Is United in the business of transportation, or degrading the experience of transportation—or perhaps both?
Do you remember a time when showing up at the airport was not an instant act of dehumanization? Well in today’s episode of What America Has Done to Travel, we have the shining example of United Airlines, which at least at the dingy heap known as Newark International Airport seems passionately committed to consigning the notion of decent travel experiences for all to the dustbin of aviation history.
That, folks, was the nice introduction. Here’s the more inelegant but also overdue one: United demeans the entire air transportation experience for the lion’s share of the flying public. Wait, that was still way too nice. If someone treated you on the playground like United kicks around the average paying customer without status this or elite that, the only proper response would be hey United? Up yours.
Once upon a time you arrived at Newark’s ugly but airy Terminal C and checked in for your flight. Tall floor-to-ceiling windows, a sense of public space which is what a commercial airport in America used to be. Well now you can’t do that unless you are an elitist: a high-elite member of United’s MileagePlus program or maybe an acolyte of the oddly named “Polaris,” United’s business class, or a member of the perk-y but patently ridiculous “Global Services” (wait, so “offering the most international destinations from the Newark/New York City area of any U.S. airline” is not a ‘Global Service’?), etc. Only if you belong to one of those platinum fingernailed crowds can you still check in where everyone else used to be able to, that is on the spacious ground level.
But if not—if, say, you’re a lowly plumber and saved up all year to haul your beloved brats to some Caribbean island that isn’t St. Barts and could only afford an economy ticket, well United in cahoots with the ever-benevolent, squeaky clean Port Authority of New York and New Jersey basically is telling you to get the hell out of the way and get lost. Get ready to descend two levels down to the dark and dingy depths where United warmly compels you to check in at any one of dozens of ugly machines probably made by slave labour in China. There are signs everywhere that indicate that you must “tag your bag” at one of these kiosks, which creates a ton of instant confusion because many people are only traveling with hand luggage and don’t immediately realize that they have to get their boarding passes spat out from this digital beasts anyway.
And oh, that Polaris. Haven’t flown it, won’t fly it. When United killed off Continental it also terminated any reason to fly United. But anyway you can’t always board your air bus of choice and the announcements on board about where the lavatories are located really take the cake. In all my many years of flying I have never heard an announcement about where the toilets on a plane are located. You’re in a plane, not a shopping mall: chances are pretty good that if you’ve got to pee you’ll find the right spot to do your business on your own, thank you very much.
But no, on United the announcements about where the lavatories are is just an elaborate song and dance to deliver the message’s end warning: don’t you fucking dare use the Polaris lavatory if you are not actually flying Polaris—”Thank you for complying with this important message” or some such B.S., as if to say, “If we find a coach passenger pissing up in a Polaris lavatory, we’ll be really pissed / we may charge you an additional for each documented flush / okay we just really don’t know what to do with ourselves except continuously zap any iota of fun out of the actual experice of flying because that’ the United way. Bitches.”
The construct of that kind of announcement leaves little wonder that United is the airline where a man was forcibly dragged down the aisle because when he didn’t want to give up his seat. On this flight, a flight attendant actually tripped in the aisle falling flat on her face. Leave it to United to take a new 787 Dreamliner and turn into some kind of airborne dungeon where the aisles are so narrow not even a trained flight attendant can navigate them without risk of seriously bodily injury. Yeah, these skies are friendly, but are friendlier for the “Global Access” crowd, and don’t you dare bend out of line or think for yourself whilst within our cramped confines.
United also wants you to engage in random acts of self-censorship, too. Their IFE (in-flight entertainment) system is pretty bad, because it’s United and what else would you expect from this outfit but good old-fashioned Chicago-based mediocrity, but they do have some decent audio selections: well dip into the ’80s and you really can’t go wrong for long. But select Vevo videos and you get the above-pictured message across your monitor. What the actual fuck United? Should I put away my Bible because it offends a Muslim, too? Or hide my Koran because it bothers a Jew? Or, wait, maybe my pink sweater offends some varsity football player one seat away from me…can you provide me with a yellow one so I can satisfy his prejudices instead of exercising my basic freedoms as a human being and as an American?
As it happens, the first video to appear was “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Whereas United just wants to drain any form of amusement out of the room (cabin) and God forbid if you disagree.
Miserable, elitist-chasing United! Pity they don’t realize that the best way to better PR is by improving the customer experience for all customers, not just some of them. Oh and the only good thing about the weird co-branding thing with Star Wars is not having to hear those eight serially overplayed bars of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for a change.
For more suggestions on when and where to travel with United, visit www.delta.com.
Coming next: How Forbes Fakes the News