Earlier this year the United/Continental merger went through and pretty well everything customer-facing stopped working. Back in April, Duncan Davidson posted this horror story. I’ve been off the road for a couple months, and now I discover that United still can’t do advance checkin if you’re on a code-share, nor can the airport machines recognize you. So you step up the counter and back into 1982.

I pick that year because last time I checked into SFO I bitched and the poor haggard-looking staffer said “We moved back in time 30 years.” Anyhow, United must be spending a ton more on airport staff, to do the work that used to be automated. Also, given a chance, I’m picking flights on an airline that lives in the twenty-first century.

I’ve been through a few mergers, and I’m imagining the high-level political battle that ended up in them deciding to use the broken Continental stuff, all the decisions made by people eight levels of management away from the real problems.


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From: Will Snow (Jun 18 2012, at 05:23)

If you want a good laugh, go look at the software - all DOS based (no kidding, it really is!). They saved something like $500M, and I'm SURE Sabre is making up for it with all the additional business they get because of the borked reservations and pissed off customers. As a Global Services traveler, the level of service dropped an unbelievable amount, and the hassle factor rose very close to causing me to change airlines (which I thought was impossible :)


From: Dave Douglas (Jun 18 2012, at 06:00)

...and a decade long trend is continuing, where the United employees get more and more surly and unhelpful. First class is a joke on US flights - the attendants sit up front and read magazines.

But its all going to get wonderful - CEO Jeff Smisek tells me so every time I board a plane.


From: Hal (Jun 18 2012, at 06:45)

it's the systems and the people. they retained the continental systems, but mostly the united people, so 90% of the institutional knowledge needed to navigate that mess was lost. if you look at the routes that used to be serviced by both airlines, airfares have gone up a staggering amount (EWR-SFO, EWR-SXM, EWR-LAS for example). things are nearly twice as expensive as they were a year ago. this is good for consumers how?


From: jwlato (Jun 18 2012, at 06:52)

As a musician, I stopped giving United any business about the same time this came out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo


From: Eric Meyer (Jun 18 2012, at 07:39)

I had to smile when you talked about “the broken Continental stuff”, because from my point of view, it’s the United stuff that’s broken. But you’ll notice that at the end of the ‘horror story’ you linked, he makes the point that both United and Continental were fine before the merger, and the new system isn’t fine. Ditto customer service, though I bet my sense of where it’s broken varies from yours.

In other words, the brokenness depends on your starting point. Pre-merger United customers think it’s all Continental’s fault, and pre-merger Continental customers think it’s all United’s fault. But at least we of the latter group got to keep our web site, which the ex-United customers hate with a passion but we don’t mind.

Starting points.


From: Hub (Jun 18 2012, at 08:00)

The 7 level of management above should work for a month at the customer service level. Then I can tell you things would get fixed.


From: Mano Marks (Jun 18 2012, at 10:45)

Avoid United outbound domestic SFO flights for awhile. Apparently all flights previously out of Oakland have been re-routed to leave from SF. Last time I flew out, a couple of weeks ago, 1.5 hours would not have been enough time to get through the line, at least without some serious intervention by the security staff.


From: Tom Magliery (Jun 18 2012, at 20:28)

@WillSnow: I take a smidgen of consolation that benefits of being a frequent traveller are eroding at other levels. At Premier Silver this year, as far as I can tell the only faint vestige of a benefit remaining is that I get a free checked bag (which of course I rarely use). Automatic upgrades have dropped to zero (too many people in the system?) and on the last couple of flights I've had there aren't even economy plus seats in the economy cabin any more (Continental refits?).


From: Cath (Jul 08 2012, at 03:21)

I highly recommend Dave Carroll's new book "United Breaks Guitars; The Power Of One Voice In The Age Of Social Media" on the subject of customer relations! Funny, insightful, astute (and sad). I bought it flying out of Halifax Airport at the bookstore where his launch was, walked through security, gates and plane and finished the book on my return flight. Funny how nice airline folks are when you carry a visible copy of the book!


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