United Delays a Sign of the Summer Ahead?

by Anthony Losanno
United plane

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I was a Global Services member with United for many years. I used to fly them religiously and wouldn’t dream of straying to a SkyTeam or Oneworld airline. I started getting frustrated last year. Service was slipping, tons of flights were delayed, and the food on Polaris flights was awful (I compare it to prison food here). I made the decision to move my flying to Delta, with United flights to fill in gaps throughout the year.

Last week, I wrote about my United flight that was delayed out of Las Vegas. I was tired and knew that coming in that late would throw off my next day. This was far from the only United flight I had that was delayed and I remembered why I wasn’t flying them as much. In 2022, I had some horrible delays including one 8.5-hour one to Raleigh and several others that made me get home in the wee hours of the morning.

Last week, I booked an alternate flight on American Airlines and was less than impressed with the app, gate agent, and ground experience. I wrote about the experience here. Some commenters agreed with me, while many called me entitled, spoiled, or worse. I have never had great experiences with American in the past and this was just the latest to confirm my feelings. The flight was fine, service was okay, and I got there earlier than I would have on United. No complaints there. But, the kiosk did not work, the app was not functioning, and the agent was surly. Anyway, back to United.

United Flight Delayed

I didn’t mean to give United a pass with the delay that resulted when I wrote about it in my original post, but I was aggravated at the time. I get it. Delays happen. But, this was to be only the third United flight I took for the year (and one of the others was delayed).

Mom's United Flight

Fast forward to last night. My mother is visiting us in Chicago and she was supposed to arrive around 10:06 PM. The flight landed over 2.5 hours later. The reason was that the inbound aircraft from Miami was late. This delay started an hour late, then another hour was added, and then it went later. It was frustrating to have to go pick up my mother at 1:00 AM when there were no weather or mechanical issues here.

If you’ve been paying attention to earnings calls throughout the past several months, more delays are expected. My sample size of a few flight is not enough to say that this is systemic, but listening to United’s CEO, Scott Kirby, we’re just seeing the beginning here.

During the fourth quarter 2022 earning’s call, he warned:

We believe the industry capacity aspirations for 2023 and beyond are simply unachievable.”

With demand at all-time highs, pilot shortages, air traffic controller shortages, and summer weather sure to play a role, this summer could be a wild ride. The FAA is already anticipating a 45% increase in flight delays along the east coast this summer.


Now, before people begin commenting again on how entitled I am, let me explain. I know that these are inconveniences and first-world problems. I consider myself lucky that I can travel. I realize that I am fortunate.

That being said, I want to get to my destination safely and on time. The soft product (food, bedding, etc.) on a flight are perks that I pay for and I expect them to be decent. I buy First and Business class fares and am not looking for something unreasonable. A meal should be simple and tasty. US airlines can do it, but many (like United) try to be fancy while cutting costs and string together a bunch of words to describe a dish that tastes like a TV dinner. The same goes for timeliness. Things break. I won’t fault an airline for delays around repairs that are safety-related. I also understand that weather happens. This is beyond the airlines’ control. I have little patience for the things that they can keep in check like scheduling and poor planning. I also wish that United, especially, would be realistic with delays. If a plane is not landing until 9:45 PM, boarding is not going to begin at 9:47 PM. Rip the Band-Aid off and ‘I’ll make other arrangements.

Anthony’s Take: My limited experience with United this year has been frustrating. I fear that this is just the beginning as we head into the summer. Do I think any other airline will be without delays? No. Is United unique here? No. But United has been testing my patience the last few years and my limited experience has not made me feel better.

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Shaun May 11, 2023 - 4:20 pm

I feel your pain. We don’t fly nearly as much as you do but when we do we’ve had some brutal delays. Just In the last 6 months we had a UA ORD-HNL 9am departure that actually left at 745pm and an AA PVR-ORD that left 20h late. Ironically both were handled extremely well. Both were also a lot of crazy things that went wrong. My flights are either on time or 3 standard deviation level type delays.

I do think no matter the carrier people need to have backup plans. ORD is my home airport too and with no change fees I’ve been booking backup flights. We’ll book an ORD-SFO in first on AA for 3pm and also a 7pm in coach on UA. We know we’ll be able to use the UA credit if AA is on time. We also will book with SW if that’s an option out of ORD. I know most people won’t do this but people need to use the tools they have to get where they are going.

Carl May 11, 2023 - 9:14 pm

What is the point of your post? Just letting off steam?

Gizmosdad May 11, 2023 - 10:09 pm

One year on United I had 140 flights, and 105 flights were delayed..

Joel Kim May 11, 2023 - 9:30 pm

I’m interested to see what more faa penalties for delays and cancellations could mean for us airlines in terms of rebalancing the domestic schedule.


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