Friday, October 2, 2015

United Sucks

After a couple of weeks of move chaos, and no sooner had the boxes been unpacked, I took a 5 day trip to Boston for a huge family reunion. Today's post covers the travel part of that trip.

Size Matters
I don't fly very often. When I do, I usually fly the same airline round trip, so I don't really have a sense of how different the airlines are. On this trip, I flew United from Portland to Boston (through San Francisco) and Alaska (direct) on the way home. They are radically different. United is a huge airline flying all over the world, but the number of centimeters between the leading edge of your seat and the rear of the one in front of you is staggeringly small. Alaska, on the other hand, is a smaller carrier who is just really getting started in international flights. The space between the seats, however, is actually quite comfortable as compared to United. Since I wasn't traveling to fix anyone's car, I didn't have even a tape measure with me, so I can't provide hard numbers. I just have simple anecdotal evidence.

Broken Plane. What a Pain.
airplane igniter
Adding insult to injury, my connecting United flight from SFO to Boston was stymied by a broken plane. The symptoms were not terribly unusual: all the lights and cabin air jets suddenly stopped operating while we were at the gate. I've seen that happen often on working planes, but this time it happened a lot. The pilot said something about the "igniter" after we had pulled away from the gate, taxied partway down the tarmac, and started turning around. Turning around is never a good sign. We returned to the gate, and a mechanic got on. After a while we were told that we'd be on our way in 15 minutes. Then we were told the plane was broken and we needed a new one, so everyone had to get off. I bee-lined for the c-store and bought a beer.

The Airport Bar
small portions & large prices
I drank a Stella, wandering around the terminal cul-de-sac and found another gate advertising a flight to Boston. "Sweet!" I thought and got into the queue at the desk. Minutes later, I was 5th in the stand-by list. Unfortunately, United had overbooked all of their flights to Boston that day (and probably other destinations and dates too), so they were asking ticketed passengers on that flight to accept $1200 in travel vouchers to fly the next day. They made no such offer to the folks on my flight. Instead, I headed towards an airport bar & grill and found my brother heading the other way. He was getting on the $1200 voucher flight. We grabbed a bite and a beer at the Lark Creek Grill and then I watched him board.

The Wait
SFO gate
By now, my flight was over 3 hours late for departure. We had been informed that they were hoping for a new plane by 4. 4 became 5 which then became 6:30. After nearly 6 hours of lolling around the San Francisco airport, we were ready to board. Had I left the airport and hopped a BART train, I could have spent the afternoon in downtown SF, but United hadn't been transparent about how long the wait would be. I suspect they knew all along, but chose to string us along instead. The flight itself was tight-packed, but we arrived just after 3:AM, Boston time. I read a bunch of my book, and napped as best I could in a seat that couldn't recline.

Paul's Revere Cab Ride
Since the flight arrived so late, the free shuttle from the hotel was not running, so I grabbed a cab from the taxi-stand. The cabbie was a local from Revere, and we talked up a storm the whole way. He knew where he was going, didn't bounce me all over the place and was genuine. Frankly, that cab ride was the best part of the trip since getting dropped at the Portland airport by T in the A4 at 8:00 the prior morning. $30 later, I was collecting my room key. I keyed into my room just after 4:AM.

Why United Sucks
There are lots of reasons why United sucks, but the airline flight attendants are not among them. United had the same crew who was supposed to run the original flight (12:30 planned departure) work the actual flight (6:30 actual departure). The attendants are only paid for time in the air, so while they also had to wait around, they probably lost out on some income on a connecting flight out of Boston too. United sucks because they overbook their flights. United sucks because they cram in at least one if not multiple extra rows into their planes, making the trip even more unpleasant. United sucks because they offer hollow apologies to the inconvenienced: go to this obscure web site that you better write down as we say it because you'll never be able to navigate there on your own (go here) and we'll offer you $100 of flight vouchers so you can have another god-awful experience. United, you suck. I spent more than that on the airport food and the taxi. $100 of flight voucher is not an apology; it is a middle finger. Fine. Here's two right back at ya.

That's it for today. I'll follow up with some actual family reunion stuff. Honestly, the trip was great after the United nonsense was over.