How would you like to fly from Hawaii to Chicago in an airplane full of cigarette butts, candy, used tissues, pretzel bags, maxi-pad wrappers, crumbs, dirt, pens, balls of “goo”, and god knows what else just because United Airlines didn’t have “time” to clean the plane? We wouldn’t like it very much at all, and neither did Chris and his wife when they flew from Hawaii to Chicago last weekend.
When Chris and his wife were about to board the plane they were warned that it hadn’t been cleaned, but were assured that they would disembark the plane during a stopover in Kona, HI (KOA) while a cleaning crew cleaned up the airplane. That, of course, did not happen. From Chris’s letter to United Airlines:
After we arrived in Kona, HI, we were told there was not enough time for us to disembark the aircraft, and we would have to remain on while it was cleaned and the crew was switched. The boarding of the crew and cleaning staff prompted the following comments from United Airlines:
Lead Flight Attendant: “I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and I’ve never seen a plane this dirty.”
Lead of the Cleanup Crew: “This is so bad I’m almost embarrassed.”
During the so called “cleaning” we were also told by the cleaning staff that they were told to “only clean empty seats”, which meant my wife and I (along with the 348 other passengers) had to deal with dirty seat pockets and cluttered leg room. They did not come through with a vacuum or another other devices to clean and/or sanitize the plane.
See the full gallery of carnage inside.
Here are Chris’s photos, with captions, along with the letter he wrote to United Airlines:
March 20, 2007
P.O. Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666
Attention: Graham Atkinson
Dear Mr. Atkinson:
This past weekend (March 18-19, 2007) my wife and I were returning from our wedding anniversary trip to Maui, Hawaii. Unfortunately, this trip was probably the worst travel experience we’ve ever had. As
frequent vacation travelers (at least 4 times a year, many international), we have a fair understanding of how a flight should go, and this was not how a flight should go. Let me start at the beginning:
We boarded United Airlines flight 3 from Kahului, Maui (OGG) at approximately 2:30 pm Hawaiian Standard Time. We were warned that due to the plane’s late arrival from Chicago it would not have time to be cleaned before we boarded. We were instructed by the gate attendantsthat we would disembark the aircraft during our stopover in Kona, HI (KOA) while a cleaning crew cleaned up the airplane. Even that announcement did not prepare us for what we were about to see. Below are a few photos which I took using my camera phone prior to departure
from the gate (The quality is a bit poor due to being taken with a phone, so I will explain each picture with a caption below it):
This is the floor next to the window.
There are pieces of candy, popcorn and other mysterious items
This is the row in front of me.
There is a life preserver, a chip or pretzel bag and used tissues/napkins.
This is a different angle of the row in front of me.
There is an empty bottle, a pillow and some used tissues/napkins
This is the aisle to my left.
There is a Hawaiian Agriculture import form, candy wrappers and plastic wrap.
This is the aisle to my left again, but further down.
There is coloring book pages, a plastic cup, a ball of goo, a chip or
pretzel bag, a candy wrapper and a pen.
This is my wife’s seat pocket.
There is a sticker book, candy/food wrappers and used napkins/tissues.
This is the aisle to my left, looking back.
There is a used tissue/napkin and plastic wrap.
This is the row to the front-left of me.
There is forms, paper, plastic wrap, popcorn and a smoked cigarette
butt (circled in red).
This is my seat pocket.
There is a pillow cover, some sort of bag with something in it, candy
wrappers, and used napkins/tissues.
This is underneath the seat in front of me.
There is a used napkin, a used tissue (which was on my seat) and what
looks to be a used feminine hygiene sticker back.
After we arrived in Kona, HI, we were told there was not enough time
for us to disembark the aircraft, and we would have to remain on while
it was cleaned and the crew was switched. The boarding of the crew
and cleaning staff prompted the following comments from United
Lead Flight Attendant: “I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and
I’ve never seen a plane this dirty.”
Lead of the Cleanup Crew: “This is so bad I’m almost embarrassed.”
During the so called “cleaning” we were also told by the cleaning
staff that they were told to “only clean empty seats”, which meant my
wife and I (along with the 348 other passengers) had to deal with
dirty seat pockets and cluttered leg room. They did not come through
with a vacuum or another other devices to clean and/or sanitize the
plane. The only sanitization that took place was the changing of the
pillow covers. To add insult to injury, the lead flight attendant had
a conversation with another passenger that went like this:
Passenger: “The plane is so dirty I thought I was on an American
Flight Attendant: “American has very clean planes, perhaps the
cleanest of all airlines.”
This is not good customer service and this is not how United should be
treating their customers. The planes should be cleaned and inspected
before we are able to board, even if it means a slightly late
departure. It so happens that the flight from Kahululi to Kona was
delayed anyway due to a mechanical malfunction. Why wasn’t the plane
cleaned then? Why are your employees saying that other airlines have
cleaner planes? Shouldn’t they believe that United is the best across
the board? Bottom line is, as your customer, we should have never
seen the plane in the condition it was.
But wait, there’s more…
Eventually, we ended up in Chicago O’Hare (ORD) at 6:30 am CDT, about
40 minutes later than our scheduled arrival time. As a result we
missed our connecting flight to Newark Liberty (EWR) on United
Airlines flight 634 departing at 6:35 am CDT. We went to the United
Customer Service counter located in Concourse A of Terminal 1. Once
we arrived at the counter we realized there was a total of 1 agent
working on a line of about 50 customers. When there was about 10
customers left a second agent finally came out. Our in-line time was
well over an hour. At the counter we were told that all direct
flights to Newark were already booked and oversold, the best we could
do was get on standby for those flights. The agent then proceeded to
book us on a flight from O’Hare to Washington Dulles (IAD) then to
Newark. Our final arrival time in Newark would have been 10:30 pm
EDT, a total of 25.5 hours later than our departure time from Kahului
and a total of 13 hours later than our originally scheduled arrival
time in Newark. This was unacceptable to us, as we knew from talking
to other passengers on the plane and in the line that many of those
passengers were traveling to Newark. We then asked the agent if would
could be put on standby for the upcoming Newark flights as well as the
other area airports, JFK and LaGuardia. The agent told us we could
only be on standby for one destination at a time. The information was
something we were prepared to hear, as we had heard it from the other
customers in line ahead of us. What we were not prepared for was this
agent’s attitude. She was rude and confrontational. She suggested
that next time we shouldn’t book a connecting flight so close in time
(there was 45 minutes between flights, mind you). We told her that we
booked the flight through United directly and they didn’t have an
issue with it, and neither did we as we had both made connecting
flights in other cities with less time. She then proceeded to tell us
that United would never book a flight at O’Hare with so little time in
between and that we must have told the booking agent to do so against
their will. Finally, I asked the agent if she could let us into the
Red Carpet Club lounge since we were going to be waiting in O’Hare for
much of the day. I figured this was an acceptable compromise
considering we were late arriving to Chicago due to United’s own
doing. She denied us saying that United does not give out day passes
to the lounges.
Why was United Airlines content with leaving all of those passengers
stranded in Chicago? Was it because you already had our money and
wanted to collect the standby fares knowing there were probably plenty
of people waiting for that flight? Why can’t we be on more than one
standby list at a time? Do you really not give out day passes to your
Finally, through my wife’s own persistence and running between gates
going to Newark and LaGuardia, she was able to get us tickets on
United Airlines flight 676. These tickets were obtained solely at the
expense of my wife and through no help whatsoever by United Airlines.
In conclusion, my wife and I are two very unhappy and very unsatisfied
United Airlines customers. To recount our experiences:
— We were allowed to board a disgustingly dirty airplane that had
just arrived from a 7.5 hour flight.
— Two employees of United Airlines stated they “had never seen an
airplane so dirty” and “were embarrassed” by the conditional of the
— We had to deal with a rude and confrontational United Airlines
customer service agent in Terminal 1, Concourse A of O’Hare
— United did not provide any comfort in the airport (via the Red
Carpet Club lounge) or assistance in getting home when we were late
arriving in Chicago due to a problem with the aircraft (which is in no
way our fault, or problem).
I trust you and/or United Airlines will take the proper action to
correct these issues and repay my wife and I for our experiences with
whatever means you and/or United Airlines feel necessary.
Feel free to write or call with any questions you may have regarding
All we can say is “YUCK!” —MEGHANN MARCO
About an hour after my story was posted on Consumerist I got a call
from the “Executive Office Phone Team” @ United. The lady said they
make all the calls in response to items sent to the Executive Team.
Since I did email (and snail mail) my letter to Graham Atkinson, I
suppose that is why they called back vs. some other customer service
Anyhow, here’s what we’re walking away with:
1) An official apology from United for the condition of the plane.
2) Two $300 travel vouchers for use on future domestic or international travel.
The lady I spoke with also said she was going to personally contact
the head of maintenance at both United proper and at the airports
My wife and I are both extremely happy with the outcome of this, and
are grateful to Consumerist (and Mark Ashley) as well as the
Consumerist community for all your comments and support.