Just when I thought you couldn’t get worse, you have managed to again perform well below expectations. How?
It is clear that you have a deliberate policy to bounce low-tier flyers from reserved Economy Plus seats. How do I know this?
- I am a relatively high-tier United flyer, happily achieved not through flying you much anymore, but through legacy status as multi-million mile flyer. With that status, you treat me just barely well enough for me to think about flying on your airline on competitive domestic routes. (Though I avoid your international business like the plague.) You may have noticed I dropped from flying about 100-150K miles/year to maybe 30K/year as a result of changing to alternatives like Virgin America.
- My wife, however, is a low-tier United flyer. The way you treat her is simply appalling and quite possibly illegal. One purpose of this blog is to highlight the myopia of your CRM program where, among other weaknesses, you have literally for decades missed the basic possibility that high-tier flyers are married-to and/or parents-of low-tier flyers. When you hose the low-tier flyer, you hose the high-tier flyer partnered with them. But the real point is you shouldn’t treat anyone the way you routinely treat my wife.
- For about the fourth time you have bounced her out of a pre-reserved Economy Plus seat — thus it is clear to me that this is not a series of accidents but a deliberate policy.
- Today you bounced her (and my son) from 11EF to 32AB on a 737-900 (literally the worst seats on the plane) even when we were traveling together. I was never notified. No email was sent. I learned this at check-in time. #nice
- However, this is topped by my “favorite” story where my wife had paid $90 extra for Economy Plus. Minutes before departure, she was called up at the gate and handed a new boarding pass for a non-economy plus middle seat. No explanation was offered. No refund was given. Yes, you paid $90 extra for Economy Plus but someone more important came along, so we’re moving you back to 37E because we can. She was so stunned she said nothing at the time. If you this transactionally, you got away with it. #congrats. If you view this from a relationship perspective, you burned her forever. Any time I want to fly United (and that’s less and less) she reminds me of the story and says we can’t be certain we’ll get our assigned seats. Today again you proved her right.
So it’s clear what you’re doing. You’re making two promises that you seem to have no intent on delivering upon:
- A low-status flyer can buy-up to Economy Plus and have a guaranteed seat. This promise is clearly now false. They can have the seat only if it is convenient for you at departure time.
- A high-status flyer can bring 1-2 low-status flyers with whom they’re traveling up to Economy Plus. Today you proved this promise false as well.
Given the frequency with which this occurs it is clear that this is not bad luck or coincidence. This is policy. And I think it’s probably illegal. You’re probably CYAed by some regulation never intended for this purpose. But what you’re doing is nevertheless wrong.
From a customer experience (CX) perspective, let me make clear what you’re doing.
- With your normal, crappy, bad flight attendants, no video screens, worst-boarding-process-of-any-airline, service I’d guess you are driving survey responses on a net promoter score (NPS) survey from maybe passives of 7-8 down to detractors of 4-5. Lucky for you, people don’t expect much from airlines so you can get away with this.
- However, with the failure to honor pre-reserved seats you are actively creating detractors — and not just 2-3 out of 10 detractors, but 0 out of 10 detractors. Like “I never want to fly United again” detractors. Like “I’ll fly one-stop to Denver because I can’t stand United” detractors. Like “even if it’s business/first, I don’t want to fly United” detractors. In fact, I have trouble of thinking of a better way to make people hate you more than repeatedly making the promise of reserved seat — and in cases collecting a supplement for it — only to fail to honor that promise.
It’s not an accident. It’s policy.
This year I’ll probably fly 30K miles on United out of a total of 200K. Next year my goal is zero.
(Cross-posted @ Kellblog)