United CEO Oscar Munoz sent MileagePlus members a letter yesterday promising a “turning point” in customer service. But actions speak louder than words. Last night’s flight home from Newark to Los Angeles reminded me that the carrier has a long way to go.
In his letter, Munoz stressed–
Each flight you take with us represents an important promise we make to you, our customer. It’s not simply that we make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.
This is a turning point for all of us here at United – and as CEO, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we learn from this experience and redouble our efforts to put our customers at the center of everything we do.
My commentary was United should focus on delivering great and consistent customer service. That’s all. Only when United does that will it gain back the credibility it lost as a result of the Dao incident.
My Flight Last Night
So let’s fast forward to my flight from Newark to Los Angeles last night on United’s premium domestic product (called p.s.). United promises international service levels on this flagship domestic route, with lie-flat beds, amenity kits, movies on-demand, and great food.
I flew the last flight of the night, a 9:55p departure that arrives into LAX at 1:00a. On flights after 9p, a light snack instead of a meal is served.
This is understandable as most people have already eaten by 9p and the snack provided is still hearty. I had just eaten a nice dinner a couple hours earlier so when a FA asked if I’d like a hamburger with salad directly after takeoff, I turned her down.
Not possible, because they are hot now. They will be overcooked if you wait.
I told her it was not a problem and requested eating about an hour before landing.
No, that will not give you enough time to eat.
That is an absurd response because airlines around the world serve full meals on flights far shorter than an hour, but I did not want to be combative so I suggested eating 90 minutes before landing.
I told her I was going to sleep and requested that she wake me up.
She reluctantly agreed. You could see the hesitation and annoyance in her eyes.
But she never woke me up. I still woke up an hour before landing. When she saw that I was awake, she brought me over a hot towel, which I appreciated. I thought the meal would come next but instead she informed me there was no time left for the meal.
I just smiled and said nothing. Even if it was 700 calories I did not need, I found her response so pathetic.
It’s Not About the Hamburger
Let’s be clear. This issue is not about the hamburger. It’s about the inability to honor a very simple, reasonable request. If United cannot get the little things right, how will it ever be trusted with the big things? I am flabbergasted that many FAs seem programmed to resist anything that disturbs their routine. Flexibility is essential to delivering good customer service. Every customer is unique.
This is something so tiny, so small…but it matters. Instead of talking about how well I slept and how much I enjoyed the Saks Fifth Avenue bedding (both true statements), I am focusing on an unnecessary service lapse. United must do more than send out letters to its members. If providing “the highest level of service” is really the goal, then serving a small snack at a later point in the flight should not feel like pulling teeth.
My wife is making hamburgers for lunch.