Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Transportation enhancements and failures

Complaints. I would normally keep my mouth shut about United Airlines, but it just seems the airline is floundering. Their route network is all about Asia and it seems that I end up on regional jets for most domestic flights. They have some great employees and United provides better routes from San Francisco than most other airlines, but I eagerly await Virgin America's arrival so I can enjoy a better level of service from my home town.

Even though United’s route network is better than most from SFO, they don't offer more than one flight per day to places like Atlanta and Houston (I would say a hub deserves more than that!) and a change of planes is mandatory if I'm headed to major Midwestern airline hubs like Minneapolis, Detroit and Cincinnati, so I must fly other airlines rather than United. In the last six months, United has canceled my flights, delayed my luggage, raised fares, and reduced flights where I need to travel. I've been courteous to customer service agents who have treated me like dirt at O'Hare. I've been on a lot of crusty old United 737-300 aircraft and also tried to explain problems to the people who answer the phone in India -- who are poorly trained and have no clue what's going on -- when I forget to call the 1K phone numbers. Yes, I have talked to some wonderful customer service agents and encountered some terrific pilots and flight attendants, but more and more they seem to be in the minority.

No food. The policy they implemented earlier this year -- not to offer the teeny bag of snacks with the beverage service on flights less than two hours has, for some reason, really showcased that the airline’s quality has bottomed. It's crazy... I know... but it says a lot. At least several domestic carriers and European carriers that don't provide free snacks will at least sell them on the plane. I thought American was the lousiest airline in the US when I flew them in December because they offered no snacks on some long flights. But now United is the same.

I've been trying to fly other airlines more because they seem to actually care a bit more about customer service (even as a 1K member, United often doesn't treat me as well as some other US carriers treat me as a no-status flyer), but it's still always going to be about price and convenience. I'm disappointed because I'd like to "like" United, but it's hard to do so when the airline keeps cutting back on the little things that enhance the dismal experience of flying. Separate red carpet boarding areas for 1K members? Who cares about that? I'd rather have a small bag of pretzels on the plane.

I wish they would sell their snack boxes on all flights. They're really not so good -- and overpriced for the unhealthy things they put in them -- but at least they provide an option for hungry travelers. I just don’t know many people who would typically pay five bucks to spread strawberry jam on saltines.

Muni. At the same time I’m disturbed by United, our local transit system -- ridiculously known as Muni -- has been making some improvements. I was so excited to board a bus this morning, find a seat in the back of the bus and enjoy my ride to work. I arrived at the Haight and Pierce Street bus stop. As usual, two buses drove by, a Route 6 and a Route 71, passing up the stop. Even though it’s one of the busiest stops along the route, for some reason the 71L bus doesn’t stop there. But then, rumbling down the hill came a Route 7 bus: an articulated bus! It actually stopped and allowed the dozen or so individuals waiting at the corner to board.

Granted, it’s taken Muni years to finally put the capacity on this route to accommodate its ridership, but everyone knows that nothing gets done at Muni in short order and this is a good first step.

Ok. That's my rant for now. Nothing very substantive, but thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

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