Declining Loyalty: United Airlines

Over Los Angeles

It's June of 2014 and I'm on the phone with the the loyalty desk at American Airlines. More specifically, the Executive Platinum desk of the airline that serves their most loyal customers that fly over 100,000 miles per year. I'm sitting next to a pool and asking the agent on the phone if she could upgrade me to first class. The agent puts me on hold for a few minutes and comes back on the line indicating that they have specifically filed a request to open up space in first class for me. That's American Airlines and that is my definition of loyalty. 

And it's not a one-time occurrence. On a flight between New York and Miami, I miss my chance for an upgrade. A flight-attendant comes up to me in coach and asks me what I would like to eat and drink - on the house - since I wasn't upgraded. That's loyalty. 

On the other hand, it's November of 2013 and I'm flying between Mumbai and Newark on United Airlines. I am fortunate enough to have 3 seats next to me that are open. I ask the flight attendant to move my brother into one of these Economy Plus seats. She refuses. I then ask the purser to do so. And she refuses as well. Not only do I fly over 75,000 miles per year on United Airlines, entitling me to 8 companions in Economy Plus, my brother is an elite (or "Premier") member as well - primarily through high fares, thanks to corporate flying. 

I pay $179 for the upgrade and let it slide. Upon arriving in Newark, I immediately call the CEO's office and send them a scathing email with facts and the non-recognition of benefits. I get a call back within 24 hours and all is taken care of.

United Airlines has significantly downgraded its loyalty program, but worse, has nearly destroyed any and all goodwill it had built up over the past few years - even with customers - that flew over 200,000 miles on their airline while spending upwards of $40,000 per year. 

United Airlines is not the first company to chase after the next penny instead of enjoying what they have now. However, it seems to be the only airline that is actively trying to piss off its customers just to please the market - a tactic that will definitely and absolutely fail.