A Few Words About United Airlines and the Failures of an Industry


Let me begin by explaining my knowledge regarding the airline industry. I was hired by Bonanza Airlines in 1967. After training in Phoenix, I began what I believed could be a lifelong career at Los Angeles International Airport; LAX.

Bonanza was a small west coast airline, serving just four states. Its aircraft consisted of a small fleet of 40 passenger F-27 turbo props, and three 105 passenger DC-9’s which were similar to today’s MD-80’s. Bonanza’s most lucrative route was from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

A merger with Pacific Airlines and West Coast Airlines created Air West. Later Howard Hughes purchased the airline and his name was added to the company’s title; Hughes Air West. Later it became Republic Airlines and finally Northwest purchased the company.

I worked for ten years until I decided to change careers. During that time I worked in every capacity offered to me. I loaded baggage, air freight, and U.S. mail while working on the ramp. I put food and drink in the galleys when I was in commissary. I sold tickets at the counter in the main lobby. I checked in passengers at the departure area. And I worked in operations where I instructed the ramp crew how to load the aircraft for proper weight and balance; decided the amount of fuel necessary; and ensured that the pilots had the proper weather information and anything else they might need.

When I worked at the ‘gate’ area I was proud of our customer service policy. I also occasionally worked at our information counter where I advised passengers regarding times of departure and any other situations which would affect their flights.

We had no computers; everything was accomplished by phone or in person. If we were informed of a delay which might affect a passenger’s connecting flight, we frequently met them at the bottom of the stairs and drove them and their baggage to the gate of their next airline. If the delay would prevent them from connecting to that flight, we would book passage for them on the next available flight on any airline.

Today air travel is a disaster. I worked for the Census Bureau in 2009 and 2010, and occasionally forced to travel by airline. From the time I lined up to submit to security, to the discomfort of small seats with little leg room, I discovered that travel by air is today’s nightmare.

However, the worst experience I ever had was in 1998. My wife and I were traveling from Denver to San Francisco, with a connecting flight to Reno. We had been staying at my brother’s house. It was April, and before we left for the airport, the snow began to fall. I called United Airlines to ensure that our flight was on time. I was guaranteed that we would depart on schedule.

We drove to the airport in a snowstorm. When we reached our departure gate, we were once again guaranteed that our flight would leave on time.

Twenty minutes before our scheduled departure, an announcement was made that our flight would be delayed. We boarded the aircraft approximately 40 minutes late; there would still be time to catch our connecting flight. By the time my wife and I took our seats, the overhead storage areas were filled. We were forced to place our two small carry-ons under our feet, with our knees up to our chest. But then came the worst. We sat in that position for nearly four hours; waiting in line to ‘de-ice.’ Because we remained grounded, the flight attendants were not allowed to serve us food or drink.

When we eventually arrived in San Francisco, United Airlines had not protected us on a flight to Reno. There was only a single flight remaining for the day, and we were forced to run to the departure gate. We were lucky to receive the last two seats. We vowed to never travel by air again.

Days later I wrote a letter to United Airlines, informing them of the worst passenger service in history; explaining to them my history of prior airline employment. I told them that I wold never travel on their airline in the future. The Director of Customer Service sent us a letter containing two one-hundred dollar vouchers for future travel. I sent them back, reminding them that I would never travel on United again.

Long story to tell you why I was not surprised by the video emanating from Chicago and involving United Airlines. This situation is unforgivable, and I am certain that a lawsuit will soon be filed. Forcibly removing anyone from an aircraft is unforgivable, and especially because it was United’s mistake.

I have a friend who retired from the FAA. He worked in the towers and once was an airport manager. When I told him my tale about United, he was not surprised. He told me that he and other FAA employees considered United the worst airline in the United States.

A final note: the lack of customer service and overcharging for bags, food and drink today, is the result of another poor decision by your Republican controlled government. They approved several mergers which allowed the industry to overcharge, and place travelers at their mercy. They have policies such as overbooking by ten percent, and have lessened the number of flights to many cities. The aircraft themselves have become cattle cars; and United remains the worst in the industry.


By James Turnage

Photo courtesy of Tomas Del Coro

Follow me on twitter; @jamesturnagenov

My novels are available on Amazon


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