Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why I'm Excited About United p.s. Service in Newark.


I have heard a number of comments about United's recent decision to move p.s. service from New York's JFK airport to Newark Liberty International Airport.  A lot of transcon junkies are not happy about the move.  I am thrilled about it.

I've flown p.s. flights twice.  Each time was an overnight from LAX to JFK.  Each time I needed to connect onward.  With those connections I had to fly from JFK to IAD (on a CRJ200) and then on to my final destination.  I had often wondered why United had not yet moved p.s. service to EWR.

To me, bringing service to Newark only makes sense.  The Newark hub serves over 100 destinations domestically and around the world.  How many more people can then fly the p.s. routes because they can connect?  For me, this is a no brainer.  Secondly, JFK is, in my humble opinion, the most annoying of the New York City airports to get to.  That said, LGA is a lot more difficult to get to.  But Newark can quickly get you into the heart of Manhattan, assuming NJ Transit is running okay (or Amtrak, if you're so inclined).

Image provided by United Air Lines
I do understand the downfall of EWR in the wintertime.  But the New York airspace as a whole is messed up, which is why the FAA is trying so hard to fix it.  But EWR has a certain set of limitations, and it is completely landlocked.  Short of purchasing a third of Elizabeth, NJ and demolishing it, there's no way to build extra runways or fix congestion problems.  But what of the three major New York airports really can grow?  JFK has the best bet, but is one of my least favorite airports.

For a commuter, the idea of International service throughout the U.S. is so great, and to be able to connect easily to other destinations is even better.  Thank you, United, for making this decision.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?
Also, for those of you who want to "correct" me, I know I have a 757-300 as the picture, and I know that the p.s. flights are served by 757-200 aircraft, I just like the picture.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"United Airlines has the worst customer service."

This photo was taken in Denver on January 25, 2013.
"But my plane is right there."
Author's Note: I would suggest you read this article in its entirety before you make a decision about what I have to say.

We've all been there.  Our plane arrives late to O'hare.  We run half a mile from gate B21 to F12A, only to watch the jet bridge pull back from the plane.  And then starts the dreaded dance.  We run up to the gate agent and demand to know why we can't get on the plane.  The agent explains that the door is shut and the plane is set to leave.  We scream back, "But my plane is right there!"  We spout things back and forth and the agent leaves.

So we march over the the customer service area and begin demanding things like first class on the next flight.  We scream things like, "Does it not mean anything to be 1K any more?"  And we get frustrated and declare, "I will never fly United again!"  We call our secretary and proclaim, "Sarah, book me on American from here on out."

I've heard this story a lot in years since the United and Continental merger.  In fact, the situation in first paragraph happened to me (but I didn't scream, and I don't have a secretary named Sarah, nor did I ever proclaim I won't fly United again).  But there is a mob mentality about United's Customer Service.  It is a belief that United has the worst Customer Service in the airline Industry.

Is it true?  I'm often told that I love United because I'm Global Services.  Go back to my post titled "The Journey."  Read this: On a sunny March day in 2009, I took the train from the Elizabeth Station to EWR.  I wandered down the halls of Terminal A, and found my place on the first of many United flights.  That year I would reach Premier.  As I sat down in my seat for the first time, I called my dad and I said, “I remember why we always wanted to fly United.”  I was in Heaven.

To be clear, Heaven was seat 32F on an Airbus 320.

I have always loved United.  When I became a Premier member (pre-merger) I thought I had scored the golden ticket!  But I was happy with United without any premier status.  My love for United isn't dependent on Global Services.  Truth be told, I had estimated that I was going to lose my GS status in 2015, and I was great with being a 1K again.

I've heard of a lot of people who feel like they deserve to be 1K or GS.  The airlines set goals; all of them set goals.  And if you don't meet those goals, you don't earn the status.  There's been a saying in my house over the last several years, "You don't get <insert status I'm trying to get to that year> by not flying."  Up until GS I had earned all of my statuses by flying segments, not miles.  So to earn 1K, I had to fly 120 segments in a year, a majority of which were on EMB145s.  I earned the status, but I never felt like I deserved anything.

After the merger there was a lot of position jockeying.  At United it was a seniority nightmare.  That battle began to create a lot of tension for the employees.  As the employees were frustrated, people began to feel that the service quality went down.  At the same time there was a mash up between the OnePass and Mileage Plus programs, creating a DYKWIA nightmare.

These two mashups filled people with a lot of emotion.  Fast forward three years with no resolve and add in that United wanted to outsource.  Lay off a few thousand employees and throw fear and anger into that volatile bag of emotions.

It was the perfect storm.

In the last year I have watched a lot of people turn their backs on United.  They call themselves "displaced" and "refugees" as if there was a natural disaster or a war.  The biggest complaint is that "customer service is gone."

But what did that mean?  At my work we talk about the fine line between customer service and letting customers take advantage of us.  I began to ask these "refugees" what it was that drove them away.

One of the most common complaints was that these frequent flyers couldn't get upgrades any more.  They were Silver or Gold members and often were at the bottom of a long list of potential upgrades.  So a guy books a flight from ORD to DEN and pays $210 plus taxes.  I book the same flight at $650, and he gets mad because I get the upgrade.  Which is an easy transition into the next issue.  MileagePlus has changed.

People got really upset with United when the miles were devalued and when they switched to a spend-based mileage accrual.  Previously it was an easy system to work.  Book a flight to China on the cheapest ticket you can, use a GPU to upgrade, and earn 10,000 miles.  When it changes to spend, it's not near as easy to game.

Wait, none of these things are customer service?  Sure, they're customer retention, but where does customer service come in?  United passengers began to feel like they were not the priority any more.  They looked to Jeff Smisek, saying that he cares more about profit than he does about customers.  And they took that belief system with them to gates and counters.  The lowest-paid United employees then had the privilege of getting the beating of a lifetime because of issues they didn't create.

And then they "couldn't help."  When the United passengers were mad because they couldn't "score the upgrade," they would take it out on the agents who "couldn't do anything for them."  This is a vicious cycle.  I believe X and I'm going to take Y action believing that X will happen.  When I took Y action, X did happen, I bet it will happen again, so I'll try.  But, by rule, Y can't lead to anything but X.  So it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophesy that just continues to harden the belief system.

Then you take that belief system to the world.  Social Media is instant gratification for most people—I have a complaint and I want the world to know it.  "@united sucks.  They can't do anything any more."  1 like.  10 likes.  250 likes.  "@angrypax I know, right?  I was thinking things weren't good, then I saw your tweet! #unitedsux."  Social Media allows these belief systems to fester and brew.  Before you know it, there's an entire group of people out there who are just regurgitating the same set of "facts" over and over to help them cement their beliefs.

Human nature dictates that we look for evidence that supports what we believe.  This is easy to see when I look at my search statistics for this blog.  Google "united sucks."  What you find is what a lot of people are looking for.  With one exception... mine.

I wrote a response to a blog titled "15 Reasons Why Flying United Airlines Sucks."  My response has been in the top 10 search results for the keyword "united sucks" ever since.  In fact, I get more visits to my blog from that Google search than from any other source.

Why is that?  Because people want to back their belief systems.  Sandler Sales Training talks about a BAT Triangle.  BAT stands for Behaviors, Attitudes (belief systems), and Techniques.  What BAT teaches us is that Attitudes drive Behaviors ,which creates results that help reinforce Attitudes.  I would encourage you to visit Sandler's site, or visit my friends at Market Sense in Austin to learn more.

Sandler teaches that we have to change our behaviors to see different results so that we can change our belief systems.

One of the major problems with this comes to the amount of money that United puts into its social media.  Although United has made a huge change in the last two years with their social team, there are not enough resources to combat the constant negative press on Social Media.  As customers try to reinforce their beliefs, United can't provide the behaviors to help customers change.

Remember, people say that I love United because I am Global Services.  The truth is that I love United because I love United.  Heaven was seat 32F on an Airbus 320, and that hasn't changed.  Okay, yes, I might never sit back there any more, but it's because of my beliefs that allow me to do so.

I greatly value all of the employees at United.  I have forged a lot of friendships at OKC.  My belief system states that these employees are the ones who are going to get me where I need to be, and my safety is their top priority, and so I treat them like the most important people in my life (you know, because they'll keep me from dying on a flight).

A few weeks ago I was flying from OKC to IAH.  There were two flights departing at the same time because of delays.  I was supposed to be on a EMB145, but it broke.  So the agents began moving everyone over the the E175 that was about to leave.  When I got my new seating assignment I was in 23C.  First class was mostly full.  My biggest issue is that I really want to sit next to a window (so I can take #mikeshot photos).  I went over to one of my friends who is an agent and asked him if there was any better seat I could get.  I explained that I really wanted a window.  Within moments I had a first class ticket.  It's not what I was asking for, but it's what I got.  And I get this kind of service every where.

You get that kind of service because you're Global Services.  Nope.  I remember the day I became Premier.  My 30th segment was from LAX to DEN.  I walked up to the agent at DEN and explained my story.  I said, "I know I probably won't get the upgrade, I just really want to see my name on the list because I think it would be cool."  What did she do?  She handed me the first class seat.  I sure wasn't GS then, and I'm pretty sure I only spent like 80 bucks on that fare.

I wrote this card and posted it to Instagram
when the most recent set of layoffs was announced.
About a year ago I decided I wanted to make an impact on United employees, and so I designed thank you cards, and I had 500 of them printed.  I've been writing them to employees all along the way.

Often I write them to people I didn't really even meet.  My favorite story came from Denver.  I knew I was headed to baggage claim and so I wrote a card to "A Flyer Friendly Baggage Handler."  I walked up to a random employee and handed him the card and said thank you.  I immediately walked away.

The gentleman hunted me down a few minutes later and said, "Sir, this isn't for me."  I assured him it was for him.  "No, sir, I'm an a** hole, this can't be for me."  I laughed.

"I know this card was for you.  I wrote it for you because you have helped me today, and I wanted to say thank you."  He told me he hadn't helped me at all.  "Sure, maybe you haven't helped me directly, but you work for United, so you have helped me."  He looked at me for a minute and said, "Maybe you guys do value us."

United doesn't have bad customer service.  People just have a lot of twisted belief systems about United.  I have a lot of respect for Jeff Smisek, and I know I'm a lone wolf because of that.  But no matter what he and the executive team do at United, here's the fact: every day United employees help me get where I'm going and they do it in the safest way possible.  That's customer service.

If you've left United for another airline, I hope to see you back in the friendly skies some day.  If you're thinking about leaving, I would encourage you to just change your behaviors and see if it changes the way you feel about United.  And if you love United, Thank You.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#mikeshot Top Eight and Honorable Mentions

#mikeshot is over and it's time to announce the top eight photos as well as some honorable mentions!  Remember to go to my Instagram account and vote for your favorite!

Top Eight


Final approach to #DEN from #ORD #sunrise #boeing #737 #900 #UnitedAirlines #snow

A photo posted by Sam (@sammaytay) on




@f16arm


Filtered sunset on my way to work

A photo posted by Justin (@just_inflight) on



#AeroMexico #Boeing737 #ScimitarWinglets #ILoveFlight #ILovePhotography #TheBestCombination #JREEFOTOGRAFIA #MikeShot

A photo posted by Jose Roberto Echeagaray (@jreefotografia) on





Honorable Mentions



#americanairlines #miami #mikeshot #boeing738

A photo posted by fll.spotter (@fll.spotter) on



✈️Lift off & say goodbye✨ #Brussels #Belgium

A photo posted by Althea Yii �� 丽贞 (@altheatude) on


Friday, March 6, 2015

#mikeshot contest


Many of you love to see my view from the inside of planes, but I want to see yours! Over the next two weeks I will be accepting entries into the #mikeshot contest. The rules are simple, the shot must be taken while flying, and must include the wing. Include the hashtag #mikeshot and tag me in the photo! All entries must be submitted through instagram. I will close the contest on Wednesday, March 11th at noon central. I will pick my favorite four, and then you all will vote! The winner will receive a brand new copy of The Birth Of The 787 Dreamliner. I am willing to ship to the U.S., Japan, Canada, Germany, the U.K., Australia, and Hong Kong. If you are from a different country and are interested, please send me a private message and I will check out the rates to ship the book. As a side note, you do not have to take the picture in the next two weeks, just choose your favorite!

These are just some of my favorite #mikeshots so far... (I'll post more of my favorites on here in the next week!)
A photo posted by Narubadee Choochuay (@pocketth) on

#CharterWednesday storm over #Texas from #40000feet #MikeShot

A photo posted by That Guy (@kingofthestack) on



My entry to @mike_j_morgan #mikeshot. Taken on the way to NRT in the 87.

A photo posted by Hector ヘクター (@ensou1) on


Lift off on the dreamliner!

A photo posted by Justin (@iah.spotter) on


#AeroMexico #Boeing737 #ScimitarWinglets #ILoveFlight #ILovePhotography #TheBestCombination #MikeShot

A photo posted by Jose Roberto Echeagaray (@jreefotografia) on



DXB-SIN. Slowing down on approach into SIN as the sun rises.

A photo posted by Erica Cunial (@echocharliecharlie) on




Filtered sunset on my way to work

A photo posted by Justin (@just_inflight) on


Sunset from the skies :: ��✈️ #throughmyiphone #jabinsadventures

A photo posted by Jabin Chen (@jabin_c) on


Final approach Malaga! ☀️☀️

A photo posted by Hanne (@hannekstroem) on



Saturday, February 14, 2015

The new united.com - A First Look

A refreshed homepage gives users quick access to information.
I had the pleasure of seeing the new united.com over a year ago.  But, like many things in the airline industry, it took a long time to get out to the public.  This week United allowed beta users a first look.  And once again, United has taken the right steps to continue on its path to being the world's most Flyer Friendly airline!

While this is a major change to the website, many of the functional pieces still operate using the old system.  United's plan is to slowly make changes to one section at a time.

The form of the website is designed to work well in both desktop and tablet.  Large buttons making it easy for folks like me with fat fingers to use.  Also, the ability to switch backgrounds is great.

The Account block gives you quick access to your stats for the year.
The user experience starts with the buttons that allow you to switch between Account, Book, Status, Trips, and Check-in.  This is a very cool HTML5 trick that allows the buttons to become larger blocks once clicked.

The Account block allows you to see all of your important information without having to go to the old account page.

The My Trips block allows you to see all of your trips without having to click on the "View All Reservations" link.  Each trip gives date travel information as well as allowing the user access to all of the links they may need.

The Flight Status block is about the same as what you're used to.  As well, the Check-in block allows you to enter a confirmation number or view from your current reservations.

Booking a Flight
The biggest change to the system is the booking engine.  At face value, entering your flights plans is about the same.  It's what's behind the scenes that impresses me.  When booking, you can click on a "More Options" link, which is where the fun really starts.

One of the great features added is a "Recent Searches".  I am the type of person who will look for the same flights over and over in a week, this new feature makes it much easier on me.

For a person who loves to fly great distances, there are a few extras now in the search logic.
The first great thing is that there is an updated Sort by, which will allow a user to sort by Longest Flight, Departure Time, Arrival Time or more.  But the feature I love the most is the "Preferred connections" and "Connections to avoid."  During the spring, I hate flying through Houston because of weather delays, but shares often pushes me through there.  Now I can tell the website, "Hey, I don't want to go to Houston," and it will find me alternative routes.

Once you are in to the search results there is a much more Flyer Friendly layout:


In the details section of each flight it allows you to see all available fares, which allows folks like me the ability to shop price while still wanting to use my upgrades.  Another great feature is the seat map.  On the old website, you had to go to a different page to see the seats, now it's built right in:

The entire process has a much better feel, and in fact moves faster than the old site.  There's a lot more to it, and a lot more to come.  I don't know when United will take the site out of Beta testing, but I know you will love it when it happens!  Kuddos to the IT staff at United!

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

United Announces More Outsourcing

Under the guise of a financial decision, United Airlines has announced the expected outsourcing of approximately 1,100 jobs across the United States.

All I really want to say is this: Thank you.  I have flown in and out of a number of the affected airports, and these employees have helped me greatly.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?