Safely back in NYC after a nerve-racking standby gamble, I approached a media spokesperson to give greater insight into what the airline's customer service protocols were in times of crisis. Spokesperson Charlie Hobart was swift in initial response but the party line was self-evident.
"Given the weather in the Midwest and East Coast, which has affected all airlines, we have experienced many cancellations and delays impacting multiple hub airports. United crews are working to ensure we can get our customers to their final destinations safely, as quickly as we can," he said.
"We encourage customers to check the status of their flights before leaving for the airport by visiting united.com or the United app on their smartphones," he added, an incongruous statement with what I'd seen. Do they encourage customers to do so via their impenetrable hotline or in the email notification of cancelled flights they don't send?
Of course, even if you had tried to rebook online, it was no guarantee United's website would work as Bloomberg journalist Julianna Goldman found out.
Requests for more information from United, particularly regarding specific crisis management protocols, are still awaiting a response.
So, my advice to United: increased holiday traffic shouldn't come as a surprise and the higher chance of snowstorms over winter is a given. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The attitude that customer service ends once you have our money is a disservice to your brand. Your best marketing could come from customers who felt their needs were being put first. Instead, we were witness to obvious money-grubbing, dehumanizing treatment which had us feeling like another piece of cargo to stow. This is not how you run a business. As the largest American airline you should really know this.
--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff (thankfully back) in New York.