Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
United Airlines Is Still Dead to Me
Thursday, May 3, 2018 -- I am not a man who easily forgets—or forgives--a malpractice.

The Exxon Valdez struck a reef in 1989 and dumped almost 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound. In the decades that followed, Exxon plowed far more resources into skirting its financial responsibility than owning up to it.

In nearly 30 years since the spill I have personally pumped Exxon-branded gasoline into my cars and motorcycles only a handful of times, always in an emergency and never without the deepest regret. The last time that I purchased Exxon fuel was more than a decade ago. And I only pumped enough to get me safely past a remote area.

Why do I tell you this? Because United Airlines holds a similar, albeit slightly less villainous, place in my unforgiving heart.

Four years ago it took the air carrier 43 hours--you heard right, forty three hours--to transport me from Portland, Maine, to Las Vegas, Nevada. This was in perfectly glorious weather conditions, mind you, and absent a single mechanical or other related problem.

I'd like nothing better than to tell you why it took nearly two days to fly 2,400 miles. But I can't. Because I don't know why. During the whole confounding affair not once did I get a straight answer out of anybody who worked at the "friendly skies."

Not from the United Airlines representatives who lied to me about my flight being cancelled (It wasn't.), nor those who lied about the plane actually taking off with hardly any passengers aboard (It did.), not even the ones who demanded I pay for an upgrade lest I lose an assigned seat paid for in advance months earlier. (I felt, under the circumstances, that I must.)

I'm 60 years old and cannot honestly recall a single instance where I was misled, mistreated and taken advantage of more egregiously than by United Airlines and its representatives. To say nothing of the frail and elderly woman at the Portland International Jetport that the heartless United employees wouldn't lift a finger to assist, despite her many, and completely justifiable, pleas for help.

After arriving home from this abominable excursion--no, the return was not a demonstrably better experience, though it was, mercifully, a lot quicker--I swore never to fly United Airlines again. I even detailed the abomination at another Web site to remind myself of my pledge.

For four years, no matter what was required to avoid United Airlines, I stuck firmly to my word. Many times this meant not flying out of my hometown airport in Portland and instead traveling two hours by bus or car to Boston's much larger Logan airport. In fact, I've come to think of Boston, not Portland, as my home turf.

But then last month, to accommodate an itinerary request made strongly by my beloved wife, I very reluctantly boarded a United Airlines flight in Portland en route to New Orleans.

The trip, I am relieved to report, was in no way a repeat performance of four years ago.

But for a delay due to weather at United's Washington/Dulles, our trip to and from New Orleans went off without a hitch. My wife and I were even granted priority boarding status on all of our flights--for reasons I cannot explain, but was grateful to receive.

After returning home, I remarked to a friend how smoothly things had gone this time despite all of my many fears leading up to the trip.

"That's terrific," he said enthusiastically. "So, I guess this means you'll be flying the friendly skies again?"

To which I replied, without the slightest hesitation, "HELL NO!"

You see, as far as I'm concerned, we got lucky last month. I'll take it, of course. Gladly. But United Airlines is still dead to me. It always will be.

I am not claiming that I will never buy a ticket from the bastards ever again. Circumstances, unfortunate though they may be, might one day require me to board one of its aircraft. But to willingly be a United Airlines customer? Never, ever again. The scars are just too deep.

I'd sooner give my money to Exxon. At least those bastards didn't assault me personally the way United has.

It's not as if I'm asking a lot of companies with which I do business. Really, I'm just like everybody else. Year after year, study after study shows that businesses and their brands lose customers for some very simple reasons: by providing poor service, breaking promises, causing customers inconvenience and providing poor value.

In my experience United Airlines is guilty of all those things and more. This recent trip to New Orleans notwithstanding, why on earth would I want to be a customer of these clowns if I don't absolutely, positively have to?

In fact, the only reason I keep my United MileagePlus account open and in good standing is because I'm waiting to use the miles I accumulated on a partner airline, like TAP Air Portugal or Lufthansa. Once I've burned the miles it'll be arrivederci "friendly skies." Forever.

My history proves my resolve. When I moved to Portland more than 20 years ago, there were barely two or three decent restaurants in town. My wife and I used to frequent one, though not with great enthusiasm. The food and ambiance were both very good, but the service sucked and the value proposition far enough out of line to notice. The place is still around, but I haven't seen the inside of it in nearly a decade. As soon as other good restaurants opened in and around Portland, we could afford to tell the jokers with the crappy service to take a hike.

Telling United Airlines to take a hike is, admittedly, an entirely different story. Unlike the restaurant business, the airlines operate in a world where brand loyalty barely matters, where choice is limited and where customer satisfaction is as quaint as the notion of free checked bags.

As George Carlin once said, "The status quo sucks." But that's not going to stop me from calling the bastards out every chance I get.

United is a bad airline run by bad people and it's dead to me forevermore.

This column is Copyright © 2018 by Ralph Raffio. is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.