Another Big United Customer Service Failure

By Robert Mark on March 19th, 2015

United LogoI’m glad I never worked in corporate communications for United Airlines, especially since the Continental merger. The calls from outraged customers and curious media types probably never end and it seems to me that United management really doesn’t care all that much what passengers have to say.

The following incident occurred aboard United flight 1061 March 16, on the way back to Chicago from Vegas. It really made me sick … not just this passenger’s story, but how the airline dealt with it. Cue the music …United Breaks Guitars.

First a bit of context, lest you think this is only some disgruntled employee’s fictional tale. I know the writer. In fact, Sean and I have know each other more than 20 years since I’m married to his wife’s sister. I’ve known Sean to be an honest guy and a hard worker, not to mention a loyal United flyer for nearly three decades. He really wants to like United.

So imagine you’re preparing to leave Las Vegas on an airplane jammed with business people and gambler party types, some probably fresh from the casinos as he was earlier this week. He was on the way back from a trade show in fact. This is where his words tell the story.

The Plot Thickens

Sean told me, “I had an aisle seat on the United flight. A young lady behind me (who I suspect may have had a very fun Las Vegas weekend), tossed her cookies all over the backs of the seats in my row and on the seats in her row and the floor. The plane was full, with the door still open, but almost ready to go.

photo 2

United’s Haz-Mat crew

The gate manager jumped on and conversed with the flight attendants next to me about what to do, while all in my section with mortified faces were already looking queazy. The guy next to me in the middle seat practically jumped over me to get off the plane before he lost it and I followed him to the jetway. We’re standing in the jetway, happy to have escaped the barf row and the flight attendants quickly put us in open seats in first class. Home run for us. Meanwhile my editor, who was seated in the seat beside me back in coach remained. They didn’t deplane all the passengers, only a few people in the directly affected rows.

They call hazmat, although they were just guys and ladies in no special clothing or masks, to clean the barf while everyone in the area watches and takes pictures/videos.  Meanwhile, I’m texting back and forth with my poor editor back in vomit class and getting the play by play. She told me the hazmat folks poured baking powder on the puke, then vacuumed it up, spilling some on my editor’s feet. She was not amused. Then they sprayed some kind of liquid on the seats and put coffee grounds on them to absorb some of the stench, which she said never went away.

Then they threw a blanket on the seats and… wait for it…

… started putting standby passengers in those exact seats. We all wondered if those passengers knew what had happened.

I don’t know United’s policy for this kind of situation, but how about at least bringing a cleaning crew on to do a proper job before adding more people. They should at least have pulled out those seat cushions and sent them for a proper disinfecting. I was really shocked at what United did … it was disgusting.

You wrote a few weeks ago about United greed. Pardon the pun, but I think this surely smells like United greed to me.

I feel bad even telling this story because United put me in First Class and treated me very nicely (very rare). King for four hours, like the good old days when I’d get upgraded every once in a while. I was fortunate (and thankful) for the upgrade too and I have to say the flight attendants were great throughout the flight and thanked the passengers for their patience.

But wait… there’s more…

About an hour after we finally took off, another person in vomit class tossed his cookies. The poor flight attendants had to clean up that mess. And that REALLY made it stink in the back of the plane I was told.

Did he get sick from the original stench? Not sure, but if he did it serves United right for not handling the original problem better.

Despite the “quick clean” delay in Vegas, we almost made it home on time. Bully for United. Not so good for the poor passengers.

photo 1

One clean-up down and one more to go

The part that really scared me and others though, was that with all the crazy illnesses today, like Ebola, the cleaning crew did a lousy job.”


If you missed our story about United’s safety issues, you can read it here. You’ll notice no one from United bothered to refute that story and I doubt we’ll see a reaction to this one. That’s their style. It’s probably not a coincidence that United’s profits trail those of the other major U.S. airlines. Rob Mark


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10 Responses to “Another Big United Customer Service Failure”

  1. John Slemp Says:

    Hey Rob!

    Easy solution. Require the CEO to sit in that row, for the entire flight, back to Chicago.

    See how fast that situation is taken care of.

    Another thoughtHas their CEO even gone on that “Undercover” TV show?

    Might be revealing


  2. Sean Reilly Says:

    John, If someone went into Jeff Smisek’s office and tossed cookies all over his desk and carpeting, I seriously doubt Mr. Smisek would have remained seated to observe and sights and smells of the cleaning process. He would certainly have been extended greater courtesy than those poor passengers seated near barf row were on this flight. And NO WAY he would have returned to his desk until the area was REALLY sanitized. United’s team on the scene didn’t handle this (admittedly very difficult) situation well. And putting STANDBY PASSENGERS into those seats was disgusting.

    Passengers get sick on ALL airlines – not just on United. But how airlines handle this type of situation is what, I think, separates the good from the bad. I think how this situation was handled says a lot about United – and it’s not good.

  3. Bill Says:

    Whatever happened to sick sacks! I fly single engine aircraft and passengers are always puking their guts out! You have to have the sick sack ready. I use the ones that hospitals use now, large ring with big sack and a convenient closure device! Get with it UA! Oh, and for the flying public get a clue! If your that sick don’t fly! Dolts!

  4. Air Smolik Says:

    Uh, oh what a chaos. I feel sorry for the United.

  5. MarioSmario Says:

    Trouble with legacy carriers is that they now use regional contractors for much of their domestic routes, focusing instead on international business. Don’t expect the same first class treatment on a CRJ from Salt Lake City to Chicago that you might have gotten 10 years ago when United flew 757s on that same route. If you want vomit cleaned up, better book on an airline that does not use regionals or just fly from JFK to PHX via Frankfurt.

  6. Sean Reilly Says:

    The plane I was on was a 737-900 (or 800). Not a CRJ. It was UAL all the way here. No regional carrier.

  7. Requested Anonymity Says:


    I’m sooooo proud to be a member of the United family. NOT!!!

    By the way, most stations have extra seat cushions as well as covers for this exact problem. Vegas is especially known for this kind of situation.

    The gate agents and base managers are under such pressure to get the flights out on time they don’t dare do the right thing which may take a few more minutes.

    I can guarantee a mechanic could have changed out all the seats in that area in less time than trying to clean up the mess.

  8. Robert Mark Says:

    To our readers:

    Since a few of you have asked in private e-mails, yes … posting comments with “anonymous” attached is unusual here. These United stories however are an exception my usual stance.

    These are from United employees who made the effort to share a bit of the inside story about their airline and I guaranteed them I would not use a name.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t know who these people are however, because I do. I chose not to publish their names.


  9. Kathy from Austin Says:

    i have enough horror stories from UA and will not bore you with the details.

    Suffice to say, husband and I are FF and will drive or submit to an humiliating layover rather than fly UA. I had hoped that with their Continental merger things would improve. After all, how could they get worse?

    Boy was I naive.

  10. Kathy from Austin Says:

    One last comment. Our #1 issue was that in each and every instance–there were many–UA could not care less.

    I get that mistakes happen, but what separates the men from the boys is dealing with it professionally. I never want free stuff.

    I want respect and courtesy.

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