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United Airlines

2017 In Review: Is United Back to Flying the Friendly Skies?

2017 In Review: Is United Back to Flying the Friendly Skies?
Joe Cortez

To close the year, FlyerTalk is looking back at four major incidents that made headlines in 2017, and how aviation has changed as a result. In this story, we look back at the incident aboard United Flight 3411.

United Flight 3411, departing Sunday, April 9, 2017, with regularly scheduled service from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Louisville International Airport (SDF), was supposed to be an uneventful flight. As it often happens on regional flights, the evening run became overbooked, leading gate agents to start offering incentives for flyers to change their plans.

But a rather peculiar thing happened: nobody accepted the incentives. For a $400 travel voucher, nobody took the award. At $600, flyers kept boarding. Even when it increased to $800, everyone kept to their seats. This forced United to do something very rare: involuntarily deny passengers boarding. Using an automated computer program, four were selected randomly. Two left willingly, but one – Dr. David Dao – refused.

Four guards boarded the aircraft and removed Dao by force. The incident was caught on multiple cameras and sent to the internet immediately – where they went viral. United went on the defense of the video, issuing apologies and reports about how the situation should have been handled differently. The Chicago-based airline also instituted new policies, including:

While United has appeared to move forward from the incident, have they changed? Is United once again the guardian of the “friendly skies,” as they claimed to be in their late 20th century advertising campaigns?

In oversells alone, United may be changing course and allowing more passengers to get to their final destination. Prior to the incident, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) data shows 15,917 passengers between January and March 2017 were voluntarily denied boarding, while 900 were refused boarding during the same time period. Between July and September 2017, only 11,726 voluntarily gave up their seats, while 103 were involuntarily denied boarding.

At the same time, regional carriers SkyWest Airlines and subsidiary ExpressJet Airways, who operate select regional flights for United, have also changed their ways, reducing the number of passengers denied boarding on their flights. The flight in question, UA3411, was operated by Republic Airline – this carrier does not report their data publicly to the DOT.

Is the public buying the “New United” and their changes? Between May and October 2017, flyers registered 1,147 complaints about United to the DOT, with the most registered over baggage, customer service and ticketing. During this same period of time, only one airline received more complaints: 1,624 issues were raised to federal officials against American Airlines. United performed worse in complaints than fellow legacy competitor Delta Air Lines (672 complaints) and even low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines (826 complaints).

FlyerTalkers were very direct and split in their opinions about the UA34111 situation. 1KHI called it the situation “A complete embarrassment for United, let alone a doctor trying to see patients,” while Aussienarelle told a similar story of how United gave them a seat, just to immediately rescind it. User jbeans made a decision after the incident: “I’ll definitely be trying to avoid them as much as possible in the future.”

That’s not to say that all United experiences have been negative in 2017. FlyerTalkers have posted over 190 comments about their positive experiences when flying with the carrier, ranging from unexpected upgrades to great customer service.

Although it appears United has learned a powerful lesson from the UA3411 incident, time will be their ultimate judge. While they made good on their promise to fly more passengers on time, they still have a long way to go in winning back their customer base.

View Comments (7)

7 Comments

  1. BiPlane

    December 23, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Curious to know what facts are available to confirm that United has lost its customer base. Has United had a precipitous drop in bookings, drop in revenue etc. Writers seem to have a penchant for hyperbole for dramatic effect. Online anecdotal mutterings do not replace hard facts. I question the contention that United lost its customer base over this incident, as awful and reprehensible as it was for all concerned.

  2. PSPAirliner

    December 23, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    I made Gold (yeah I know lol) with personal travel this year. I must say, inflight has been great.

    After initial bev service in Y TUS-IAH this week, 2 additional walk

  3. PSPAirliner

    December 23, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Sorry. Posted too quick. 2 additional bev runs with water and juice. Impressive for a short flight. A320 so L-UA crew. Same on IAH-TPA 739 so I don’t know which side

    Coming home after Thanksgiving SEA-DEN-TUS same thing. Very nice and seems like an improvement.

  4. weero

    weero

    December 24, 2017 at 9:30 am

    There are more passengers than plane seats these days. So no matter if UA keeps the cattle-hauler Oscar at the helm or nor, people will keep flying with them.
    I will try to minimize flying long sectors with UA while the current CEO is still in place.

  5. cairns

    December 29, 2017 at 5:55 am

    If you’re a certain congresswoman UA is very friendly. Oh wait…Flyertalk won’t publish that story!

  6. RUAMKZ

    December 31, 2017 at 12:17 am

    Yes. And No. Service, in general, is better. Basic Economy, the copy-cat move, negates some of the forward strides in UA service. In some markets, BE was not even necessary. I’ll give you an example…..SEA-LAX is two flights a day, both on Express RJs, and were always full.

    Also, in the case of schedule changes, and equipment substitutions, some people lose out. For example, a Lufthansa Gold on a regular economy ticket(who deserves the Economy Plus seat more than those cheapo Basic people) gets assigned 33d while the E-minus ticket(who has to wait) gets 12D, to cite an example……What is wrong with this picture?

  7. RUAMKZ

    December 31, 2017 at 12:19 am

    Also, the Dr. Dao incident was on an Express flight(Republic), and not on actual UA metal. Where the hell was Republic CEO Bryan Bedford? Yet everyone blames Munoz. ….

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