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Many months before this latest video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United flight hit the news, I stopped doing business with United Airlines. Here is what I wrote at the time:

Like many business travelers, I had succumbed to the siren’s call of the frequent flyer programs offered by the airlines. How could anyone not who was flying more than a hundred-thousand mile a year. There are several attractive perks that come along with having “status” with an airline. But at some point, I could only take so much poor treatment in pursuit of miles and maintaining the highest level in the United Airlines program.

For me, I have a threshold when it comes to taking bad treatment. Sometimes I view that bad treatment almost as entertainment especially if it is over-the-top outrageous. Other times I just grin and bear it knowing that the flight is only a specific amount of time. Frankly, my threshold for abuse varies depending on the particular situation. With United Airlines, I admittedly took a lot of abuse over the years from flight delays, poor customer service, crappy planes, surly flight attendants, inconsistent policies, outdated terminals, ramshackle security checkpoints, computer failures, and the list goes on.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for me was on this past New Year’s Day. We were returning from the holidays in New York traveling back to Los Angeles through Denver. Now realize, we had traveled Los Angeles to Denver and then Denver to New York the week before with carry luggage. I have avoided checking luggage at all cost when I travel and have become a master of packing efficiently within the approved carry-on policies.

We had no issues with my carry bags traveling to New York for Christmas. On the return, we left New York’ LaGuardia Airport on the flight to Denver—again there was no problems. But when we got to the gate at Denver Airport for our flight to Los Angeles the gate agent decided that I would have to check my bag. No, that was not going to happen especially after carrying the bags on three at of the four legs of this round trip. I asked for the supervisor, which the gate agent got annoyed by, but complied with, my request.

The supervisor arrived and I calmly explained my situation and that having just come off a flight with my bags that I fully expected to board my next flight with them. I also pointed out the inconsistency of their policy and policy enforcement. Further, my bags fit within the luggage sizer at the gate. The policy allows for one roller bag and one personal item, which for me is a green canvas shoulder bag that easily fits under the seat as the airlines policy states. That canvas bag has been on virtually every flight with me for the last twenty-five years or so.

Eventually after talking to the supervisor and the supervisor’s supervisor, showing that my bags fit in the luggage sizer, I was allowed on the plane with my bags. My wife and I were in business/first and this is how they treated us regardless of my status with the airline. That was the preverbal last straw. I have not flown United since and am in the process of rebuilding my flight status on another airline.

Now, with this latest horrific display of dragging a customer off the United flight, the airline has become the posterchild for bad customer service. An apology by the CEO doesn’t cut either because that video is an extreme example of what is a systemic failure at United. This isn’t an isolated incident as I have experienced poor customer service with United in Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Newark, Miami, and Houston. There is a pervasive system-wide problem with customer service at United Airlines and until they acknowledge that, they will continue in this death spiral of bad publicity.

We all have a choice and I realized a long time ago that you get what you pay for, so if you only care about getting cheapest ticket possible then don’t expect much. Me, I want a balance between price and service and that is what most people that care about their sanity want as well. I truly don’t mind spending a little extra for good customer service and that is why I gave up my elite status on United and am rebuilding status at another airline. So far, this year it has been a whole lot less stressful traveling and I like that. Change is good.   

The last time I had experienced the level of bad service at United was on Eastern Airlines; remember them. I wrote to the then CEO and former astronaut Frank Borman and told him; if you alienate your customers, you will eventually have none. Eastern Airlines went bankrupt several years later. United should heed the warning signs as no business is too big to fail if the customer base evaporates. United Airlines is on that path with this latest display of customer disrespect.

Dave Bossert- Commentary

Dave Bossert is a community volunteer who serves on several boards and councils. His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.