I’m writing this from the first class cabin on a United flight from Houston to Munich. We have been plied with champagne, prosciutto, steak, cheese, (had to pass on the salad and ice cream sundae courses), free-flowing wine, and cognac. I’m sitting in a comfortable wide seat that converts into a bed. You’d think I’d be a happy camper.
I’m not. I don’t like to deal with companies that employ bait-and-switch tactics to fool their customers. United is not alone in the airline industry; collusion sees to that. When it comes to marketing and meeting customer expectations, they are all stupid. Dumb as dirt.
The concept of market segmentation calls for differentiating groups of customers in order to appeal to the most profitable among them.
What other industry would take their most loyal, high-spending customers and single them out for shabby treatment? I’m thinking of airlines and Frequent Flier Miles.
Bait and switch
United awards frequent fliers with miles on future flights. Frequent flier miles are paying for most of this first-class flight from San Francisco to Mallorca and Athens with return via Istanbul. I’d amassed a third of a million miles, so I felt confident when I called United’s Mileage Plus to redeem them.
Oh, silly me. I spent the better part of an hour on the phone being told why I couldn’t fly on this flight or that, how my miles weren’t adequate for upgrading from economy on Lufthansa, and a host of blackout dates. By the time my itinerary was selected, I felt frazzled and kept repeating in my head “I am dealing with idiots.”
I ended up with an itinerary I would never have chosen for myself. “It’s the best we can do.” Depart San Francisco at 7:24 in the morning. (I prefer mid-morning departures.) Lay over in Houston for three hours. Fly to Munich and wait five hours for a flight to Palma. Then fly from Palma to Athens via Copenhagen (spending the night in the Copenhagen airport). Pay $1,200 out of pocket to upgrade my flight back to SFO (you can’t use frequent filer miles for that).
Frequent flier miles are a booby prize. They are funny money that doesn’t enable you to buy what you want.
Remember, this treatment is reserved for United’s best customers. You can’t determine what flights are eligible on the web, so you can’t plan your own itinerary. You have to talk with a human who looks things up and usually reports “that’s not available” or “maybe if you wait a month and call back” or “you’ll have to fly from Spain to Greece via Denmark.” Aggravation. Can I be the only person who feels deceived and cheated by this system?
This makes no sense to me. I’ll do everything I can to avoid flying on United ever again.
I tried to transfer miles for a friend since I don’t intend to use them. United offered to transfer enough miles to buy a $777 ticket for a fee of $1,200. Huh? It was the same story with Lufthansa, Air Canada, and a host of other airlines.
In sum, the marketing strategy of airlines seems to be: encourage your very best customers to join a program where you can piss them off. Well, guys, it’s working.
My fight today originated in San Francisco. I flew from SFO to Houston first class. Entertainment? Infomercials on a tiny screen. No music, no movies, no route maps, just crapola television.
Would you like something to drink? “A mimosa.” I might as well have asked for a sky-hook or a Quetzalcoatle.
The fellow behind me complained that his tray table was filthy. “Couldn’t they have cleaned this before we got on board?” The cabin attendance responded “Do you can me to call someone to clean it up?” The implication was that this would delay our departure. He made do with his dirty table.
United offers two types of service.
There’s domestic, which is bare-bones, no frills, trashy. Back in the cattle-car section, you have to pay fo food and more than likely it will be junk food, potato chips, and crap loaded with high fructose core syrup. (A cabin attendant once told me “I can’t believe we are doing this to people.”) Leg-room is so scarce I don’t understand how tall people fly.
There’s international, with plush seats, decent food, and free booze. Why the stark difference? Competition from foreign carriers who would never try to foist off lousy service.
United recently acquired another former competitor. Less competition means less incentive for United to provide decent service. They’ve got us over a barrel.
I believe in karma. In time, the present incarnation of United will die and be reborn as a dung beetle.
I’m sitting on the deck of a villa on the island of Mallorca. I plan to spent the next three weeks in bliss and reflection. No more vitriolic blog posts, just enjoyment of life.