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In the spirit of Peter Griffin from Family Guy, I decided to start a series of posts around “what really grinds my gears” i.e. what I don’t like about various travel providers. The first in this series will be United Airlines. The Chicago-based carrier has a lot going for it with a mostly rewarding loyalty program, an extensive route network, and newer planes (with refreshes and new aircraft coming soon). But, there are also some areas that need much improvement.
5. Lack of Pre-Departure Beverages
This is truly a first-world problem, but it seems that the flight attendants find a reason not to offer first class passengers a pre-departure beverage on almost every flight I take. When they do, they come down the aisle with a tray of pre-poured orange juice, sparkling wine, and water. Who wants OJ at 5:00 PM? This also inevitably leads to a lot of waste as I’ve watched flight attendants dump an entire tray of drinks down the drain before takeoff. Ask for something other than the three listed above and you’ll often get a look like you’ve asked them to give you one of their kidneys. Compare this to Delta where I almost always get my choice of drinks before takeoff.
4. Boarding Chaos
I’ve flown over 50 airlines and United has amongst the worst boarding procedures. There are too many pre-boarding groups with passengers needing assistance, Global Services, active military, 1K®, and families with children. Not to mention the numbered lanes are confusing and the announcements made by gate agents further confuse those not used to flying United. These leads to a crowding around the gate not seen when boarding other carriers. Arrive late and good luck pushing through the crowd to board in your correct zone.
3. Slow Wi-Fi
I’ve found United’s Wi-Fi to be slow or not functioning on about half of my flights. It’s 2023, this should not be an issue. Other carriers have figured out how to offer fast, dependable Wi-Fi (Delta will begin offering SkyMiles® members free access starting next month).
2. Death by 1,000 Cuts
Cost cutting became apparent during the pandemic and it’s not likely some changes will ever be restored. Pre-Covid, the Polaris® lounges offered an extensive buffet. The quality and quantity of food there now has suffered. This is the same with the snack baskets on board (Cheez-Its and gummy bears on international flights and a waffle or pretzels on domestic flights is not acceptable). Cheaply photocopied menus, removal of limes (which have recently returned), and more can be cited. The same can be said of MileagePlus benefits where upgrades and the autonomy of agents were both restricted. Global Services used to be able to upgrade a passenger traveling with them if they had purchased a business-class ticket. This is now limited to one leg. Not one way of the trip, but one leg of an itinerary can be upgraded.
1. In-Flight Catering
United has the worst premium cabin catering of just about any carrier. The cost cutting is so real here that the menus are mostly disgusting. It cannot be expected that a premium passenger’s meal should cost mere dollars when airfares are still high. Appetizers, wine flights, and dessert carts were cut. Desserts are coming back, but the rest is not. You’ll also find bizarre combinations where United tries to appear fancy but utterly fails. A salad should not be a bowl of cauliflower, almonds, and raisins. Nor should it be Dragon Fruit, smoked salmon, and some other odd additions. The cheapest cuts of meat and reduced portion sizes are now hallmarks of flying in a premium cabin. The food served is often worse than what one would find in a hospital cafeteria or even prison. This is the biggest area in need of improvement, but as long as planes are full I don’t see much more than minor improvements being made.
Anthony’s Take: I will continue to fly United as it’s often the most direct way for me to get from Chicago to places both domestically and around the world. Overall, the airline is fine and that is the way I describe almost every flight – just fine. The cuts over the past few years have been noticeable, but I’ve learned to accommodate. I eat before I board and expect mediocre service.
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United is a crappy airline sure. But they still offer the better schedules and flexibility and MileagePlus is still not too bad to accrue miles on for now compared to DL or AA. The soft product is indeed terrible. My last business class flight I was seated next to a German guy who said that was possibly his last UA flight. Inedible food, service hit or miss.
As someone who’s held status on United, Delta, and American among others, I have to say that United was by far the best about upgrades even when I was a mere Silver through Marriott Titanium. I was upgraded about half the time, even on award tickets. When I was Delta Silver I never saw an upgrade once over the course of several years.
Since you’re based in Chicago, why not get status with American? They’ve got a strong hub there and with LP’s it’s not too onerous to earn status.
I’m not a fan of AA and don’t like OneWorld. Star Alliance and SkyTeam have airlines that better serve my needs.