I was on the flight 90 debacle yesterday at LAX; in my million+ miles with the airline, this was the first one where I was thisclose to calling 911 due to the situation getting out of hand.
Flight 90 is a 757-300 LAX-EWR that continues onto Tel Aviv on new metal in EWR. Inbound equipment was about 3 hours late due to mechanical issues...and after a few more hours of mechanical issues on the ground, they decided to ground the plane...and after an hour after that, they decided to use a 757-200 that was parked at LAX to run the flight. Total delay of about 6 hours. Throughout the process, there was a total lack of information or help from any agents (or on the phone with the Premiere hotline) and they handled the downgraded equipment absolutely horribly.
Rather than ask for volunteers for the packed -300 to come off the -200, they first randomly decided to involuntarily deny boarding to First Class passengers. I was one of the lucky victims, told I was being denied my 2nd row seat due to my status. "we would rather let someone who hasn't experienced united before a chance to fly in the BusinessFirst cabin than you" was the line I was fed, even though Ive been a CO top tiered elite for 20 years and was on a full first class ticket. I told them I wasn't going to budge unless they gave me $1k in involuntary denied boarding comp and refunded my $2040 lax-EWR fare. I was livid and somewhat calm and held firm to the idea I wasn't going to give up my seat. Others in the cabin folded though, especially passengers with mileage upgrades who got their miles refunded and got a $500 downgrade certificate. Because others folded or simply gave up, I was able to keep my seat.
Then the economy class mess: rather than tell the masses there was a downgrade and serious oversell and deal with displaced passengers in the 6 hour delay period, they had economy board...and if the gate scanner buzzed, you were denied boarding and put into a long line to be dealt with. Somewhere in that mess, they were asking for volunteers to come off for $300 travel certificate....to be re-accommodated on a flight that would get in Tuesday morning, nearly 3 days late.
This is where things got ugly: passengers and employees started yelling, pushing, and shoving, and the situation quickly got out of hand. Passengers were barking "welcome to the new United" while employees shouted back "this merger is your fault", "I just work here, this isn't my problem" , "I don't need to deal with this, if you have problems with United, I'll just go home." I really thought punches were going to start flying...but for whatever reason, they didn't.
Passengers who were seasoned enough to ask for food vouchers got a $10 one ...otherwise, they had set up bottles of water for people who got thirsty during the long mechanical delay.
All in all, the situation was handled poorly...and I was surprised at the employees that were venting more anger to the passengers, especially elites at the gate or passengers in the United Club, moreso than passengers expressing their frustration for being so late or misconnecting in EWR. New system or not, agents should be better equipped and informed to deal with mechanicals and equipment swaps. And while they may not be thrilled about the integration, they should not be taking it out on UA's most valuable/loyal passengers.