By Larry Teren
United Airlines flies friendly skies, as their advertising indicates. But sometimes it is not so friendly an experience, especially for an infrequent air traveler.
I hadn’t been in an airplane in more than five years until the situation recently warranted it. My niece was getting married in the San Francisco area so I chose United Airlines. I had heard of another airline that was cheaper and offered a better cabin experience but they only had two scheduled flights a day to San Francisco. United Airlines offered more than ten. United Airlines made more sense especially in case of unexpected flight cancellations. I knew that there would be other flights going back and forth from Chicago to San Francisco and options existed rather than scrambling to look for another airline. I also have a thing about sitting at an aisle seat. United makes it easier to select an aisle seat than some other airlines in advance even of the return flight. They also let you pay for your baggage online rather than needing to pull out a credit card at airport curbside.
I left on a Friday morning on a flight scheduled for departure at 9:56am. We did not take off until 10:46am because of equipment malfunction. It was not the airplane itself but the on board medical kit. The pilot got on the public address system and initially stated that he had no idea how long it would take to find a working replacement. The chief steward got in to the act by also getting on the PA to yell at some stragglers to sit down so that the mechanics could get through and move the old box out and the new one in. She said something to the effect that they needed to fix the plane in order to take off. Hey, if they needed to fix the plane that badly, I was willing to catch the next one. Actually, the delay didn’t bother me so much because the connection to my final destination (that doesn’t sound right, huh?) was a bus going up north to Marin County that had regularly scheduled pickups at the airport every half hour all day long.
The fact is that my sister was also flying that same morning on American Airlines and she experienced a two and one half hour delay before taking off because of equipment trouble. So, it wasn’t just United Airlines. People were flying regularly again and the old-time airlines were having a difficult time in dealing with unions and other expense compared to the more recent cheaper, less overhead afflicted airlines.
The one thing that annoyed me on the outbound flight was the lack of leg room in the Economy section in which I sat. To add insult to discomfort, United Airlines was offering to anyone who felt such discomfort an opportunity to move up to the sparsely inhabited Economy Plus section for an additional $34. I decided that there were better things to do with the money. And, I had my precious aisle seat. I also chuckled and thought that this should be the worst of any flight problems I encountered between now and my return to Chicago the following Monday.
In the meantime, I saw on the news that a United Airlines flight the next day- Saturday- out of San Francisco to Chicago was temporarily diverted to Denver because of an unruly passenger. As it was an isolated issue, after they arrested the troublemaker, the plane quickly took off and went on its merry way to Chicago. Timing, as they say.
On Monday, I made my way onto the more spacious Boeing 767-300. I sat down in the left aisle seat of the middle row section containing three chairs across. A minute or so later, another gentleman sat down on the right aisle seat in the row and I immediately flew up in the air like on a seesaw. The person sitting in the aisle of the two-seat row across from me noticed it and immediately commented that my row was not bolted down. As I looked down at him, I nodded. He told me to keep quiet about it because they may decide to not let anyone sit there and I could be removed from the flight. It was overbooked as it was.
The other gentleman in my row realized he was sitting in the wrong seat and got up and I went flying again. The lady sitting directly behind me quickly informed a stewardess (excuse me, flight attendant) and she in turned informed the crew chief who paged for a mechanic. A few minutes later, two mechanics showed up. One supervised and the other did the dirty work of lying on the floor and manipulating a couple of tools. Shortly, the row was properly secured. However, the supervisor indicated that I could not sit down because he now had to call another fellow to come over and test the seats and validate the mechanic’s repair work. Surprisingly, this did not cause the plane to be delayed from takeoff. I also shook the hand of the mechanic who did the dirty work and he thanked me for thanking him.
However, after I got situated and relaxed, a flight attendant mentioned that since the final destination of the plane was intended for overseas, each seat was equipped with a personal video screen. All passengers were welcome to use it even on the domestic portion of the flight to Chicago. This was a pleasant surprise along with the additional legroom compared to my outbound flight on Friday.
The thrill didn’t last long. I pulled out from the pouch in front of me the plastic bag containing the headset for the personal video. I ripped open the bag and removed the headset. The next obvious step was to plug it into the receptacle on the armrest. Except for one thing- there was no receptacle but a half inch hole where it should have been. I pointed it out to a flight attendant. She apologized and offered me a $7 free box lunch. I declined and indicated that I brought my own snack. The flight attendant then said that she would write it up and thanked me for making her aware of the faulty equipment.
About ten minutes later, the flight attendant returned with a card hat had a written apology for the inconvenience as well as instructions that I had 90 days to go to a website and pick a free compensation gift. The next day I went to the site and to my delight I was able to choose a 10% discount to be used on my next flight on United Airlines within the next year.
Now that I’ve returned to flying again, I guess you know who the next airline will be that I choose. Timing, as they say.