I must give some background. First, I’m a frequent flyer, having logged in a million miles at United alone.
Second, while I love to be treated as a special person, as a Frequent Flyer on airlines or a very senior Professor/Physician at medical centers or Congresses or by publishers, I always wonder if I were a poor, harried, scared 23-year old, non-perfectly-speaking-English immigrant, would I be treated equally. And third, I come in with lots of prejudices, that is pre-judgments, about Continental, about CEO Jeff (no tie, must mean a common man, cool guy) Smisek’s claim that the new merger creates the “greatest airline in the world,” and about United’s judgment/business decision/etc in turning over one of its most valued routes – Dulles-Paris – to Continental. Now lest you think this is just one more cranky old guy complaining, in looking up Smisek on Google I came across this:
“In my opinion Jeff Smisek has taken my airline of choice Continental that I have flown for over 20 years and run it into the ground. What is going on? I have been on several Trans Atlantic crossing with not enough flight attendants, crappy food, and broken video systems.”
OK. Get to the point Dad, as my kids would say.
Last night’s flight #130 Dulles-CdG, This is a route I’ve been taking since 1985, which until October 1st, was run very efficiently and very effectively, by United; I take it twice a month (old UAL 914/915, now Cont 130/131). The staff, ground and cabin crew as well as pilots, male and increasingly female, under United, loved their jobs, even during the tough years, had connections in France (daughters, families, friends). They were devastated to be offered reassignments to Lord-knows-where.
So I figure I’ve got little choice – a million miles, let’s throw a little good money after bad. See what Mr. Smisek can do. Oh I timed my distance to Phila for USAir which had two seats for you and your partner/50 year wife/or business associate.
Your cabin crew says “We know you have a choice of airlines…….” Mr. Smisek, we do.
Last night. I had an Economy ticket, granted in the primo seat in the primo row – 21 C, thank God I can still go to the United Red Carpet Club (but for how long?) and then got in line for the 5:05 PM departure. Problems:
- 45 minute delay; announced as 20 minutes, no reason given – do you have any idea how crazy that makes people? – just say “We don’t know what’s wrong, the computers are out, the engineers are looking into it, we were delayed by snow in Maine – whatever.”
- I found and got into my 21C seat (Row 21 A-C was the only row in the area with someone in the middle seat – so be it.)
- But the TV screen was scrolling down. And down. And down. I give a wave to the smiling male tattooed Flight Attendant (the only male in the Economy cabin); "oh," he says, “Don’t worry, it’s just booting up.” I wait 20 minutes, it keeps scrolling down. And down. And down. I ask him to help again – and suddenly he becomes snippy – have I questioned his authority, the technology of Continental, what? As dinner was served, no cocktails first, no Sir, dinner first, cocktails later – Huh? The blonde F.A. (there were two and I didn’t see her badge and thus didn’t get her name but she deserves a medal) who did liquids leaned over and I asked if she could either get the TV fixed (since the aforementioned guy couldn’t have given less of a hoot) or get it turned off. She refused my payment for wine and was apologetic/nice/appropriate but the scrolling continued all night.
- The food. Now after 60 years of flying, I realize that airplane food is a lost cause and my beloved wife of 50 years insists on taking our own. Whether it’s sushi from San Diego or Wolfgang Puck from Denver or cheese from Quatre’Homme in Paris, it works. To add insult to injury, last month I flew First Class on #130 and had what was the most uncuttable, most tasteless and most inedible piece of beef I’ve ever had, and as a sometime food writer, I’ve eaten a lot of bad beef. So I was not surprised that my Economy Class chicken last night was tasteless – what was surprising was the rancid sauce.
One is always advised to say what remedies one wishes. Simple:
- It's clear that the entire staff needs training/coaching/charm school stuff (the ground staff at CdG clearly doesn’t want to be there.)
- Sensible seating; that is: some First Class, lots of Business Class, ample Economy Plus and an end to 3-3 and restoration of 2-5-2.
- Or return the route to the superb United team who are trying hard to fill in the ghastly gaps Continental has created.