Readers: this way of doing business is simply unacceptable. Leveraging social media, we can create a voice that United cannot ignore. I fully intend to send this letter to United management. If you have a negative United experience, I need you to do two things:
- Share your negative experience via the comment functionality below.
- Send this post to your friends/family and encourage them to share their poor experiences.
I will include ALL stories in what I send to United. They will be shared anonymously. Thank you.
Dear United Airlines,
Hello, my name is Carolyn Maul. I work in social media strategy for one of the largest insurance firms in the U.S. You recently made my life a living hell and I’d like to share the experience with you in the (vain) hope that you will a) care, and b) take steps to correct things for future passengers on your airline.
I warn you, this letter will be candid and, at times, sprinkled with a few choice “adult” phrases. Please know that I do not write in this bitingly straightforward manner so as to merely vent… it is to illustrate my deep level of frustration for your lack of communication and professionalism. You may not want to hear what I have to share, but I promise you that if you ignore it, the social media landscape will be wrought with “negative sentiment” and all those fearful buzzwords that your PR department tends to get their panties in a bunch over. I know that this manifesto is quite lengthy, but I urge you to read every last word.
Admittedly, I avoid flying your airline. Since I align myself with the 78% of the population that trusts peer recommendations – and my peer recommendations were to steer clear of United – I have always maintained a fierce loyalty to Southwest Airlines. However, my firm’s travel booking system forced me into United flights for my trip to Chicago last week.
To my pleasant surprise, the flight experience itself was quite lovely. The seats were new and plush. The plethora of drop-down video screens provided fabulous in-flight entertainment (an episode of “The Office”). The crew was attentive and (almost disturbingly) upbeat. The beverages were served quickly. The flight departed on time and landed early. It was as close to air travel heaven as you can get. My customer experience was nearly perfect. It really made me second-guess my long-time aversion to United.
Then, you screwed me over in truly epic fashion.
I was due to stay in Chicago for only one night and head back to Columbus on a 1:10 flight on 2/17. While in Chicago, I was in back-to-back presentations, training our insurance agents on social media best practices. At about 10:00 am on 2/17, I took a moment between presentations to log onto your mobile site (which is fantastic, by the way – another win for United) and check into my flight.
And then all hell broke loose.
My 1:10 flight had been cancelled.
I did not receive an email notification. I did not receive a phone call. I had simply been placed on a new flight leaving Chicago at 6:40 am on 2/18. Without asking me if that was an acceptable option.
Are you guys a special breed of stupid? Did you really think that inconsiderate switch was going to fly (pun intended)?
Let me tell you a little something about myself. I have epilepsy. I must take medication every day to control it. And since I was only due to be in Chicago for one night, I only brought enough medication with me for one night to avoid any hold-ups with TSA. How is it all right for you to assume that staying in Chicago another night was do-able for me, and to not even give me a courtesy call or email? How is avoidance an appropriate customer service tactic? Congrats on your supremely chicken shit status.
Because of your refusal to proactively address the situation with me, I had to spend 45 minutes on the phone with “Pete,” trying to make alternate arrangements for myself. And “Pete”… is a dumbass. I politely explained that I MUST be back in Columbus NO LATER than 6:30 pm TONIGHT, and that I CANNOT leave Chicago any earlier than NOON. Pretty simple constraints to work with, don’t ya think? Evidently not.
“Pete” took me through no fewer than nine different travel options, all which involved a layover in some completely-out-of-the-way city like D.C. or Charlotte, and all of which got me home at around 10:00 pm.
Finally, I asked “Pete” to kindly transfer my ticket to another airline that would offer a flight that met my time constraints. Again, “Pete” supplied an array of options with crazy layovers and very late arrival times into Columbus.
What. The. Hell. Do you assholes listen?!
Since my cell phone battery was dying and I was due to present again in a few short minutes, I tried a different approach. “Pete,” I said firmly. “My co-worker is flying back to Columbus on a 1:00 direct flight out of O’Hare with American Airlines. Get me on that flight.” I then waited on hold for another seven minutes while “Pete” continued to fail at his job.
I hung up in frustration and realized that I had no ally at United Airlines to help me get home. I was on my own. Thus, I turned to Old Faithful (Southwest Airlines) and was immediately booked on a 1:05 direct flight to Columbus.
Aside from the fact that you kept the $200 or so I initially paid for my return flight, and then cost my employer another $160 to get me home in time, you completely botched this entire experience for me. Consider this: I had a wonderful experience en route to Chicago.
You had essentially converted a long-time naysayer of your brand. I was ready to share this experience with my social network and embrace your airline as a preferred option for me when I travel. But, with your massive gaffe around my return flight, and your failure to care or fix the mistake, you have completely eradicated that excellent experience.
Here’s the kicker: as I learned of my cancellation and was going through the process of trying to book a new flight, guess what else I was doing? Tweeting and updating my Facebook status to my network of 1,200+ followers and friends. Your poor treatment of me was splashed all over Twitter and Facebook. And, because you don’t have a decent monitoring program in place and, as evidenced by my repeated frustrations with “Pete,” you propagate a business culture that refuses to listen to its customers, you neglected to pick up on my posts.
You had an opportunity to respond to me via a social network and service me in that channel at my moment of need, and you dropped the ball.*
You may be interested to see what my network had to say about all this (below is just a small sampling):
Too often, people simply accept poor experiences in the airline industry because it’s “par for the course.” Unexpected and unexplained delays, lost luggage, overbooked flights, lack of communication from airline employees… people just accept it as normal.
I will not accept this anymore! It is NOT okay to do business this way! I demand better!
What do you intend to do to make this right?
Awaiting your response,
Carolyn Maul*To be fair, I intentionally did not tag @UnitedAirlines in my posts because that would have made your job too easy. As a social media professional, I was curious to see if you were monitoring the social landscape for mentions of your brand name… and clearly you are not. BIG MISTAKE.