United We Suck

Travel to and from the Columbus event (described here) was on United Airlines, through Chicago. This should tell most folks all they need to know. Unfortunately, United is one of the few contract carriers approved for “official” travelers.

How can we get them disapproved? Time and again, United has proven to be incompetently managed, sloppy, untimely and careless. This trip held some hope for exceptions, but alas, hope was fleeting.

Prior to this trip, United through Chicago was batting zero-for-ten (.000 for baseball fans) with regard to connecting me through O’Hare completely on time. Every other time, the arriving flight, departing flight, or both, were delayed or cancelled. I thought this trip might break the streak of futility when my first leg from Oklahoma City lifted off and touched down within less than five minutes of schedule, despite having to circumnavigate some elevated thunderstorms near St. Louis. That ruled.

Next was a short jog to Columbus with no apparent reason for delay.

Wait! United and Chicago’s flagship airport, run seamlessly? O’Hare didn’t dare! The flight to Columbus was delayed by half an hour or so for unknown and unstated reasons, thereby giving Chicago a continued .000 (zero out of eleven) batting average for my on time connectivity through Chicago.

As I’ve said before: No wonder they went bankrupt!

In fact, the situation apparently is so bad at United that they now are resorting to
duct taping busted cabin parts. [That was on the OKC-ORD leg.] I can’t imagine a more vivid metaphor than duct tape and a hand-written sign for that once-glorious air carrier, chronically mismanaged over the decades into its present state of hapless disorder and chronic logistic buffoonery.

Nonetheless, my flight back from Columbus to Chicago last Sunday went amazingly well. There were VFR conditions over almost all the eastern 2/3 of the continental U.S. — no weather reason for a delay or chain-reaction delay at all. We even boarded the commuter jet to Oklahoma City in a timely manner. Hey, finally they were about to get a base hit!

Then they dribbled a weak grounder to the pitcher for a lame out.

As I was walking up the stairs, a brief glimpse of something strange registered in my lower left peripheral vision, then replayed itself once I was about to sit down in seat 1A of the puddle-jumper jet. “Was that a flat tire? Did I just see what I thought I just saw?”

I had to double check this little vision in my head to make sure it wasn’t real. Before the stairs were withdrawn, I gave the stewardess an excuse (fairly legit, actually) about quickly looking for a place in the overhead bins to put some expensive contents of my carry-on bag, which had no place to fit and “probably needs to be” tagged on a cart at planeside. She bought it, and down the steps I went. Sure enough, there it was: the left front tire of the nose’s landing gear was flat! Worse, I was the first person to notice.

I got the attention of one of the baggage people and pointed at the tire. Word got up to the pilot, who came outside and stood above me on the stairs to look for himself. After he got off the stairs, I went back up and inside sans bag but glad to have noticed the problem. Then I strolled to the rear of the cabin to tell my workplace’s director and his wife (who coincidentally happened to be on this flight) not to get too comfortable because they would be rousted off the plane shortly.

Surely as a bear craps in the woods, we all were herded off the plane and back into the terminal so a mechanic could come out there and change the tire. Jeff Gordon’s pit crew, they weren’t. Still, they found a spare plane and got us on within about half an hour. After boarding, we got into the midafternoon rush, waiting in a congested taxi line for another 20 minutes or so, before doing an about-face toward a different runway, then taking off. Late.

UAL and O’Hare still are batting .000 (zero for 12) with me. At least they’re consistent!

What could I do but laugh? Still, it bothers me that a passenger had to notice a flat nose-gear tire. Hello? Preflight inspections, anyone? I don’t know how dangerous such a thing would have been upon landing, but I rather would not find out.

United Airlines has undergone a stunning decline from king of the aviation world to festering turd pile of incompetence. If there’s anything I can do to get this half baked, two-bit, ragamuffin outfit unceremoniously flushed off the list of contract carriers, I hereby volunteer.



Comments

One Response to “United We Suck”

  1. Joel Genung on April 11th, 2006 9:02 pm

    Unfortunately, United’s story echoes across much of the U.S. airline industry today. Couple gross and nearly criminal executive mismanagement, the cost of kerosene, ridiculous over saturation of city pair markets, unrealistic demands of powerful pilots unions (and, yes, they are the guys and gals who carry the weight and whose rhetoric rings the loudest), insane security costs for systems that are largely worthless and a post 9/11 world, it’s plain to see the industry is headed down in a never-ending spiral. Waiting behind United are Delta and quite possibly, Northwest. In some ways, today’s situation is not unlike the demise of the passenger railroad industry in the late 40’s and early 50’s although in that particular case, the root cause was something different. Is there a solution? I doubt it but at some point, the weaker carriers will have to fall by the wayside with their remains being gobbled up by the more successful carriers. In the end however, this bodes poorly for the American consumer as no one gains from a monopolized industry. As a retired 30-year airline employee, I can only hope the one that survives is the one that signs my pension check. Still, I feel for all my fellow active and retired airline brethren. It’s a sad state of affairs with no easy short-term fix.

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