Saturday 30 December 2006

...and how may I avoid serving you today?

I'm not sure I've ever been so rudely treated in a consumer transaction in all my life.

Since my first flight in August 2000, I've become quite the little sky-hopper, having caught rides on Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, bmi (British Midland), Canada 3000, CanJet, easyJet, jetBlue, and WestJet, from 16 different airports. This past week, I added one new airport (San Francisco), and one new airline (United), and I was thoroughly underwhelmed.

In my previous US flight experiences on jetBlue, order and civility were maintained — even at their incredibly busy national hub at Logan in Boston. I was spoken to with courtesy, and was made to feel that my business was appreciated. I didn't receive any special treatment, just the manners that one expects in an interaction with another human being.

If I had to describe the scene at the United check-in gates at SFO, I might describe it as "bazaar-like". There was one woman, whose role, as far as I could tell, was to serve as some sort of carnival barker, straight out of a biography of P.T. Barnum. Every few minutes she'd walk to the front of this long line of people (next to the sign reading, 'Wait Here for Service'), and yelled (I'm paraphrasing) "*disgustedly* I don't know what you're still doing in line. It's all self check-in - staff are doing no check-ins.

I promptly went to the check-in kiosk and was told to speak to an agent. I asked the carnival barker for instructions, and she instructed me to wait in a quickly forming line for assistance. About fifteen minutes later, I was at the head of the line, and a woman came up to me, identified herself as the service supervisor, and asked me why I was standing there. I told her that a United employee had instructed me to wait there for assistance, and she said, "Well, I'm the supervisor for this area, and that's just simply not the case. You should have stayed at your machine and waited for assistance."

After reminding her that the machine instructed me to seek out assistance and that I was following the instructions of staff, she started telling staff members to stop doing what they were doing, and told me to push my way to service, otherwise I might never be called forward.

On the other hand, the United staff at YVR (Vancouver) and all the in-flight crews have been incredibly friendly and helpful. Nonetheless, if the service I received at San Francisco International Airport is typical of what I should expect, then my currently scheduled itinerary from Seattle to Halifax will be my last on United Airlines.

F––– — Would not recommend!!!!!!!!!!!

Update: My flight home at Christmas, also with United, was bumped three days late due to the Denver blizzards, and my original itinerary through Denver was changed to a, you guessed it, San Francisco routing. Aside from the three days of lateness, though, staff were significantly more helpful :)

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