United’s Customer Service Response to the Falling Roof Panel & Slow First Class Service – A Total Fail

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united customer service failure

United’s Customer Service Response

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I was traveling in first class on a United 737-900 when a large roof panel came loose from the ceiling and swung down. For the next 90+ minutes the flight attendants were obsessed with that panel and the purser decided that she would not serve first class due to “safety concerns”, although she didn’t tell us that until later.

During that time, we weren’t even offered a glass of water, while all of coach was served from the drink carts in the rear of the aircraft. It was a slightly annoying occurrence and I did tweet as it was happening. Two times that day United’s twitter team reached out and suggested I contact customer service. The first was in response to my tweet as shown below and the second time when I shared the story of the roof panel on the blog.

My Email & Their Response

Since United had proactively reached out to me and requested that I contact them, I decided to share the story of what happened. My tone was not angry, but I did relay disappointment with the service. (Which to be honest was the worst I have ever received in domestic first class.) I sent my email to customer service on August 13 and finally received a response on August 20, 2015. A week long response is not ideal, however I know that things can get busy and I was traveling so had truthfully not thought about it. Here was their response:

I was sorry to learn from your comments, that we did not meet your expectations on your flight with us from Las Vegas to Chicago.

Direct customer feedback is so important in helping us improve.

One of United’s primary goals is to have the highest standards of excellence exemplified through our service and employees.  In the service industry, nothing is more important than the impression we make with our customers, and as we have adopted the brand and made it our goal to be Flyer Friendly, it is truly disappointing when a customer has let us know they experienced anything less.

A number of tools and processes are being applied this year that will substantively address these goals.  We are working to improve customer service, including investing in a comprehensive training course for frontline employees.  We are consistently aligning service standards of professional women and men around our company.

We hope to welcome you aboard another flight in the near future, and thereby have the opportunity to win back your trust.  Our goal is to create the world’s most Flyer Friendly airline.  We still have room for improvement, but that’s the direction we’re headed.

We appreciate your business as a MileagePlus member, and thank you for flying United.

A Canned Response

united customer service failure
The panel.

Did you notice anything about that response? Other than plugging in my origin and destination, this guy just copied and pasted a boiler plate response. The main concern of my email was about the ceiling panel, however I did also mention how it took nearly two hours for us to be served. Either way, it was clear that he decided not to really address my issues specifically. The issues that their Twitter team had asked me to share.

I am not going to post the back and forth between me and the agent, however I responded to his email and asked why it took a week for him to cut & paste a response. To give this guy credit, after my response he tried to call me almost immediately, however I wasn’t able to answer and we continued via email. While his initial response was boiler plate, I think the fact that he tried to call is worth mentioning.

Basically in the end he defended his original email and said the generic language addressed my concerns. He also emphasized how they are working on improving their customer service. We’ll agree to disagree and in fact I guess that is what happened since the conversation sort of died and I haven’t heard anything further from him.

This Response is a Fail

To be honest, I am not sure if I deserve compensation from United for their service on this flight and I doubt I will pursue any. United proactively reached out to me via Twitter after reading the story and told me to convey it to customer service. In other words, their Twitter team seemed to think it was worth mentioning. As I said, I’m not sure if compensation is warranted so I’ll just assume not, however I do think an email that showed they had actually even read what happened would have been nice.

There are two main reasons I decided to share this. First, I really hate poor customer service. I’m not talking about what happened on the flight, but rather this guy’s response. I worked in sales and customer service for a decade and this behavior is simply not acceptable. The second reason I am sharing this is to hold United publicly accountable for this behavior. Once again, not for what happened on the plane, but instead for their failure to respond to situations such as this in a timely and effective manner. Basically, I don’t feel like they owe me anything, however this is a great reminder of why I avoid them on revenue flights.

Conclusion

I have never been a huge fan of United and only fly them when I am on an award ticket. (Which is perhaps why they aren’t jumping over themselves to respond to me.) This experience just reinforced my beliefs and my expectations of the company. It really is a shame, since I actually had a very good flight home from Europe the other day in Global First which I will review later. At this point my real problem with United is that they don’t seem to have the customer in mind when something goes wrong.

The truth is United didn’t deliver the product they promised on this flight which is bad, but they didn’t back up their product with customer service which is even worse. This type of experience makes me wonder what would happen if something more major were to happen? At this point I have no confidence that United as a company or their customer service employees will be there to take care of me.


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16 COMMENTS

  1. Your experience contrasts to mine on American. I flew their flagship first product from jfk to lax on a mileage saaver ticket. I don’t have status with them and only occasionally fly the airline. The seat was broken and did not recline, so I sent an email to customer service. They responded in one day and credited my account with 20k miles. The response was not canned and specifically mentioned my situation and flight attendant. I’m pleased with the outcome and have already booked another flight with them.

  2. I have the opposite experience, United is always great with their responses to me and always offer something. American so far twice has yet to offer anything, not even an apology.

  3. I had a similar experience. I booked 3 award tickets for our family to Turkey, partly on United and mainly on Turkish. It turns out the agent never officially booked us on Turkish for the outbound leg and so when I called Turkish to book seats, they told me we were waitlisted. Ridiculous. I had to call United multiple times and was told by one nice agent to definitely request compensation by emailing customer service. We never received a response, I contacted them via Twitter after about 2 months and finally got a canned response about schedule changes (our schedules had changed a few times and was the trigger for us to find out about the Turkish issue).

    We replied again and finally got 5K per ticket back and an altered itinerary (for the worse). We would have been screwed if I never called Turkish.

  4. It could have been worse. They didn’t make you sleep on the floor. United isn’t exactly famed for amazing customer service or quick thinking.

  5. You’ve given me a topic for another column…

    UA’s customer service has been plummeting for the past 5 years, partly due to the apathy & neglect since the CO takeover – which is a shame. CO’s customer service was the best in the industry until Smisek took over and pretty much ruined it; it’s time for a major change at the top of the carrier, and then all the way down to the bottom. if DL & AA can do better, so can UA. But that I’ll be covering soon enough….

  6. I must disagree with you on not pursuing this matter further because you were flying on award travel. I fly on award travel and have earned every one of those miles for paying for travel. So, in short, you paid for that trip. I cannot believe how horrible United has become in the past few years. When my award travel is done, I intend to fly other carriers when possible. I know sometimes there is little choice and United knows this. Therefore, the need to ramp up customer service on domestic travel is a low priority for them.

    • The reason that they are not ramping up their customer service is because that would take away money that they can stick in their own pockets . Smisux has completely turned this company into a money printing machine. Normally that would be a good thing,but when you strip everything in the company down to the very basics,( csr’s that have no incintive to care,as well as ramp service folks. ) FA’s that have been and still are negotiating a contract, ( several years now, just asked the gov’t for mediation) and pilots that are constantly at odds with management because of their business practices and the fact that they will pay to keep good help on the ground to work the fights. the only real ” United airlines ” workers you are going to find now a days are in the Hubs or major cities. ( ATL,SEA,MCO,etc) It really does suck the way this is all happened. Bethune should have come ove from CO in the merger but he refuses to work with unions so the sent in the axe man Smisick to figure out a way to get rid of them,and turn the company into a cash cow. ( citing UA’s intent to start up it’s own contract workers in a subsidiary company. ) With that in mind it will not be long before the hubs are outsourced. you think customer service is bad now. Just you wait and see.

      • Gordon Bethune does work with unions. CO had unions while he was CEO. He appears happily retired and not up to fixing Simsux Mess.. Gordon posted he was not in favor of the outsourcing that is happening under Smisux leadership. Gordon was all about Teamwork -which is lost with outsourcing.I wish he would come back and fix it.

  7. If United ever gives good customer service it will be newsworthy. I have extremely low expectations for United and they usually fail to live up to even that. By the way, i heard that they picked up another endorsement–they are now the official airline for hell.

  8. Many years ago, my sister and brother-in-law spoke with a United CSR regarding some issue. The agent’s (serious) response: “well, no one makes you fly United”. Needless to say, they were dumbfounded. In the end they were compensated not for the issue, but for his response. That story always made me laugh, but it sounds like nothing has improved in the United customer service department.

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