Today’s Rant: United Airlines Thinks Flights Arrive Before They Leave, and Other Ways United Shows Disregard For Their Customers

Indulge me a rant...

Having flow hundreds of thousands of miles on United Airlines over the years (I had 100,000 miles/year for many years, with perhaps 50+ transpacific flights in the 90s), I've always been inclined to like them, but I think those days are over.

My wife and her folks were supposed to arrive to Cleveland Airport twenty minutes ago, but the plane that is to take them there from Toronto has not yet left on its previous leg (Newark to Toronto), so the best they can do to Cleveland will be at least 3½ hours late. Yet United Airlines is currently showing their flight as arriving 45 minutes before it takes off!

Arriving Before it Takes Off
United Airlines' Web Site
(note: all times are in the same timezone)

What pathetic data maintenance, inexcusable in a world where people have brains, much less in the age of computers.

The airplane used for this flight started its day in Atlanta, leaving on its first flight four hours late, so United Airlines has known since very early this morning that every flight that plane would serve would be similarly delayed, yet they didn't push a flight-status update for the Toronto-Cleveland leg until well after noon, ensuring that I couldn't call Fumie at her hotel to let her know that she had the day free. Instead, they sentenced her and her folks to a wasted day sitting around at the airport. Joy.

I understand that there are delays in air travel (weather, equipment problems, etc... ), but what really pisses me off is the stupid information. As I write this, I got a real-time push notification that the flight from Newark finally pushed off, yet on the same page they note that flight into Toronto will be three hours thirty-six minutes late, they claim that the continuation flight will be quite impossibly just an hour forty-five minutes late.

It's United Airlines pure, utter disregard for their customers.

The lesson I learned (besides that United deserves its horrid reputation) is that at least on United, when checking the flight status, to also check the status of the flights prior to the one you care about, via the “where is this aircraft coming from?” link seen at the bottom of the screenshot above. Checking the status of that flight (marked with the orange arrow above) and of the other preceding flights down the line for the aircraft in question can give you the insight United should be showing you in the first place. Had I done this when I woke up, I would have been able to save Fumie and her folks a wasted day.

In other United-Sucks news...

After my United-induced day of frantic travel the other day, my luggage finally was delivered two days later (at about 4am on Christmas Day). Ho ho ho.

And as I mentioned on that frantic-travel post, I've been mostly impressed with United Airlines' iPhone app. On the app yesterday, I noticed that info on my return-flight reservation had disappeared, so I checked the reservation on their web site only to be greeted with a “this reservation has been canceled” note. Doh!

Two hours on the phone with United last night finally got it cleared up. At first they blamed it on ANA (the Japanese airline that brings me from Tokyo to Osaka after United brings me from Ohio to Tokyo), and said that they couldn't rectify things until they talked to ANA to confirm that I still had that reservation. Unfortunately and somewhat unbelievably, United Airlines has no special way to contact their partner airline, so said they couldn't help me until ANA's USA office opened the next morning.

That's ridiculous, so at my own expense I called ANA's English-language reservations line in Tokyo and found that my reservation was fine. So I called United back and, after much delay I found out the root of the problem: on the frantic-travel inbound leg, they apparently never actually checked me in on the flight I took, so when I didn't show up for the much later flight that I had been waitlisted for, their computer assumed I had abandoned the reservation and canceled the rest of it.


PS#1: this is my rant, and so I don't want to use it to collect others' rants about United or air travel in general, so at this point I'd appreciate comments of commiseration but not of others' tales of airline woe.

PS#2: after the hour it took me to write up this rant, they've finally updated the estimated arrival time to Cleveland to actually be after the departure time.

All 14 comments so far, oldest first...

Hi Jeffrey,

My commiseration’s…….Wishing you and your Family a Happy New Year. Forget all the worries and welcome 2013 together. The New Year has come with new expectations, new opportunities, new challenges and a whole new way of delighting the people related to you…Have a Happy New Year Ahead together……..

Richard, Nobuko and Yoko.

— comment by Richard (Osaka - Japan) on December 31st, 2012 at 10:01am JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I am sorry to read about your travel woes. But, no doubt it’ll be fine as all’s well that ends well.

— comment by Arthur on December 31st, 2012 at 10:08am JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Sorry you have to go through this with the new UA. It’s all due to the old system (SHARES) from CO that is the adopted by the new UA. The system automatically cncels the rest of your reservation if it detects you missed a segment either due to flight cancellation or misconnects through no fault of yours and the agent did not properly sync your ticket after each update. You just have to babysit your reservation till your trip concludes. Good luck.

— comment by YL on December 31st, 2012 at 12:00pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

United is one of the worst major airlines except for Aeroflot. I hope your flight home is better than your flight to the US. Family friends flew to Japan to visit their family for the holiday and had no problem getting there except for the normal fun of traveling with a 3yr old.

Now to plug my sister’s Co. Southwest has no 1st class, everyone sits in a small seat, but no $25 charge for a blanket. They also have 1 of the best on time % in the business. They don’t charge very much and are kinda funny. Yes they do make mistakes but i know a number of people there and they all care very much that your trip goes well. I know they don’t fly to Japan(to bad). You could fly to LAX or Seatac and then transfer to Swa.


— comment by Ed Pouso on December 31st, 2012 at 12:01pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Well, that sucks. For what it’s worth, I still like United. Many years ago I had to change a ticket at the last minute, which would have cost around a thousand dollars. However, because the travel agent messed up (or so they told me), the charges were waived and I just had to pay $100. Granted, that story may not speak well of their staff competence (since the travel agent supposedly screwed up a simple operation).

But in thinking about it, are there any good (American) airlines anymore? Between the hidden fees, luggage restrictions, lack of in-flight food, and the TSA, I feel like it’s a rotten experience no matter which company you go with.

— comment by David K on December 31st, 2012 at 12:10pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Well, at least they didn’t break your guitar 🙂


— comment by Marcina (Bellingham, WA) on December 31st, 2012 at 1:40pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

While I grumble over the expense, I fly ANA to and from Japan; never had a wrinkle in the flight schedules, though to be fair, what could go wrong with a direct Washington DC to Tokyo flight? My own, indirect experience with UA was at Dulles, we were seeing a friend off at the gate(this before 9/11) and there was a Chinese woman, elderly, who spoke no English and was waiting for a connecting flight to Philadelphia. Seeing wife unit, she assumed she was Chinese (she’s not of course), but we went to the gate agents and asked them iof they could call and find someone at UA who could speak Chinese and reassure this passenger of theirs. We were told ‘no’ UA doesn’t have Chinese speaking agents, which is absurd.

So we call the 800 number and discover UA does have Chinese-speaking agents. Went back the gate, told the agents there what we had been told, they called and wonders of wonders, a Chinese speaking flight agent was found!

To me, these sorts of issues bespeaks of poor management and poorly motivated employees.

— comment by Bob on December 31st, 2012 at 10:43pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Really sorry about your travel woes! This industry is so overdue for a revolution (in customer service, cost or duration). The pain of airline travel is more acute considering all of the advances in so many other fields (cellphones, flat screen TV’s, Apple computers, waterproof breathable fabrics, realtime updates in just about everything else, self-parking cars) and then where you live you have that awe inspiring customer service and always ontime bullet trains… not to mention gorgeous Japanese women sprinting through the airport in snappy business outfits and high heels…(NOTHING beats that.)

I wish you the best in 2013! I never get to go to Japan as much as I’d like and you’re non-photo /non-Japan (wink/nudge) blog is so much better than so many of the other blogs in the same vein. I hope you got a chance to take some photos in the USA and post them on your blog. It would be interesting to see your perspective on your former homeland. Hope your trip home is a lot better than your trip going.

— comment by Ron Evans on December 31st, 2012 at 11:19pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

the flight is very short, it could be a good idea to take a car or bus – if UA would notify you before of the delay.
i am also used to check departure and arrival times in the net, mostly for me or for my family.
i am using flight aware.
your flight is also liste there:
on the previous day it was even more delayed :-((
ps: i didn’t know that you live at the big lakes …

Thanks for the link… I didn’t know you could look at the history that way. They’re flying out tomorrow (Cleveland-Washington DC-Narita), and so I just checked the CLE-IAD flights for the last week, and they’ve not been too late, so that bodes well for tomorrow. —Jeffrey

— comment by Thomas on January 1st, 2013 at 1:03am JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

The skies here in the DC metro area are cloudy and that’s it, so no weather related delays at this end. I suspect that given the time here, 09:00, they are already in the air towards IAD.

— comment by Bob on January 1st, 2013 at 11:00pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

the link is very useful and worth to be placed in the favourites.
i had the need for the detailed history some times.
intentionally the airlines show their histories only back for a few days. knowing well that it will be useless to start a discussion if one can not prove.
i have a similar flight record with Asiana as you do with United.
recently asiana had a lot of problems to be in time, especially on one of those legs which i used.
very often i missed connection flights, transfers and such.
whenever i tried to discuss the issue with them they denied any knowledge about delays.
but since i start any discussion with the log of flightaware it shows significant improvement.
i got an upgrade, could enter their first class lounge and could exceed my baggage allowance.
if registered at flightaware one can track the history back to 1998 and can even see who was the pilot on the flight ( i have no idea how they get this data … ?!

— comment by Thomas on January 1st, 2013 at 11:06pm JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Well – like the other reader said – at least they did not break your guitar…
You gotta smile over this sort of crazy stuff or your blood pressure will get you in the end and United still won’t have upgraded their systems…
Happy New Year and safe travelling in 2013
Annie x

— comment by Annie in London on January 2nd, 2013 at 10:19am JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Crossing the International Date Line will set you back one day from Japan to the US or the opposite when going back to Japan. Could that be the problem?

No, all flights and times were within the same timezone. —Jeffrey

— comment by Abraham Lincoln on January 3rd, 2013 at 12:18am JST (11 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Today is Nov 19, 2019. I am sitting at the tarmac and waiting for the plane to take off. However, flight tracker shows we have started flying and have covered considerable ground!

This is not the first time I am having this experience with United. Once, in Charlotte, I watched from the gate as a United flight getting called, boarded, and take off on the status board, without any real activity associated with it.

My theory is that there must be statistics United is compiling with different data points which do not necessarily relate.

— comment by United frequent flyer on November 20th, 2019 at 3:15am JST (4 years, 7 months ago) comment permalink
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