Why I won’t be taking United Airlines again

I had my worst flight experience back in October 2010. That experience was with United Airlines. I was visiting family for a month over in Australia, with a layover in San Francisco for 4 hours.

The trip from Vancouver to San Francisco was average, there wasn’t any food and the flight attendants almost never came by, but the flight was short and it was only around dinner time, not an issue for me at all.

I landed in San Fran safely, and walked around to explore the airport. It was around 7pm, dark outside, and the lights on the runway were quite the sight. Always wanting to get things done as soon as possible, I proceeded to buy some stuff friends and family asked for. That used up all the American money I had brought along with me, and I was very hungry. Currency exchange was 0.79 USD to 1 CAN, the Asian in me refused to be ripped off like that so I decided I was either going to eat with Canadian dollars or just wait for my plane food. I spotted a sushi restaurant, went in and asked the Chinese owner if I could pay with Canadian money, he shooed me away, saying “Dis is America, you sink your Canadian dolla enough?”. I had just pulled out a $50 bill, but turned and left after seeing his attitude. When he saw the $50, he shouted back out at me “WAIT MAYBE WE CHANGE FO YOU, 50 FOR 20 OKAY?”. Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

I went to find the gate where my flight to Australia would be, and hung around there. I had forgotten to take my laptop charger in my carry-on luggage, so after the last hour of battery was used up, I sat in front of the gate with some other passengers(?) waiting. 4 hours is quite long when you don’t have much to do. As I am a heavy sleeper, I stopped myself from snoozing off in fear of missing my flight.

The clock was now around 11pm, soon I’ll be on my way! Nope, not a chance. About 30 minutes before the scheduled flight time, United Airlines informed us that the flight would be delayed for another 2.5 hours. Turned out it was a bit more than 3 hours, but I was just glad to be on the plane as it was already 2AM.

Little did I know, the excitement was just about to come; 15+ hours of frustration and physical pain. When I got on the plane and went for my seat (47G I think?), I noticed a baby in my seat with a couple beside. Before jumping to conclusions, I double checked the numbers of the seats nearby, but it was the right one. The second I pulled out my ticket and asked the parent if maybe she was in the wrong seat, she and her husband got up, and started shouting very loudly, saying that the seats were hers. A flight attendant came by to see what the commotion was about, and they pulled out both their tickets for the seats next to my seat, but not for my seat.

Apparently they did not book a seat for the baby, but were very rude about it. The flight attendant decided the best resolution would be to move me to a different seat. I had no problem with that, and she told me to wait by the washroom. I stood there waiting for about 10 minutes, when some other flight attendants asked me what I was doing and told me to sit down. I explained that I needed a seat, but they didn’t care and told me I was in the way, and to move into the emergency exit/wheelchair area.

We were taking off, the plane was ascending, I still did not have a seat, and the flight attendant was nowhere in sight. A few minutes later, one of the flight attendants who said I was in the way became very frustrated and gave me an aisle seat on the right side of the plane, beside an elderly couple (60~65ish). She quickly disappeared before I could ask for the pillow and blanket missing from that seat.

I noticed the seat was unbelievably straight, on a 90° angle, so I tried to adjust it. It wouldn’t budge, the seat was broken. Almost no flight attendants walked by that seat during the whole 15+ hours of the flight, but I got up multiple times to look for an attendant and ask for 2 things: my pillow/blanket, and a seat change. Every time, the response was “okay, let me go get that for you (pillow/blanket), please sit down.”, or “let me see if there are any other seats available.” and never came back. Whenever the food carts came by, I brought it up to them too, and it was always the same thing.

There should be no reason for a passenger to have to sit in a defective seat for the duration of any flight, long or short. The person in front of me had their seat slightly tilted like everyone else, so my space was extremely limited and painful. There’s this outward bump on the seats at the head area, which meant that my back was hunched for the entire flight. Any attempts to sleep were impossible, and within the first 2 hours of the flight, my back was already in pain. From what I could see, the flight in my section was quite full and there were not any seats I could switch to. The couple beside me ordered wine, and drank for most of the flight, taking turns going to the washroom. So not only was I stuck in a defective seat, I had to get up every 10~15 minutes to let one of them out to take a washroom break. The couple’s lack of bladder control was definitely not United’s fault, but they did put me in that seat, it was broken, I was in pain, and my needs were not being attended to. Ever.

I won’t even talk about the small “breakfast” they served just before arriving in Sydney. Frozen bread, still with small pieces of ice in it. Maybe that’s a legitimate meal and it’s just too foreign to me, oh well.

I spent the next 2 out of the 4 weeks I was in Australia with extreme back pain. United has provided by far, the worst experience I have ever had on an airplane. I didn’t even think something like that was possible. I would be hundredfold happier paying $300~$500 more for average or even good service with another airline.

After I arrived in Sydney and got some rest, I phoned United with my complaint. Their response was more or less “we don’t know” (don’t know what? I never asked them a question), and “we don’t believe you”. Fed up with their attitude, I stopped bothering and went off to see my family, and tried to enjoy my time in Sydney with back pain. I’ll just remember never to take United again.

I’ve been on over 30 flights in the past year, and never has a company come close to this. Well done United. My suggestion? Don’t take United, and let the people you care about know that too. Waste of money, waste of time, a lot of disappointment, an all around nightmare.

Oh yea, take a look at some of United’s other awesome works: United Breaks Guitars (Youtube), Thrown Off a United Airlines Flight for Taking Pictures