When a Brand Lets You Down: United Airlines Case Study

I love United Airlines. My husband loves United Airlines. Our family of seven loves United Airlines. You get the point.

So how is it even possible that United Airlines could make such an egregious mistake as they did last month? Let me explain.

By way of background, my husband is a 1K and has been loyal to UAL forever. Any chance we get, we choose United, not only for travel but for credit cards, for loyalty programs, Red Carpet Club, etc. United has us on their radar, too – at least based on the frequency with which I receive emails, mailings, phone calls, automated messages for a late flight, etc. I am certain they take very valuable “real estate” space in my email inbox and I have not (yet) unsubscribed as I try to do with so many other services providers and merchants.

Last month when returning from Denver to Chicago my husband and son’s United flight was delayed. Fine. They went  to grab a bite, checked back into the gate. Delayed again. They went to the Red Carpet Club, located a mere 50 feet away from the gate and waited. They read, watched TV, etc then checked again. Still delayed. A bit later, they stood up and decided to walk to the gate, but before leaving the Red Carpet they asked the front desk person whether there as an update to the flight, “Oh, it says here the gate is closed.” WHAT? They ran the 50 feet to the gate. Closed. Yep. “I’m sorry, sir, we cannot re-open the gate.” My husband apparently used a bit of colorful language – but in a nice, teachable moment kind of way. They were offered $100 vouchers. Hmmm. I am quite sure that United spends north of $200 million/year on marketing and advertising.

HOW can it be, that in this day and age, United Airlines can simply FORGET the human side of business when it seems SO easy? If I were to add up the $$$ they spend trying to MARKET to our FAMILY of SEVEN from EVERY angle (digital, mail, phone, etc) I cannot for the life of me reconcile with the fact that my husband and son were literally 50 feet from the gate in the RED CARPET CLUB (that is where your best customers and heavy fliers go, isn’t it?!) and NOT one person had the decency to look at the list and recognize that they were on that flight? They could’ve made an announcement or heaven forbid walk 50 feet to get them and they would’ve been able to get home to see their family. But no. In this digital age of speed, market penetration, customer acquisition, conversion rates, etc – that simply wasn’t an option.

So United: here’s my message. Maybe get out from behind those computers and behave the “old fashioned” way. Have the decency to remember to look people in the eye, thank them for coming, and maybe, just maybe, walk 50 feet to give your good, loyal customers a “heads up” that the flight is leaving earlier than expected.