Category Archives: Personal stuff

How not to take care of your customers

In response to customer complaints about United Airlines making their better customers jump through hoops to maintain the same level of benefits as they have had in the past, United Airlines posted this reply on their Twitter account-

For context, the airline industry is finally seeing full planes and improved profits (which may continue for awhile, as oil is forecast to remain at $85 barrel, well below expectations). With the mergers of Delta/Northwest, United/Continental & USAir/AA, competition is nearly non-existant; they’ve discovered they can make a lot more money by flying full planes and potentially turning away some business than if they expand and have to consider lowering price to attract customers from one airline to another. It’s a business, I get it, customers really don’t have a choice so they can get away with it. About as un-like the bicycle business as you can possibly get.

So the airlines, or at least United, work at ways to reduce & eliminate benefits that used to be free. For the occasional flyer without elite status, that’s already been done. Baggage fees, check in fees, call in fees, aisle & widow fees. Higher-level elites get those things, and more, for free. United thinks some of us (“us” because I am one of the mid-upper level elites) get more than we deserve, because we’re not “High Value Flyers” (HVF being the industry short hand). Many, perhaps most of us, rose up through the ranks, slowly gaining elite status by sticking to one airline (United) during the “dark days” when United was lucky to get a plane out of the gate before it “went MX” (mechanical issue). We stayed with United during the “Summer of Hell” when pilots staged a months-long slowdown. We kept flying post-9/11 because we had things to do, places to go, and we weren’t going to get caught up in the hysteria of fear that was gripping some of the country.

United marketed heavily to us, and we responded. We flew more. We paid more, because to maintain elite status you have to fly a lot of paid miles (award flights don’t count) and we couldn’t fly someone else who was cheaper or we’d miss our mileage target. Meanwhile the industry has been rapidly moving to an a la carte system where nearly all of the benefits we get, from being elites, are either available separately, for a fee, or come bundled with credit cards. Early boarding, special check-in lines, free checked bag.

Now, the airline says we “inundate” them. There are too many of us. We need to go away. Why? Why did they have to make it personal (using the word “inundate”) instead of just say it’s a business that has a responsibility to provide a maximum return to shareholders and take care of their employees?

It’s just nuts. How can a company have such public disdain for their customers? Sure, a business has a responsibility to make sure its very best customers are very well taken care of. But at the expense of everyone else? What happens when business isn’t so good?

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Most-torturous-flight ever? Finally home, get to ride my bike Sunday!

Do the math; 33" inseam, 31" seat pitch, 2 inches of my legs unaccounted for!
Do the math; 33″ inseam, 31″ seat pitch, 2 inches of my legs unaccounted for!
Most-torturous-flight ever? That would be the Addis Ababa to Dulles (DC) segment of my return from Tanzania. Instead of the direct flight on the way out, a mere 12.5 hours trapped in a metal tube while strapped to a narrow chair with only 31 inches of “legroom” (my legs are 33 inches so any concept of “room” by my math comes up negative)… The return consists of a 6 hour trip from Addis Ababa followed by a one hour refueling stop at 2:30am in Rome followed by 9.5 hours to DC.

So you’re thinking, not so bad, breaking it up into two flights. Except that you’re stuck in the plane during refueling and not allowed to leave your seat, even to use the bathroom, due to some unforeseen danger posed by whatever’s going on in the dark.

In the end, about 16 hours for one flight segment. Makes the 6 hour flight to San Francisco (that I’m presently on) seem like a piece of cake! Except that my tail end causes me to wince in pain every time I even-slightly reposition myself in the seat.

No question Tanzania is an amazing place to visit, but next time I think I’ll fly to the east coast then row my way across the Atlantic to Morocco and from there ride a bike across the Sahara desert, finishing with a southern ride through Somalia, fighting off pirates on the way.
This all may sound a bit odd, coming from a guy who has done round-trips to Manilla and Singapore for fun (yeah, I’m sometimes one of those “mileage runners” you might have read about), but Ethiopian 501 was almost enough to cure me of my flying habit.


Next week I’ve got a short business trip to San Diego, no biggie, but early December in taking my daughter to Machu Picchu in Peru. Thankfully both trips will be largely on United, where I benefit from E+ seating (3 additional inches of leg room) and no flights over 6 hours. Oh, and the record of 13 consecutive curry-laden in-flight meals will likely be broken as well.

Tomorrow morning (Sunday) I get back out on a bike. It’s going to feel terrible, after not riding for two weeks. And it’s going to feel AWESOME!

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