United Airlines Now Responsible For One-In-Three Consumer Complaints

When United and Continental decided to become a couple, they weren’t just combining their bank accounts and airplane collections, they also had to combine all the complaints people file against them. But even that doesn’t account for the huge increase in consumer complaints filed against the united United.

Yesterday, the DOT released its latest Air Travel Consumer Report [PDF] — we’ve already covered some of the info from the report here — which includes a breakdown of consumer complaints by U.S. airline.

And according to these numbers, for the first half of 2012, United Airlines is responsible for 1,740 of 5,159 complaints filed between January and June. That’s an incredible 33.6% of all complaints. It’s almost more than three times the amount filed for runners-up American Airlines (552) and U.S. Airways (511). Delta, which lost the title of nation’s largest airline when United and Continental merged, was a distant fourth place in the complaint department with only 443.

Could United’s huge complaint number be merely a fact that its numbers are now combined with Continental’s?

Nope.

A look back at the report [PDF] for the same time period in 2011 found United with only 501 complaints — third behind Delta (702) and American (636) — while Continental had only racked up 381 complaints. Combined, these two airlines account for less than 20% of all consumer gripes filed with the DOT during those six months.

Looking back through the month-to-month breakdowns of complaints, you can see that the problem occurred back in March, when United and Continental merged their reservation systems — with more than a few problems.

And when you look at the breakdown of complaints by category, you see that reservations and ticketing is a huge problem for United.

Out of the 696 total complaints filed in this category so far in 2012, United was responsible for 296 (42.5%) of them. A year ago, the combined United and Continental reservations/ticketing complaints only accounted for 24.5% of complaints in that category.

Consumer issues with reservations logically spill over into complaints about refunds and customer service in general, both areas in which the new United saw a huge increase.

196 travelers complained about refund problems with the airline. That’s more than 45% of all complaints in the category. Compare that to a total of only 79 complaints for the same time period in 2011 for United and Continental.

Meanwhile, not only was United’s 330 customer service-related complaints by far the most for the first half of 2012 (approximately 42% of all complaints), United was the only airline with triple-digit numbers in this category.

United tells the Houston Chronicle that it’s aware of the unpleasant stats and wants to do better:

“Our operational performance is not where it should be, and we recognize its impact to our customers and employees,” United said in a statement when asked about the most recent statistics… We are taking immediate action to improve, including adding spare aircraft and more ground time between flights, and making changes to our technology to give employees and customers more reliability. So far in the month of August, we are seeing improved results.”

Only time will tell if these complaint stats improve as the happy couple sorts out their honeymoon issues. Delta experienced similar customer service nightmares when it merged with Northwest but has demonstrated improvement in recent airline surveys.

Comments

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  1. nugatory says:

    The one thing that really annoyed my about the merger, is the price of tickets has gone up. I used to fly Continental out of Houston for work, but of late they are significantly more expensive than US Air.

    • Kat says:

      They’ve dropped for me. I’ve flown to Newfoundland, Canada quite a few times over the past 6 years or so. When I first started going the ticket was about $1000 after the merger it dropped to an average of $700.

  2. PragmaticGuy says:

    Continental used to be a great airline and when I flew out of Newark which is one of their major hubs I always used them. It’s a pity they’re falling down on the job. I guess their “work hard, fly right” motto is not being followed anymore.

  3. colpuck says:

    Wait until next month. With UA canceling a huge number of tickets the number of DOT complaints against UA will come close to doubling. I know I filed 3 last month myself.

    • wcnghj says:

      Canceling tickets? Are the removing flights that people are already booked on?

      • PSUSkier says:

        Yep. My dad was down visiting this past weekend. They canceled his flight for Monday morning on… Monday morning. Their response was to go and get a ticket from another airline. Oh, and they of course did nothing for the massive fees that last-minute booking gets you.

  4. S-Man1234 says:

    I worked at United for their tech services during the reservation change over in March and boy what a cluster- frick. United wasn’t ready, they hadn’t trained their people, the new people they hired didn’t know anything about ticketing.

    The training they gave us didn’t matchup to what we were seeing during the change over so allthe training was useless.

    I’ve since left the company but I’ll never fly United again…unless you want to gamble on if your ticket will be still in the system day you fly. Too many horror stories of people getting to the airport and United not having any records of them purchasing a ticket on-line.

    • Santas Little Helper says:

      Their non-rev system is even more f-ed up if you can imagine. I used to fly them for free all time (employee), I don’t hardly consider it anymore. AND I FLY FREE!!!!! That’s how awesome the United experience has become.

  5. CharlesV says:

    the text below is from the houston chronicle. United is doing the right thing by acknowledging their mistakes, only time will tell (through their performance numbers) if they are actually acting on their words:

    Operational problems this year have been exacerbated by other activities related to the carrier’s ongoing integration with Continental, including its decision to keep fewer spare planes on hand to use in case of maintenance problems.

    United CEO Jeff Smisek told analysts during a conference call last month announcing the airline’s dismal second-quarter profit that the company is reversing that decision in an effort to reduce the amount of flight cancellations and delays, which have been widespread, as well as improving training for United employees learning the new reservation system.

    “Our operational performance is not where it should be, and we recognize its impact to our customers and employees,” United said in a statement when asked about the most recent statistics.

    “We are taking immediate action to improve, including adding spare aircraft and more ground time between flights, and making changes to our technology to give employees and customers more reliability. So far in the month of August, we are seeing improved results.”

  6. merlesneed says:

    I used to fly to Denver and back at least monthly. As many times they would cancel my flight due to “bad weather” in Denver. The flight crews sometimes showed up late and on more than one occasion, the flight attendants would bore the passengers with their labor complaints.

    When US Air and American combine, they should provide a challenge to the title of crappiest airline in the US.

  7. Santas Little Helper says:

    Coming from the inside, I have whitenessed what a complete train wreck this merger has been. I still believe the merger should have never gone down, and god help the flying public if the AA USAir merger goes through. The stories coming out of the wood work are simply awful. Employees who don’t care, or even worse go out of their way to make life miserable for the customer. Flight crews asserting that they are flying on a continental flight with a continental crew. The stories go on and on. I really hope they can get their act together.

  8. tomjelen says:

    United CEO Jeff Smisek does not know what he is doing !
    He took a perfectly polished reservation system that UAL had in place already and threw it out it for his Shares system that is all 1970 technology and two steps back.
    The guy Jeff really does not have a clue.