15 Reasons Why Flying United Airlines Sucks

United Airlines airplane tail with logo on itWhen I decided to move to Sweden, I switched airlines. Normally, I’m a loyal American Airlines traveler and member of the Oneworld alliance. I like American Airlines and their Oneworld partners (except Finnair — that airline sucks!). However, the main airline in Sweden, SAS, is part of the Star Alliance network. Not wanting to lose my elite flier benefits, this year I switched to United Airlines (the main U.S. Star Alliance member) in order to earn elite status. That way, when I flew SAS, I could get lounge access and potential upgrades.

I had never flown with United prior to their merger with Continental. I can’t really say how their service compares to what it used to be, but after 15 flights with them this year, I can say that their current service is absolute shit. I mean, it is so awful that I would rather walk than fly United. Once I get back to America, I plan on switching back to American Airlines, especially since they just decided to join the rest of the world and upgrade their planes. I long for American every time I sit on a United airplane. And the thought of having to fly United for the next few months of the year in order to reach the top-tier service makes me depressed. (Once I hit top tier, I’ll get a status match from American so I can be top tier on their network.)

Let me count the reasons why I think you should never fly United Airlines if you have the choice:

  1. They lose children.
  2. They kick service dogs.
  3. They break guitars.
  4. United is so bad, pilots will still tell you they’re a Continental crew. It’s their not-so-subtle way of telling you they aren’t part of this mess.
  5. United doesn’t respond to customer service requests on Twitter.
  6. When you do call customer service, you get some guy in India who has no idea what you’re talking about. Now, I’m a product of the global age, and I don’t care where a call center is located. Hell, the Mars rover could be answering my customer service request. Doesn’t matter. What I care about is that the customer service representative speaks my language and knows what I’m talking about. It took 20 minutes for the rep to figure out I wanted a round-the-world ticket, not a round-trip ticket. Then, upon telling me that wasn’t his department, he transferred me to someone else who had no idea why I was calling and who also passed me off to another department. And another time when I called for help, the representative just hung up on me.
  7. Their planes are old and ugly. They keep talking about upgrades, but at least American has a date for the arrival of their new planes. United does not.
  8. They have the worst on-time status of all the major airlines.
  9. They lose the most bags.
  10. Their on-board meals are a joke. I understand that economy meals are never good, but when I’m paying $10 USD for something, I’d like it to be at least mildly edible. Their snack boxes are not. At least I can get a sandwich on other airlines. The bad (and free) cheese sandwich I got from Croatia Airlines was better than what you get fed on United.
  11. There are no upgrades, even when you offer money. On my flight to Sweden, business class only had three people in it. I asked if there were any elite upgrades and when they said no, I asked if I could purchase an upgrade, having heard the guy in front of me ask and get an affirmative response. I was told, “No, there’s no space.” That plane flew with a half-empty first class and a mostly empty business class. Way to encourage customer loyalty among your elite fliers, United!
  12. Their in-flight service sucks and the flight attendants are pretty sour. (My guess? It’s a manifestation of the crappy corporate culture post-merger.)
  13. Have I mentioned their planes are old and outdated?
  14. They have no Wi-Fi.
  15. Their flights cost more than their competitors…but with crappier service!

Words cannot express the dislike I have for United. They make my blood boil. US Airways used to be my most-hated airline in the States, but now I think United is far worse. At least US Airways is cheap! This video sums out everything I would tell United:

Not a day that goes by that I don’t hear people complain about United. The news is littered with reports of their customer-service problems, and frequent fliers actively try to avoid United. When American Airlines offered to match the elite status of United’s most frequent fliers earlier this year, so many people tried to switch that American stopped the offer early.

One of the reasons I love the Star Alliance is that it is a large airline network with far more members than Oneworld, including Air New Zealand, ANA, and Singapore Airlines — all top class airlines. But if being a Star Alliance member means I have to fly United when I travel around America…no thanks. I’ll pass.

If you’re looking for an airline, please choose anyone besides United.

Update: Here’s the story of when my United flight had to make an emergency landing when we lost cabin pressure and dropped 20,000 feet.

  1. AudreyD.

    Your post freaks me out a bit… I will have to fly with united from los angeles to maui…I’m scared now, haha! No turning back now, so I guess I’ll have to go through their shitty service. Crossing fingers they won’t lose my bag!!

  2. Yes, they’re amazingly horrible. So is Delta though. Of the U.S. airlines, I’m picking American from the legacy carriers. I do like SouthWest and JetBlue is OK. Spirit would have to PAY ME to fly with them!

  3. Laura

    Last month I flew United from Newark to Istanbul. The flight was delayed in taking off because of rain. Whereas all other flights were delayed just one hour, ours was delayed 2 1/2 hours — something about not being able to find our plane. (In fairness, it was likely the fault of Newark airport which is no prize either.) 2 hours into the flight, just as we were about to cross the Atlantic, the captain made an announcement that due to a malfunctioning altimeter we would have to turn around and return to Newark. How there was not wide-spread panic on the plane, I have no idea. Everyone must have just taken sleeping pills or Xanax. How does an airline not know its altimeter is malfunctioning until we’re 1000 miles into the flight?

    • Moe Greene

      I finally gave up on customer service at United. If I could speak Hindi, I might be successful, but I doubt it.

  4. Christy

    Couldn’t agree more! The WORST flight experiences I’ve ever had have all been on United. I divorced them last year. Unfortunately I had to reconcile earlier this year for a couple of flights, but I fully intend to renew my boycott whenever possible. It’s especially sad as I used to fly united nearly exclusively as a kid, traveling back and forth between East/West coasts. Their service then was amazing. I don’t know who’s in charge at the moment, but they need a major corporate restructure.

    SAS is a lovely airline, if you can manage to get into their business class. A shame they’re part of Star Alliance.

  5. I’ve heard a ton of horror stories about United, as I’ve heard about most domestic carriers. While my personal preference is Delta, I haven’t had too many problems with United. I’ve got 120k miles or so logged with them in the last year and have yet to have a cancelled flight and haven’t had a delay of more than an hour. I definitely agree that their planes could use an upgrade…the Delta experience is all around better in my opinion.

  6. Ryan

    Dude… Your blog is so inaccurate…

    #7… United has new planes on order and has been accepting deliveries of said new planes including the Boeing 787 sometime this month…

    #11 There are Upgrades on UA but you need to be top tier and purchase a W fare or higher and use the Global Premier Upgrades that 1Ks (top tiers get)…

    Otherwise your blog is pretty good but this one really took the cake.

    • NomadicMatt

      #7 – I’ll keep holding my breath.

      #11 – 1K? What’s that? I’ve never heard of such a thing! No seriously, I’m not referring to those, I’m referring to the fact I could not even buy an upgrade.

  7. Here’s my issue with this post – regarding the old and outdated aircraft – yes, that issue exists to a certain degree, primarily with the aircraft coming from pre-merger United. But here’s what’s being done to fix it:

    1. The domestic 767-300 fleet, which were affectionately called the “ghetto birds” by United frequent fliers, are in the process of having entirely new interiors installed, which includes replacing the seats, floor covering, sidewalls, ceiling panels, overhead bins, lighting, and entertainment systems. This project is moving along and three of the fourteen aircraft are completed and back in service, with another three currently receiving the upgrades right now. They will be completed with this conversion by early 2013.
    2. All of the Airbus 319 and 320 aircraft are getting new interiors installed in 2013 and early 2014. This plan was announced a year ago.
    3. The remaining international 777s that pre-merger United never got around to installing new seats, new power ports, and new entertainment systems in are getting those much-needed upgrades and that project is nearing completion.
    4. The pre-merger United 757-200 ps fleet used on JFK-LAX/SFO flights is getting a makeover inside, with new lie-flat BusinessFirst seating. Again, another project announced a year ago that is on the calendar for the near future.
    5. The pre-merger Continental 767-400 fleet is nearing completion of the installation of new entertainment systems, new power ports, new lie-flat BusinessFirst seats, and brand new seats in Economy Plus and Economy.
    6. New 737s are on order and have been arriving regularly.
    7. The pre-merger Continental 757-300s are getting LiveTV entertainment systems, power ports, and Economy Plus.
    8. Some of the worst of the domestic aircraft, including the 737-500s and domestic 757-200s, are being retired.

    • NomadicMatt

      I will say that that the Continental planes are much better than the United and while I know United is fixing the problem of old planes (as is every airline), it seems a lot slower to me than other airlines. But that’s my opinion.

    • ? just flew Chicago-?stanbul and the flight wasnt only delayed (They suddenly had to switch planes) but the food was the worst, headphones in both planes were broken, ?t was just crap. And is there a new rule that u cant take phoyos out the window from your seat?

  8. john

    sounds like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. this post is just a bunch of crying about things that aren´t really a big deal. and furthermore, i don´t know why you love AA so much. They´re fine, but nothing special. lots of complaining about insignificant issues, here. poor baby.

    • NomadicMatt

      When compared to United, I think American is a lot better. When compared to say Virgin America, American is worse.

      What’s a significant issue to you then? My plane crashing? To me, customer service and a quality product are pretty big issues.

  9. Elle

    The most interesting thing about this post for me is that you prefer American Airlines. I’m an incredibly frequent flier, and of every company I’ve flown with, American Airlines is hand down the worst. I have just so many stories to tell, including flights being cancelled halfway through a journey, unbelievably damaged luggage, luggage lost and then forwarded to the wrong hotel, buses replacing 10 hour flights(!), flight attendants literally dragging a wheelchair user down the plane and just rude, unpleasant staff at every turn.

    The first time I ever flew with them, an American guy told me how much most people hate AA, which a few others overhead and then proceeded to wholehearted agree and share their own horror stories. In fact, every time I travel, I seem to have a discussion with someone about how much they dislike AA – just last week I met a woman who told me they’re nicknamed American Scarelines for their awful service.

    • NomadicMatt

      When compared to international carriers, American is pretty bad. When compared to United, American is pretty good. I was comparing between the two!

  10. I think U.S.-based airlines are just terrible overall. Price is always my main factor in purchasing a flight, so I tend to fly Delta and United the most (though when I can I will fly JetBlue or even Allegiant). Both are terrible in my opinion. American airlines (not the brand, but airlines overall in the States) just don’t seem to have any desire to step up their service. Their planes are generally outdated.

    I have always been shocked by how outdated the planes are on long, international flights. I flew from Atlanta to Buenos Aires on Delta and it was an insanely outdated plane. The seats were especially cramped and uncomfortable and the only form of entertainment was on teeny tiny little TVs above every ten or so seats down the aisle. Even low-cost budget carriers have TVs in each seat these days! Even worse was United. I can’t comprehend how LA to Sydney — one of the longest flights you’re ever going to be on — didn’t have the nicest airplanes. If you’re going to allocate those planes anywhere, it should be on the flights people are going to spend the most time on.

    In fact, when I fly that flight LA-Sydney on United, the flight was completely canceled. They did a terrible job of communicating this to everyone. As it was, they just kept pushing the fight back. It was supposed to leave at 8pm, then 9pm, then 10 pm… etc. Finally they told us it wasn’t going at all. Then it was a madhouse of people crowding into the lounge and the check-ins trying to get their vouchers for the hotel for the night… by the time I was able to get to the hotel and check in, I had only a few hours to get sleep before I had to head back to the airport for the late-morning flight. While I’m sure a lot of this is out of their hands, I was just amazed at how rude and unfriendly the staff was. At that point, some people just had to cancel their flight because theyw ere only going to Australia for a few days and had already lost too much precious time – wasn’t worth the effort! Worse yet, when we finally got to Sydney, many people were supposed to be continuing on to Melbourne. Well, they told them as we were taxiing that that wasn’t going to be happening that evening, and those people would have to go to another hotel and wait until the next day to get to Melbourne. They would arrive two hours late. And all this was due to a mechanical problem, not bad weather or anything like that.

    But anyway, I just find all airlines in the States to be the same level of crap. If I could have my way, I would fly only Emirates, SAS, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Thai Airways – all airlines where the planes are nice and the staff actually give a crap.

    • I agree with Rachael. U.S. airlines and airports are pretty bad overall. Air Asia–a budget airline, no less–is leagues ahead of any American airline. Huge plush black leather seats, brand new jets, and hot flight attendants (based on discriminatory hiring practices, though). That was better than the first class I’ve seen on stateside airlines.

      On the bright side, I will say that I like Hawaiian Airlines (biased, I’m from Honolulu). Decent seats, friendly flight attendants, and not-awful food. And you can get guava juice! In fact, Hawaiian Airlines has the only okay food I’ve eaten of any American airline. If I’m flying on any other carrier, I make sure to eat at the airport and pack some snacks before boarding.

      However, I am stuck with United Airlines a lot, since they seem to serve Hawaii and the West Coast. Also usually had the cheapest tickets whenever I booked. Flew on them a bunch of times when attending college in California. Always went on Hawaiian whenever possible.

      I still remember being stunned when I flew on Japan Airlines to Tokyo years ago. My first time on a foreign carrier. Such a great experience, I hadn’t realized how bad American carriers were until that point.

    • I don’t know.. just flew LAX to LHR and the Air New Zealand seats sucked. We flew to LAX solely to take their new plane to London, and we were so crammed in there the entire 10 hours. Miserable. I won’t make that flight again with ANZ.

    • Dave O'Neill

      I know for a fact #3 happened and I’ve met the guy it happened to, unless he was lying to my face. I have no reason to question #1.

      Given 1 & 3, I have no problem believing #2.

  11. I couldn’t agree more – I haven’t flown United since they mysteriously lost my frequent flier miles and my entire frequent flier account right after I flew them RT from Chicago to Sydney. Which is a lot of freaking miles. But suddenly when I called them a couple months later to check on something (and had misplaced my card), they told me they had no record of my account ever existing. WTF??

    I also like American. Have always enjoyed good customer service with them, including one Christmas when flights out of Chicago were delayed b/c of weather and a rep was great in working with me to rebook to get me to Minneapolis.

    But generally flying internationally I try to avoid US based airlines if at all possible.

  12. Ken

    Guess I could count myself lucky for having decent service this past trip I took we my mother. Flew from EWR->CDG for a week in Paris and had absolutely no problems flying there or coming back. We also connected through Frankfurt on the journey there but it was a painless process. To be fair, it’s our first and only experience flying “united” internationally since their merger so I don’t have prior experience to compare it to and i’m fairly certain the planes we were on were in fact rebadged continental planes (which always seem to be in great condition when i flew domestic) as they seemed to be in great shape and EWR is a big Continental hub. Another surprise was the food which was actually decent compared to past experiences flying domestic. I still prefer any international carrier but compared to eating basically cardboard in the past it was a vast improvement. We have never flown united before but we’ve been with continental for a very long time. I am all too familiar with pre-merger United and how much crap they are as an airlines and i’m glad we at least had an enjoyable flight.

  13. Shaz

    Agree, plus if you buy really cheap and the plane is empty, the armrests int the very rear deliberately don’t rise up far enough to lie down over a few seats… Even PIA (Pakistan) has better quality planes. As for new interiors, that won’t disguise the layout, service and other very important aspects of flying (and I’m not even talking about points…)

  14. Oh dear! They sound bad, especially the kicking of dogs and breaking of guitars! I can’t say I’m all that fond of American Airlines to be honest – their planes are apparently the oldest in the buisness (according to a TV program I saw on holiday in Hawaii shortly after flying home to the UK with them!!!) However the things you’ve listed here are just terrible. I hope they are not repeat occurrences!

  15. Veronica

    I agree completely. I used to be elite with United when my job required a lot of domestic travel – and back in the day – that was okay. Now I will even choose a flight with a stop to avoid flying United non stop. LIving in San Francisco, United has the most options but I avoid them at all costs.

  16. Although I am all for having an opinion and preferred airlines/hotels/other travel operators, I’m not a big fan of stating unsubstantiated facts. You should probably go ahead and add some sort of disclaimer that you have nothing to support these claims (albeit a few bad experiences and “things you’ve heard”). If you’re going to give a rant because you’re pissed, you might as well admit it.

    Conversely, I have had some shitty experiences with United, but nothing compared to US Airways and Delta. Barely ever fly America, so there is no basis for me there. I’ve come to the realization that sometimes air travel is really really going to suck…that’s why they have bars at Airports (or better yet, lounges).

    • NomadicMatt

      This blog post is a rant and it’s based on my opinion after flying with them. I don’t see why you would think otherwise.

  17. Pat

    Had always liked United in the past. However, in our most recent trip last month our flight was cancelled for “mechanical problems” and in the lo-o-o-o-ng customer service line we were sent to for re-booking, we spoke with two other flyers whose flights the previous day to our same city had been cancelled TWICE. Customer Service then re-booked us on stand-by for a flight 8 hours after we were supposed to leave. While walking to the other gate we found a flight on our own which left 3 hours after ours was cancelled, which we were able to get on. Two demerits!

  18. I am a frequent flier with United, sad, but true since I fly to Newark all the time and occasionally to Beijing, both big for United.

    All US airlines are embarrassing failures, unless I fork over the money and pay for Virgin, which is the only one that stands out to me as a top tier Airline in the States. The service level of the flight staff for most US airlines is horrible. When I get on Virgin, it’s like I stepped into another world where the staff exists to make you happy, serve you and ensure your flight is the best it can be. I have never gotten that feeling from United, American, Delta, US Airways, or any other carrier in the US. I get the feeling their employees hate their job and the airline just exists to make the stock go up. As is most companies on the exchange.

    • NomadicMatt

      The second I Virgin America starts letting me use points to fly on partner airlines outside the Virgin group is the second I fly Virgin all the time.

  19. Scott

    I’ll start off by saying that I live in San Francisco, a United hub. There’s not much choice we have when we want to fly, and I’ll agree their service is bad. It has been on the decline since 9/11 when airlines had to cut costs. However, I want to point out that this post is obviously a very one sided experience by someone who admits they are new to the United experience, so a lot of what they say is based on limited exposure to the airline and Google searches for experiences that happend to other people and are not isloated to United. I want to also point out that American’s service is probably better than United, but they are in bankruptcy because their pay scale for flight crews is not in line with the rest of the industry. When they come out of bankrupcy, their employees will be bitter and underpaid like all the other airlines and their service will suffer. There’s not much you can do other than to adjust your expectations about air travel in the 21st century. As fuel prices continue to go up, service will continue going to go down so get used to it. As far as the list goes:

    1. Didn’t happen to the author, and this is not limited to United.

    2. Didn’t happen to the author, and this is not limited to United.

    3. Didn’t happen to the author, and this is not limited to United.

    4. Pilots do not say that because United “is a mess.” They say that because they did not agree to the merger from before it even happened for reasons that have nothing to do with United’s service. It’s also important to note that key management positions that oversee customer service are being handled by former Continental employees while United’s managers in this area were let go, so according to the author’s statement we should assume the pilots like giving crappy service. Also, this story has been widely circulated on the internet so I have doubts the author experienced it.

    5. I’m not 13 years old, so I don’t use Twitter to make passive-agressive complaints about something and expect them to respond.

    6. I agree with this 100%.

    7. United has one of the youngest fleets in the industry. Their planes may look aged because they have diverted money away from cosmetic fixes so they don’t have to cut other areas even more than they already have. Right now, they are updating the exterior of their fleet with the new United color scheme and logo and are starting to upgrade the interior of their planes this year. Started this past April, all of United’s aircraft used for long-haul and international flights are receiving a top-to-bottom makeover with new seats. Taking a plane out of service to do cosmetic fixes is very, very expensive so it has to be done when time and money allows.

    8. The author does not say where he gets this information from. In the survey I just looked at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/the-best-and-worst-airlines-of-2012/2012/05/04/gIQA43auhU_gallery.html#photo=1. American Eagle ranked as the worst, and American ranked only slightly better than United.

    9. They lose the most bags because they are the largest US airline and handle the most bags.

    10. In my opinion, the food on American tastes far worse than the snack boxes on United, but I agree they suck.

    11. I believe this is true for international flights. Why, I don’t know.

    12. Agreed.

    13. See #7. Also, adding a duplicate line to make your list of complaints a clean 15 is lame. It also leads me to think you actually worked at finding things wrong so you can make a list.

    14. True, and very few airlines do. However, they are working on that as they remodel their fleet. http://blog.sfgate.com/cmcginnis/2011/11/04/united-to-install-fleetwide-inflight-wi-fi-finally/

    15. Their flights cost more in markets where there is less competition, and since they are not the largest airline that’s almost everywhere they fly, so I’ll agree here.

    • NomadicMatt

      #7. Asking a company a question on Twitter doesn’t make me a 13 year old girl. It makes me a Twitter user. :)

      As for the rest, it’s a rant against why I don’t like United. It’s not a scientific study. It’s op-ed.

  20. Jake

    Hi Matt, I stumbled across your site, and as a traveler, I really like it. Are you powering it using wordpress?


  21. I’ve never flown United, but I have a trip booked with them from Seoul to Tokyo at the end of the month and this this the second post in a week I’ve seen about how bad United is. I’m starting to get nervous! Especially coupled with my horrible airline luck.

    I spent the majority of my life living in Detroit, so I’ve always been a SkyTeam flyer. Unfortunately, once Delta and Northwest “merged” things went downhill. Delta has been nothing but horrible since then. I’m hoping I won’t see United top them on this trip…

  22. Uh oh, flying United to Nicaragua later this month! Wsa the only direct flight from Houston, hence my choice. I hope they don’t lose me! :-)

    I have to say, airlines in the US are pretty bad. As an Australian, I feel pretty lucky to have access to some good airlines with great service, (usually) free snacks and good airports. Now living in Papua New Guinea, I’d have to say our airlines in PNG are much better than US airlines! At least they give us cookies and a drink!

    • Yeah Rebecca, I understand. They connect in Houston which is closer to South America. I flew this year to Belize with U.S. Airways and instead of flying to Houston (duh U.S. Airways), I had to connect in Charlotte, NC. That didn’t make a lick of sense to me.
      Hope you enjoy your trip in Nicaragua!

    • Gypsy

      Just got back from Nicaragua a couple of weeks ago. We flew United. We had no problem and they didn’t lose our baggage. Flew with them in Costa Rica 2 years ago and San Francisco last year. Never had a problem either. Don’t miss Ometepe and Corn Islands. Enjoy your trip

  23. I don’t care for United Airlines myself, but unlike you Matt, I don’t care for American Airlines Either. After my first experience with United (boarding the plane, ready to leave only to be told that we would have to exit the plane due to mechanical issues), I vowed to never deal with them again. I went to Honduras last year and chose to fly Continental. I had to connect in Texas and that’s when the confusion set in. If I was flying Continental, why was I given a pass that said United Airlines? (Found out later about the buyout). Anyway, it was like deja vu with them all over again. Ready to board, guess what happened? Yup, mechanical issues which meant my flight was yet again delayed. Sigh.

  24. Actually United does reply to customer service stuff on Twitter…sometimes. I had an awful experience, tweeted about it and they almost immediately DM’d me asking for my frequent flier number and then NEVER got back to me. It wasn’t until I wrote about my experience a month later and tweeted the post a few times (mentioning them) that I got a phone call from someone in their executive services team at the advice of their social media folks. So they DO pay some attention.

  25. What I hate about United is:

    1. I’ve spent more time delayed than in the air.
    2. The “Star Aliance” tricks its customers by showing United flights as Luftansa on travel booking sites. I like Luftansa, but I refuse to fly with them for this reason.

    That said, there are worse airlines out there — Sata, for example, makes United look pretty damn good.

    • SkyTeam/Delta does the same thing. I bought a flight from Seoul that was advertised as a Korean Air flight, but was actually a Delta plane and even worse, a Delta flight crew. I guess they can get away with it because technically it’s a code share. Still frustrating and annoying.

  26. Polly

    I couldn’t agree more. I recently flew with United and would say the following:
    * They only checked my bags halfway to my transfer city and not to my final destination (?!)
    * They then didn’t record my destination address so didn’t deliver it until I chased them down which was a day and a half later after finally being able to speak to a human.
    * Couldn’t agree more about the snack box and food selections, it would be impossible to actually feel full by purchasing food on the plane.
    * I cannot believe you have to pay to watch ANYTHING on their screens and then 90% of it is advertisements. If I’m paying to watch your TV I expect ZERO ads, or at least ones only for the airline and tv station.
    * Both flights I took with them left late, ironically enough because we were waiting for bags to be loaded on to the plane!!!

  27. Kerry White

    I haven’t had the same bad experiences with United as apparently everyone else – in fact quite the opposite. I did a lot of flying this year – United, Southwest, Lufthansa, and SAS. SAS was the best. Southwest was late and full on both of my flights and we didn’t even get water (although their staff is nicer). I flew United 4 times this year and it was fine each time. Not memorable, but fine. I don’t check my bags and take food with me, so I suppose I’m missing opportunities for United to underwhelm me. However one thing United has going for it is it’s super easy to redeem miles. I was a AA/British Airways customer for a long time (husband is from London) and getting mileage tickets was always a joke. I got a business class open jaw ticket to Europe this year and one to Argentina last year with zero hassles. I think that is why I don’t mind United.

  28. I’m with you, mate. NEVER been a fan of United, but I’ve had to fly with them numerous times this year. Guess you’re just going to have to suck it up!

  29. DL

    Hey M, just decided to subscribed to your newsletter. I used to be a longtime customer of Continental. Since they became United that has gradually changed and I try to avoid flying with them.

    I would like to disagree with Scott with regard to the statement on fuel costs. Late last year I read that Continental/United was one of the few airlines and supposedly the first to use a blended jetfuel thereby lowering their cost and decreasing fuel emissions. It is not jatropha but something in that category. If/when I
    find the information I will post it.

    Lisbon sounds like a winner! Peace -DL of NYC

  30. Alissa

    Totally agree, just flew United and 1) I couldn’t check in online because of some adjustment in my flight times by the airline, and had to call and do it over the phone and 2) I couldn’t check in on the way back because they have no mobile site and their full site experience on a mobile browser is awful. Seriously, what airline doesn’t have a mobile site? Know where your customers are!

  31. Peter

    Just curious, considering you have flown with US airlines a lot, what makes Finnair suck?

    Not to say it doesn’t, none of the european airlines are a match to the asian or pacific airlines but I have yet to find an european airline that would match the US airlines :)

  32. Sarah

    Oh God… I am flying from Calgary Alberta to Bangkok Thailand next month. I am slightly terrified after reading this.

  33. I appreciate you sharing your OPINION and agree with you 100 percent. United SUCKS. So does Delta. This is based on MY experience and I realize that some readers may have had a great time flying with these airlines. Anyway, I’ve been pretty happy with American. I actually took two flights with them this weekend and they were a) both on time and b) had friendly flight crew. I wish that they had better entertainment and actually gave us meals, but unfortunately, most airlines in the U.S. do not. I prefer to fly int’l airlines when I can, but when flying locally, I’ll take on time flights, reasonable comfort and an efficient flight crew. My standards are already so low when it comes to flying domestic airlines that I don’t think that this is asking for too much!

    Looking forward to reading more of your reviews and hope more readers get that these are based on YOUR experiences and opinions, and not the opinions of the entire world. Yeesh.

  34. I think the customer service standard in the airline industry declines when there is too much competition. Maybe the recent mergers of many US airlines will encourage change. I find that flying airlines owned and operated by countries with fewer carriers generally have a higher standard. The exception to the rule here are the Virgin Carriers- they are worldwide and the best airlines I have ever flown. I appreciate your post, it is the best way to get airlines to take notice and change!

    • NomadicMatt

      I think the opposite – service improves when there is competition because that because the competitive edge that makes businesses stand out.

  35. I didn’t start really flying United until this year. I avoided them even though I am located at the Denver Hub, but prior to that it was usually Continental that I flew; because they had the Newark to New Delhi run and I go back a forth a bit. This last trip I went Lufthansa instead, tired of 15 hour flights. All the short hops I’ve done, in the states, on United have been a bit better than other years.

    Over all I’ve seen the upgrades coming in. The upcoming United flight I am taking to Frankfurt and then on to Delhi finally has flat beds for Business Class. It has been taking time though. If I fly a month earlier I would be sitting up the entire way.

    All I can say is that food as a whole on the shorter flights has taken a dive. I bring my own snacks, or buy them as I run through the airport.

    It is really just a long bus ride in the sky, and shorter than the night bus from Delhi to Kathmandu.

  36. Paul

    As the European, travelling a lot to USA, I always avoid all the american airlines. You have them bad, much worse than Asian (Singapore, Thai, Korean) or e.g. Lufthansa or Swiss from Europe. But this story was unfair for the United as the author gave no details concerned with his flight and bad experience he got in clouds. It would be more reliable if your story would be shorter but not so emocional. As I said before: I hate United, US or American and Delta, but don’t accept too much nervous passengers…

  37. Kellye

    Matt, do you have a post somewhere on your blog why you hate US Airways? I just ask because I do sometimes fly them and I’m researching airlines to take to Europe. I’d rather know which ones suck to take first! haha.

  38. You have a good and detailed comments on United Airlines. I agree with you United is far worse. Hope the airlines would make some improvements.

  39. Thank God for sister carriers on Star Alliance. United is the pits. Thank you so much for the pointers, I’d love to learn more about credit card with miles offers as they happen.

  40. Basharat

    I am surprised that it took you “15 trips” and not one or two trips to come to that realization. You must like hitting your head against the wall hoping the wall will give in!

    I have flown on United few times and found it be no better or worse than the other american airline companies.

  41. “In case I was not feeling insignificant enough United Airlines just sealed the deal. They started boarding with the Elite Platinum members, then Premier Platinum, then regular Platinum, and then moved on to the ranks of gold and silver. 30 minuets later they called the loser group to the back of the bus.
    Like · · 45 minutes ago near Millbrae, CA ·”

    ^a friend’s facebook update the day after I read this.

  42. I could give you about 100 more reasons why they suck. I was having issues getting my luggage after they lost it on my way to Burning Man (I needed my costumes!!), and got someone at the call center in India. I wanted her manager. Well she didn’t have one. She wouldn’t give me her last name. She said she didn’t have one. I just hung up at that point. Pathetic.

  43. Matt Harrs

    I could not agree with you more about United. They suck bad. I was from Dallas and flew American and the joke there was that they did not have a stewardess that was ever happy. They did get you from point A to B and your luggage usually made it but they are not a great airline. When I moved to Houston I had to fly Continental and was very happy to see the new planes, happy employees, and on time flights. Not to mention our luggage usually made it. I flew them for 5 years prior to the merger. Then the merger happened and all get is United employees blaming Continental for all the mess ups. Excuse me but that is not true. I had a stewardess argue with me that Continental did not have the 757-200 when I got on a United 757-200 and asked where the fold flat seats were. I purposely fly on Continental 757-200’s because all 72 of Continental’s planes had fold flat seats. By far Southwest Airlines is the best US based airline. Too bad they do not have a first class.

  44. Kelley

    I hate United.

    I made the mistake of booking a flight to my brother’s wedding. We wound up stranded at O’Hare airport for 10 hours. I missed the rehearsal dinner that we (me and my other 4 siblings) spent months planning for my brother and his fiancee.

    As we sat there hoping they would get a part the plane needed to fly (the story changed with each announcement). Another passenger told us it’s the end of the month they are dragging this out until the pilot or crew times out and they will cancel.

    We asked and the person at the counter said no not at all they wanted this flight to get to it’s destination. The announcements were bizarre – first the plane would not fly without a critical part, then they were going to courier a part to O’Hare, then they were trying to get the part past airport security, then the part which was not necessary but only needed because of FAA regulations, then United was negotiating with the FAA, then the FAA waived the regulation and they needed to get written approval, then they were trying to figure out if the approval should be couriered over or faxed, United and the FAA agreed that a fax was but it had to be faxed directly to the pilot and signed, the fax in the cockpit was out of paper, then finally the pilot had gotten it signed and faxed it in and they allowed us to board the plane.

    They loaded passengers who were waiting 10 hours, it took the elderly couple who were dressed alike with matching his and hers canes who were the last to board the plane 15 minutes to get on and settled, they apologized it was an anniversary trip. I was sitting next to a mom flying to meet her husband who was in the military with a baby and toddler. As soon as the elderly couple sat down the United manager who announced all the bizarre excuses all day came on grabbed the speaker and cancelled the flight.

    We had to get off and book on American where we were stuck with rude and unhappy stewardesses. Then United lost our luggage. They told us they gave it to American but they flew it to our destination (yes our wedding clothes) and told us we had to pick it up at 5 am or they would send it out for delivery. The delivery time they guaranteed would be after the wedding. So it was nap after touching down at 2:30am and get back to the airport before the truck went out at 5:00am

    Then we flew Delta home and had the craziest flight attendant she was fat had a bad attitude and was wearing an employ of the month badge. An elderly woman across the aisle tried to tap her on the shoulder to request water. She was sick and could not raise her and she missed and the crazy shrew accused an old lady of sexual harassment. That nutty woman was wound so tight I wonder what Delta does to screen before hiring.

    It was the trip from hell three airlines in a weekend and I now understand why the airline industry is in trouble if these three represent our best then we are screwed.

    At least I did not miss my brother’s wedding. Next time I have a family event it’s Southwest or drive.

  45. The only good thing about United? They are the only ones that offer non-stop service from LAX to ITO (Hilo, Hawaii). Even Hawaiian doesn’t offer that route! I flew it last year and it was fine. I stopped expecting anything from airlines a long time ago.

  46. Mark

    I’m quite loyal to Delta. I wouldnt call their service memorable, but thy getbth job done. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I haven’t had any problems with them yet. But, yes, all US airlines are a step below full-service airlines in Europe and Asia.

  47. Lacey

    I have a serious problem with #2 on the list. I understand that there is horrible customer service in the hospitality and airline industries, but being on the “other side of the desk” as a front desk manager of a hotel, I see guests survey’s all the time that are so grossly exaggerated. And it bothers me so much when a guest does not give the on site management the opportunity to fix a problem and goes straight to corporate, who in turn gives the guest whatever they want, without getting the company employee’s side of the story. This man in #2 reminds me so much of a woman who almost punched me in the face with her iPhone as she screamed at me that she was tape recording me and was “going to put me on her blog and ruin my life”. The only thing that I was doing was repeatedly asking the woman first, what her issue was because I had no prior interaction to know what was wrong, to which she finally replied she was upset with a meal service in the hotel restaurant. After that I offered many solutions and asked her how I could be the most help to her and apologizing. I did not deserve to be assaulted by this woman, nor have her try to “ruin” me on the internet (which I had nothing to fear of her taping me, I was saying nothing wrong). But instead of letting me solve her issues she went to my company’s corporate office and they gave her all of her money back plus a free stay. This man in #2 reminds me of her because not anywhere does it say that management was alerted to him having problems (and if your dog was kicked so hard it flew into your lap, why were the POLICE not called, that is assault!?!?!?). Instead he wants to speak to UNited’s CEO and took to the internet.
    My point is that I think if you are trying to make a solid argument for poor service, do not discredit your own points by linking your argument to wild, unsupported one’s like this man’s.

  48. Karl

    When United and Continental merged, they decided to use the Continental names for the new merged mileage program. Since my wife stopped flying Continental, she never changed her maiden name in their system. A month before a United flight, she checked her United account to find that they had changed her last name back to her maiden name. After an impossible attempt at getting phone support, we finally just submitted the name change paper work again.

  49. Joanne Duguay

    I TOTALLY agree. I flew with United in March, from Toronto, to New York and onto San José, Costa Rica, return. Not one single flight was on time! I am talking hours late! Every single thing you listed, I agree with 100%. I don’t care about Star Alliance, if it means flying United. Never again. And other airlines have cheaper flights? I didn’t think so, but from now on, I will be looking at ABU – anybody but United! Thanks for a great article.

  50. Our experiences with US carriers (and Air Canada*) has been consistently poor. A number of people have focused on their fleet being updated etc etc. Its pretty much irrelevant when the staff treat you with disdain and arrogance. As it is Malaysia, BA and even Singapore have a number of old planes and the experience is vastly more pleasant than any American carrier can muster.

    *they didnt provide a infant belt because “they go missing”… They could have at least lied at said there was no real safety benefit.

  51. Man, can I stand behind this post! I once flew from Seoul to San Fran (12hr flight) and I hated every minute of it. It first started even before we left the airport in Incheon when I thought I had purchased a flight with All Nippon but turned out to be a codeshare flight with United taking the route. Sneaky, sneaky. Then on board, I was stunned to see the old style single monitor at the front of the seating section that barely worked throughout the flight. Did I mention this was a 12 hour flight?? I was then appalled when our first “meal” came and it was a bowl of instant noodle soup… I was so disgusted by the level of service and clear display of a lack of customer value I wrote to complain. I never do this. I was impressed to get a response but not so impressed with a 5% discount on my next flight with United. You couldn’t pay me to sit on another United flight again.

  52. I am sticking with U.S. Airways. The Service may be along the lines of bare bone, but the prices are generally cheap and you get the services of a legacy carrier. Not only do you get these benefits, but their east coast network is the most extensive, and it is fairly easy to attain elite status through their trial preferred program, with a small fee of course.

  53. Jo

    I live in a rural area and our small airport just put out a “bid” for an airline and lost the reasonable small carrier they had – because it was replaced by United. The number of flights out has declined to 2 per day – the first leaving before the sun rises in a region that has deep snow in winter. My last flight on United, I was bumped from the scheduled flight to a different one – and then told to board last. United is the only airline I’ve ever traveled that has lost my bag. United is disgusting. I’ll lobby to get rid of them if I can. Suggestions?

  54. Cynthia

    I have to defend Delta. I flew with them recently round trip, Boston to London. I was surprised by the high level of service. Really. I was repeatedly offered beverages, incl. tea, coffee and beer. The meals and snack were decent and filling. I had ample entertainment to keep me occupied. For economy, I would fly with them again. And, I don’t say this lightly, because I remember a time when Delta was horrible – losing luggages, poor communication, etc. They are genuinely trying to improve.

  55. James

    AMEN!!! I made the mistake of reserving United over the holiday season. Changing a reservation is hell…interminable wait for the incompetent Indian call center….NEVER again will I fly them!!!!

  56. EA

    “Their flights cost more than their competitors…but with crappier service!”
    Pretty much says it all, pay more for the privilege of being treated like dirt: No thanks United!

  57. Unfortunately, United acquired Copa, the airline for the Republic of Panama, so we’re pretty much stuck with them. Today my 21-year old daughter was scheduled to fly from here to New England. When she arrived at the airport in Panama this morning, she was informed that her connecting flight had been cancelled due to weather. Yet other airlines are flying into that particular northern New England airport all day and well into the evening. They expect my daughter to hang out at Newark Airport for 2 days before they can get her on another flight. #NotHappening.

    • Kimberly

      I’m so sorry for you Susanna. I just had the same thing happen to me (I’m 20) and my dad was just going nuts over it. Absolutely all of my flights I missed them because of stupid United. The first one said that it was due to weather but then the pilot said it was because he needed to get a minimum of hours of sleep before this flight, so when I demanded the customer service representative to cover my hotel room (I only had $30 with me), they said that they did not have to since it was delayed due to weather, then I told him about what the pilot said, and she had the balls to tell me that “he was probably joking”. Worst service ever! Never again will I fly with United.

  58. Christine

    Yes to all especially # 6, 7 and 9. United lost my luggage. The people in customer service kept telling me my luggage was not lost it was delayed. I asked delayed where…but they could not answer. I eventually did get my luggage but my it had been through hells three acres and was damaged. Sigh.

  59. Bella

    I guess I have just been lucky then because I have been flying Continental/United for about 5 years and never had a major late flight, thought the snacks were ok, they do have wi fi at least from my last flight from Dec. and they have been great with many free flights of mine from my miles.

    Also, when my seats were switched I was given a $50 credit.

    I would not say they are the worst airline, I would say Spirit is and I would never fly them.

    • krock

      You also have to understand, that united is truly destroying the Continental name. What the employees don’t know, is that if it weren’t for Continental, their entirely shit airline would be gone. It’s Continental that saved all those worthless fucks jobs.

  60. Gypsy

    Hey Matt……

    What happened to you? You have become bitter and angry. I remembered you said something about what Buddha said “without expectation there’s no disappointment.” Why are you pissed? I would think traveling to developing countries will humble you. I guess not. Chill out. Go for a walk. Go volunteer to those who are less fortunate. Be happy and don’t sweat the small stuff. After all, it’s only small stuff.

  61. gt

    It sucks even before the travel. I booked a flight 3 weeks ago to travel on 2/4, but a few days later I decided to travel on 2/2, so I changed the ticket online. $250 change fee + the tickets price difference (~$150), fair enough. I accepted it; my credit card was temporarily charged (which the charge was removed later, I don’t know why), and I even chose my seats for the new flight. Then today I tried to check-in online, but couldn’t do so. I called them and they said my ticket was not “reissued”, and the transaction of my flight change wasn’t even on their record! Now for me to fly on 2/2, I needed to pay $250 and the tickets price difference AS IF I WERE BOOKING THE TICKET TODAY, the day before departure. Amounted to over $350, so I am paying $600+ instead of the previously agreed $400. They’re beyond contempt. I will never fly United again, and yes, I hope they go down instead of sucking more tax payers’ money for (again) bailing them out.

  62. krock

    Hate them, but fly them when it’s convenient for you? that must mean you love them. Pull your head out of your ass…..

  63. I agree completely. Their service was poor when I was travelling alone, but now that I frequently travel with my young son (currently 4) it’s even more obvious just how terrible they are.

  64. Just flew with United for the first time last month. I’ve flown hundreds of times and I’ve never had such a bad experience, so I decided United was just a terrible airline- but I wondered afterwards if I was attributing things to them that weren’t actually their fault. This pretty much confirms it though, and I’m going to try my best to stay away from them.

  65. RV

    They are both terrible airlines. To me the choice boils down to what you prefer; the better network (star alliance especially if you travel to europe) or a better rewards program (AA) UA has, hands down, the worst rewards program i’ve ever been a part of. The miles required for a free ticket are absurd.

  66. gix

    True. No one forces anyone to fly any airline. You travelled UA for your own vested intrests. You are cribbing for their fares and service both. dear you get what you pay for. Be ready to shell out more and you will get more

  67. Daichovo

    Wow, I’ve had a totally different experience with United! I was a US Airways junkie for a while since they had cheap direct flights LAX-PHL, my most often flown route. Then I started flying United at same price and they blew me away. More seat room, WAYYYY better meals (especially gluten free- probably one of the best GF rolls I’ve ever had was on United. Have you flown them lately?), unbelievable redeemability for awards (just booked a flight from LAX-ORD-PTY-SJO-GUA-LAX for 17,500 and $150 and a $300 voucher, they had availability EVERY DAY in April and May). Any time a flight has been canceled and I’ve been moved later, I at least got a food voucher, and probably 1 every 3 or 4 flights I manage to get a bump and flight voucher to save even more money (all of these I’ve gotten food voucher and/or hotel as well). Also, Terminal 6-7 at LAX are about 1,23749 times nicer than Terminal 1. Small, but since I usually get a ride when it’s convenient for others, I often have to spend a few hours there.

    American, however, had my all time worst experience ever. A few years back I was on a plane that they wouldn’t let take off due to icing or something. They wouldn’t let any passengers use the bathroom or give us food because the flight had not reached cruising altitude. Copious water was included though which was great for those bladders we couldn’t empty. We were directed back to the terminal, but not allowed off the plane unless we wanted to forfeit our ticket. 5 hours later, we took off. I missed my connection and they wanted to reschedule me for a flight THREE days later, at which point I would have missed my audition and even the return flight. I freaked out at them of course and managed to actually get a ticket on a plane the next morning on Continental. They gave me a $8 voucher for food. I had to ask probably about 15 times before I could even get someone to give me a blanket for the night, in that particular sketchy airport that was mostly deserted and cold. When I arrived in Mexico I found they had lost my luggage. Never fear! It arrived the morning of my audition (3:30 am to be exact) all ripped apart. Thanks for waking me up in the middle of the night before a big audition, by the way.

    Despite countless emails complaining I never heard back except with autoresponse. I tried calling customer service on several occasions and generally would be referred to someone saying sorry but we can’t do anything, or actually hung up on. Never again. Sorry that US Airways is being bought by them.

  68. Daichovo

    Also, by the way, with the guitars thing? I just find that hard to say it’s an across the board thing. As a professional musician, it’s ultimately YOUR responsibility to figure this out. Why on earth would you check a guitar? Fit it overhead or ask them nicely to put it in the closet up front. Get your union paper, you have a right to bring it on board. My colleagues generally find southwest, US Air (for puddle jumpers), and United best. I generally find the united staff are always asking me about my trumpets. Speaking of that, another bad American story back when I flew them. I was coming back from France and the French security people decided that it was too suspicious that I went to France for 2.5 weeks with only a backpack (trumpet inside). They made me unpack my entire bag of trumpet, clothes, and 2 bottles of wine (you could still bring on board back then, shortly post-911) and then decided I was not allowed to bring ANYTHING on the plane, not even my wallet, they thought I was “suspect”. So my backpack was checked despite my insistence please do not check the trumpet, I’ll put it under my seat. I managed to get them to put a fragile sticker on it, but of course it was damaged on arrival. I had to pay about $200 to fix it and AA told me it was not their fault, it was French security. Only good thing was that the trumpet played better once I got it fixed. Thanks again, AA.

  69. vanmiggs

    I completely agree with you. United is the worst of the Star Alliance airlines and the worst airline in the US period. Their seats are more cramped than any others, they don’t have wifi or seat back TV. They don’t automatic upgrade elite flyers to their economy plus (which isn’t that good either).
    On my last flight, the second leg of my flight was cancelled but they boarded me anyways, leaving me stranded in Newark airport. They say they don’t reimburse hotel for weather cancellations, but then DONT BOARD me knowing my second leg is cancelled and give me the option of going out another day.
    I have just cancelled two flights on United and am going out Delta. At least they have gogo wifi! I will never fly with them again.

  70. Spankie

    You say United’s planes are older, yet you love AA. Hmmmm…

    Who still flies 190 MD80’s (i.e. re-badged DC-9). That would be AA. Look out the window at DFW to see all of those DC-9’s that were built in the 1980’s. I recently flew on one built in 1982. Those unpainted airplanes are fugly.

    Some quick googling on fleet age:
    United + Continental average = 10.9yrs
    American = 15.4 (the OLDEST on the list)

    According to http://www.planespotters.net
    United: 13.5
    AA: 14.8

    I liked Continental a lot before the merger. I’m less happy now with Unitedental, but it is still a heck of a lot better than AA or Delta.

  71. selvi

    I just booked a flight to Istanbul from Toronto via Flight Network (had a returned credit with United airlines so I had to use it before it expires). Flight Network made a mistake at the time of the booking (didnt include my middle name) – and now I wanted to correct it before my departure. Apparently, United charges a fee for every single thing you want to change. I will keep you posted as to how much (they will call me on monday).

    Plus, every single airline has 2 luggage allowance for long trips like this one- but UA charges $100 for second bag unless you are a gold member of their card. (frequent flyer) Total rip off! I definitely will not choose UA.

  72. BH

    Ha I couldn’t agree with you more UNITED SUCKS! I was actually a loyal united flyer until my last flight which I booked with a 120k miles and $$ through United and they had me on a Thai airways flight for the first leg of my trip. Somehow they failed to notify Thai airways of the reservation for 1 of the passengers (I booked the 2 tickets under the same reservation so not sure how this happened). So there we are in Thailand and Thai airways tells me and my hubby only 1 of us has a ticket and that “united has failed to make bookings several times before”. Thai airways won’t contact United so I had to use my cell internationally where United put me on hold for almost 3 hours (love the $300 phone bill that I have to pay out of pocket) causing me to miss the original flight I should have been on. The next and only flight they offered me had a 17 HOUR layover causing me to get a hotel (another out of pocket expense) and after all that they tried to downgrade my husband and I from the business class seats that I paid for to coach seats. I was furious and couldn’t believe how horrible they are and after asking for a refund if they planned to downgrade me to coach they were at least able to get me into the business class seats that I paid for. I am so appalled with United and will NEVER fly them again. I will be sticking to the American Airlines alliance.

  73. Erica

    Have you ever flown EWR-NYC to Stockholm if you want non stop you have your choice of SAS (Star Alliance) and rocks or United (Continental which used to be nice) United has the US monopoly out of there and I will fly and change planes in Germany with Lufthansa before I fly them direct again. American is not great but United is the bottom of the bottom

  74. NomadicMatt

    This post is based on the 18 flights I’ve flown with United this year. I think I’m pretty clear that this post IS my opinion.

  75. Martin

    You are incorrect about United sucking since the merger. They sucked long before. I was an elite status flyer with them. I got tired of surly attendants, late flights, lousy or no food. I used up my miles and never went back with them. I fly out of SFO and us Air France or American. In some ways I don’t blame the flight attendants. They and the other workers have been kicked around by the company for years. Of course, they shouldn’t take it out on the customer.