reward themselves for shaking down the employees to accept paycuts of about 30%. Expecting the United staff to not be too happy about this, I opted for Lufthansa instead. However, since United and Lufthansa are partners, I still ended up with the return flight on United. So be it.

So, now to the problem. The flight takes off from Frankfurt and they bring the drink cart around. I quickly check the magazine to see if they will charge for drinks and when my time comes, I ask for a gin and tonic. I get my drink and then hear "Five Dollars." What the F*ck, I immediately thought. To add to the shock, I only had four.

The man sitting next to me helped me out and gave me the last dollar. My good mood evaporates and I am suddenly both mad and embarrassed at the same time. I go back to the magazine to recheck the page. Right at the top in the summary was the comment that alcohol was free for international Pacific flights and $5 on all other flights. Thanks, for putting that important piece of information in a part of the page that nobody reads, instead of in the refreshment section.

I was going to hassle the flight attendant but did not bother. After all it wasn't his fault. Well he could have told me before making the drink. So there I am pissed off and the flight attendant is there with an unhappy customer in a awkward situation. Neither of us are happy about this. The culprit, some prick in United's Corporate office, reaps all the benefits, protected by anonymity.

The point of this whole post is simple. No matter how good the advertising, and United's is recognized as some of the best, it will not compensate for a negative experience. My negative experience all centered around being told that a drink I expected to be complimentary, cost $5. Lufthansa did not charge for drinks on my Europe flight. BA does not charge across the Atlantic either. My ticket cost close to $2,000, and I find out that drinks were not included in the price. Lesson learned.

Some readers may be familiar with the old American Airlines cost-saving measure of removing an olive out of every salad. Looking at my United Salad, I see no olives. I guess that something else had to go, and it was the alcohol. I just wonder if any of these wise execs have bothered to count the cost of lost customers? Perhaps they are too busy counting their new stock.

Not for anything but United Airlines probably should no longer exist. God only knows how many people, employees and suppliers they harmed and ruined by claiming bankruptcy protection. The employees probably would have been better off with United going down. Some other airlines would have stepped in to take over United's routes. With that, they would need more employees, and many of United's would have found new jobs. the end result would have been a much healthier airline industry. Instead, United was unburdened of it's debt, so that it can lower it's prices below other airlines break-even point forcing them into trouble, where they otherwise would not. What a shame.

And no, my flight did not mimic the wonderful experiences shown in their commercials. After all, how would you feel to be starting your once-in-a-lifetime vacation by being nickled and dimed all the way to your destination?