Round 6: Starbucks vs United Airlines

This is round 6 in our Worst Company in America 2008 contest, Starbucks vs United Airlines.

Starbucks: Blankets the landscape in coffee shops and gets accused of putting small coffee shops out of business (However, if you open a java joint next door, you’ll profit from their spillover traffic). They also sue the beejeezus out of you if you have a vaguely similar logo. As in, you also have a green circle in your logo. They’ve been accused of union-busting, and filthy stores. Oh, and crappy coffee. At least they’re no longer using milk spiked with Bovine Growth Hormone.

United Airlines: Is one of the top most-complained about airlines, according to Department of Transportation statistics. Like most legacy carriers, they’ve been finding ways to make your frequent flier miles expire and hard-to-use. Sometimes their flights are strewn with garbage, other times, mice wantonly frolic, or they lose your cat in the cargo hold for 3 weeks (unfortunately the last two can never seem to coincide).

This is a post in our Worst Company In America 2008 series. Keep track of all the goings on at

STILL OPEN FOR VOTING: Exxon vs Crocs, Google Vs Sony, Ticketmaster vs Wachovia, Facebook vs The American Arbitration Association, Comcast vs Menu Foods


Edit Your Comment

  1. arch05 says:

    This should be a blowout like yesterday. You think their coffee is burnt? That’s nothing compared to united’s customer service.

  2. bigdirty says:

    I’ve got to go with Starbucks on this one since it’s they’re just so intrusive to American life, much like McDonalds is as well. If an airline becomes crappy like United and does nothing about it, it’ll just fade away.

  3. clevershark says:

    This is pretty weak. If you don’t like Starbucks, don’t go there. If you don’t like United, you’re still stuck doing business with them if you want to fly to a place where only United flights go.

  4. arras says:

    United Airlines definitely. I’ve never been more frustrated while traveling than when I’ve flown United Airlines or one of their carriers. Rude flight attendants, crappy service, lost luggage and just a horrible experience.

    I’ll take “burnt” coffee and cookie-cutter chain stores over a horrible airline any day of the week

  5. smartmuffin says:

    As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, Starbucks has never intruded on my life at all. I just don’t get all the hate. Viewing numerous locations of a store in a particular town doesn’t inconvienence me in the least.

  6. Toof_75_75 says:

    These two don’t even compare…UA for the obvious win.

  7. JustEaton says:

    I still think Crocs needs to go into another poll. We can’t help but hate Exxon, but I still want an opportunity to hate on Crocs.

    I love Starbucks. :)

  8. noi56u says:

    “Sometimes their flights are strewn with garbage, other times, mice wantonly frolic, or they lose your cat in the cargo hold for 3 weeks (unfortunately the last two can never seem to coincide.”

    Actually laughed out loud at that – isn’t there some way to turn this into a lolcat?

  9. sleze69 says:

    No contest on this one. I fly but I don’t drink coffee. I do like bothering my girlfriend when she orders her mocha-latte-capu-expresso juice by correcting her to the sales clerk by saying that she really wants a “large”.

    United by a landslide.

  10. missdona says:

    @arras: Don’t forget you can “upgrade” to premium economy for a couple of inches of extra leg room for ~$50 per segment. The back of economy gives you so little leg room it’s absurd.

    And the premium economy upgrade gives you nothing but the extra leg room… no extra snack-mix, crackers or whatevers.

  11. Peeved Guy says:

    I guess I’m just in a bad mood or something, but I’m thinking these match ups should be a little more equal. Just saying is all. Maybe have a eeevilll bracket and an annoying bracket.

    What’s next? Who’s the worse person?
    *Johnny’s granny, who feeds him cookies with trans fats with whole milk
    * That creepy guy down the street who always has candy and smells like cheese?

  12. homerjay says:

    I think ben’s just getting the clear losers out of the way so future brackets are more interesting.

  13. NotATool says:

    You forgot about how United airlines served spoiled turkey to their employees to say Happy Thanksgiving…


  14. arch05 says:

    @Peeved Guy: It’s called seeding. Think NCAA.

  15. rdldr1 says:

    Wait, Starbucks is merely accused to union busting – YET they offer health benefits to even part time employees? Crappy coffee? Im not surprised, Consumerist, that you have no link for that since its all a matter of opinion. Also, newsflash: most milk on the market has bovine growth hormone unless its advertised to not have it. Also, lots of my friends who worked at starbucks actually enjoyed the experience.

    United Airlines all the way.

  16. Peeved Guy says:


    Fair enough. Like I said, I must be grumpier than I thought.

  17. Buran says:

    @bigdirty: Really? Then the “legacy carriers” should be dead and buried, yet they aren’t.

  18. DeafChick says:

    United never did gave back that money they stole from that old couple.

  19. jesseraub says:

    Starbucks does a lot of public service projects in coffee growing regions, like building bridges and constructing water treatment facilities.

    They do a lot of good stuff on the people side of it. The business side is just backwards.

  20. MercuryPDX says:

    @Buran: Thank government bailouts for that. :)

  21. m1k3g says:

    Shouldn’t this really be the airline industry as a whole? Is there any airline that doesn’t suck these days? They’ve got us over a barrel thanks to George F’ing Idiot Bush and his domestic security policies and they know it.

  22. Cranky Customer says:

    I’m still hating on United Airlines for stiffing their employees by yanking their pension benefits and, instead, relying on the federal pension insurance fund.

    As a result, my tax dollars are now funding the pensions of bitter surly United flight attendants and other employees. Great. My ticket money pays their salary and my income taxes pay their pensions. And still they treat passengers like dogs.

    Thanks United!

  23. Bmaz23 says:

    Can we up the ante to two matchups a day? It is going to be June by the time we have a winner.

    p.s. – – I voted Starbucks. UAL doesn’t make me jittery and have to pee.

  24. gamin says:

    even though I hate starbucks united sucks major balls

  25. smitty1123 says:

    Stores don’t put other stores out of business, customers do.

  26. qwickone says:

    @rdldr1: Calm down, Consumerist didn’t add Starbuck’s to the running, a reader submitted it.

  27. AaronZ says:

    I don’t drink coffee, but I’d like to think that if I did, I wouldn’t be an idiot paying $4 a cup for it.

    UA for the win.

  28. bigdirty says:

    Eastern, TWA, PanAm mean anything?

  29. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    You actually want me to vote AGAINST my caffeine addiction? How DARE you!!!

    Seriously though – United all the way – nothing but bad experiences with them.

  30. Alexander says:

    These polls are getting more retarded by the day. You could at least put some perspective into these polls and match the companies a bit more evenly.

  31. mike1731 says:

    I just love United (NOT!). I travel on business a fair amount, and even when paying horrible high fares ($800+), I get stuck on flights when “no reserved seating available. Two weeks in advance. Then get jammed on a middle seat in an aging aircraft, with marginal service, sticky seats, etc. And the plane is 99% full. There is no way they can’t afford to clean the planes or reinstate some of the “frills” that they used to have. I’ve started traveling Contintental or Frontier, both of which offer exponentially better service for less.

  32. elijah_dukes_mayonnaise says:

    The baristas in this neck of the woods have gotten markedly uglier
    in recent years. Perhaps coincidentally, I have visited Starbucks less
    of late.

  33. LikeYourFace says:

    @alexander: Why, so the final round can be the evenly matched Wendy’s vs HSBC? Don’t be a dork. Knock out the obviously weak competition early.

  34. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Well, Starbucks sells overpriced, burnt pretension in a paper cup…

    but it’s never left me stranded in an airport after lying about weather in the destination city, so…

    I’m going with United.

    insert “I voted” sticker here.

  35. Corydon says:

    This is one where I really can’t get all that worked up about either candidate. I don’t fly that often, and I rarely drink coffee.

    But my last experience with United was pretty good…got the seats I wanted, no hassles at the airport or with luggage, everything was on time, staff were pleasant.

    I haven’t set foot in a Starbucks in years, but I do find the latte sipping crowd to be mildly annoying, so I guess I’ll vote for them.

  36. B says:

    @dinger_82: I’m in UR Plain, huntin for mice.

  37. bandar says:

    @AaronZ: I don’t know if anybody has ever mentioned this here, and I’m not trying to defend Starbucks by any means, but it’s annoying when people say that starbucks charges you four or five bucks or whatever it is for coffee. They don’t; coffee is two dollars, which is what it costs at most other coffee shops too (not counting gas stations). The lattes and mochas and whatever else are the things that are five dollars. They might be responsible for driving up the cost of coffee, I don’t know, but coffee isn’t four bucks.

  38. plustax says:

    Could you imagine Starbucks baristas being unionized. It will be like getting your coffee at the DMV. Starbucks is supposed to be a part-time gig (for they are offered health insurance) and not meant to be a job where you long for the day you can retire and recieve a gold watch. These kids make some decent cash on the side as well as a decent salary for a kid in college. I had to vote for United today I’ve never been a fan and are definately worse than Starbucks by a double shot.

  39. UpsetPanda says:

    It’s possible I’m the only flyer who has had decent experiences with United.

  40. czetie says:

    @Bmaz23: “I voted Starbucks. UAL doesn’t make me jittery and have to pee.”

    Try flying one of their little commuter jets during a storm…

  41. JustaConsumer says:

    UAL turned my miles in to magazines. They are my airline of last resort.

  42. AceKicker says:

    I’m voting for Starbucks because… well I just hate Starbucks.

    Yeah, that’s right, I’m making an emotionally motivated vote for once. Like none of ‘yall haven’t! :P

  43. chutch says:

    Well, while I do get annoyed by the Starbucks atmosphere, I don’t like coffee – so I can easily avoid that.

    United Air has a great chance of getting my business if I ever have to fly. This means I have an equally high chance of having to deal with them. EVIL! :)

  44. forgottenpassword says:

    I hate the starbucks on every corner thing. They are more prevalant than McDonalds fast food places in this country, but UA definately beats starbucks in this poll.

    I HATE starbucks (& their pretentiousness)& wish it went up against a lesser evil in this poll just so I could vote for them. Starbuck’s “baristas” (*rollseyes*) are in a miserable class all their own.

  45. forgottenpassword says:


    I dont blame you…. I almost went the same way in this poll.

  46. I still can not believe Monsanto is not included in this contest. I hate UA and I really hate Starbucks, but Monsanto is 100 times worse than either of them.

    That said, I hate Starbucks because they are part of the homogenization of America. Destroying the notion of the great American road trip. What is the point of seeing this great nation if every town is exactly the same as the next.

    “How was your trip?”

    “It was great! The Starbucks I went to had 18 tables inside! Ours only has 16 tables inside. And then we saw a Wal-Mart that was even bigger than our Wal-Mart! And then we had dinner at the Olive Garden….It felt just like home.”

  47. Trai_Dep says:

    Annoyed at the borglike nature of Starbucks, mightily impressed that they’re the only company of this size that offers affordable health care, even to their part-time employees. On this one alone, I’d tend to vote them one of the best companies.

  48. jeff303 says:

    @JustEaton: Maybe we should have an, er, winner’s bracket?

  49. Trai_Dep says:

    @Corydon: So you’re saying that if something literally doesn’t happen in front of your face, it doesn’t exist? Or is that if it doesn’t directly, immediately impact your life, then you’re unable to make an ethical judgement?

    Wow, that’s a small way to live a life.

  50. domesticdork says:

    Let’s not forget that United Airlines also hates nursing babies. “K.K. Tetrault says she was asked by a flight attendent to stop breastfeeding her 7-month-old, because the attendent was ‘concerned’ for the other passengers on the flight.

    The flight attendent encouraged her to wait to feed her child until they arrived at their destination but offered a blanket to cover herself and the baby.

    The company has since apologized to Tetrault, saying the company policy is actually that breastfeeding should only be stopped if it poses a safety hazard to the mother or other passengers.” via: []

    Since when does letting your screaming baby eat the best possible food available pose a “safety hazard?”

  51. domesticdork says:

    @Trai_Dep: Doesn’t UPS offer health benefits to part time employees?

  52. Angryrider says:

    United Airlines fo real!
    Crappy coffee is nothing compared to crappy $400 service!

  53. forgottenpassword says:


    One of the mildy interesting things to do when I was visiting england (when looking for a quick place to eat) was to stop in at fast food chain & compare/try all the different items the english versions had compared to the american versions. Examples…. english pizzahut cheeseballs & English McD’s curry-flavoured chicken mcnugget sauces. lol

    Sad thing was…. when i stopped into different pubs & restaurants in england to try the local food….. it often turned out that I did NOT like most of the food they served (it IS true what they say about english food). SO it was often easier to just stop in at the “evil i DO know” (fast food places) than the “evil I didnt know” (pubs/restaurants with bad food).

  54. Alexander says:

    @LikeYourFace: Design something like a tiered competition where you put companies in different tiers and then pit them against each other. It’s just dumb to put Starbucks vs. UA. Use your example and pit Starbucks vs. Wendy’s and UA vs. HSBC. That seems a better fit…

  55. Javert says:

    The thing that kills me on this web site is in one post, everyone will bash Walmart for its poor treatment of employees yet with Starbucks the comment of $4 for a cup comes up yet Starbucks offers employees health care and stock options. So make up your minds, cheap and screw the worker or pay a bit more so that someone can have a job with some benefits. As for their coffee, I like it but most people in the States (and Canada) have really really weak coffee tastes.

    As for this vote, UA FTW.

  56. Hamm Beerger says:

    @alexander: Like someone said earlier, it’s called seeding.

  57. Triborough says:

    Starbucks is evil.
    A piece of commercial real estate goes on the market in NYC there is a high likelyhood of one of three things going in that spot:
    1. Bank
    2. Starbucks
    3. Duane Reade

    Starbucks is just another blight on the greatest city in the world. And it isn’t like we even go there to get their overpriced crap.

  58. halloweenjack says:

    Another no contest vote here. UA has gone (in my experience with them) from being a decent airline with a really cool terminal at O’Hare to being a really shitty carrier that won’t even adequately air-condition their terminal and makes their passengers beg for the flight that they’ve already paid for.

    Starbucks? Well, one time the barista spilled a little coffee on my tie, for which I got three or four free drink coupons. Bitch about their coffee all you want, but most of the little neighborhood places that they drove out of business made worse, and they usually had worse service, too.

  59. deadlizard says:

    Considering this blog is being read by thousands of laptop users sitting at some Starbucks table at this moment, I don’t expect it to get too many votes.

  60. United and their subsidiary US Airways too!

  61. dotyoureyes says:

    Last time I flew United, they canceled a puddle jumper between Madison and Chicago because of “weather” — when it was sunny and calm across the midwest. Did they call to tell me about the cancellation? No. Did they offer to rebook me on another flight that day? No. They offered to get me out two days later.

    Lying to customers and providing terrible customer service — what a great way to get out of bankruptcy!

    Starbucks may serve burnt coffee, but at least they provide health insurance in an industry that’s not known for taking care of employees.

  62. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Maybe I’m biased, but I spent good money on a United Airlines ticket last November and got stuck in the airport for 9 hours while they jerked all the passengers about whether or not they were going to cancel the flight.’s an obnoxious viral proliferation that sells overpriced $5 coffee to whiney customers, but I can’t say that I’ve ever left a Starbucks feeling like I was mistreated (I mean, I knew it was overpriced when I went in there).

    Oh, and United..with your fuel surcharges and extra-bag surcharges…you suck. It’ll be interesting to see which company goes under first as the country slips into recession.

  63. Craig says:

    At least Starbucks will make your drink over if they mess it up in any way. If United messes your flight up in any way, good luck.

    The local Starbucks stores offer some of the best customer service in town.

  64. Trai_Dep says:

    @domesticdork: Good call; I’d add UPS to the Nice List for this reason as well. :)

  65. lizzybee says:

    Hrm. Active health hazards, losing loved pets, horrible delays and theft of hard-earned miles vs. overpriced mediocre coffee at ubiquitous locations. I think UA’s the winner here.

  66. Kilotonne says:

    I voted Starbucks because I think that a company’s “evilness” should be inversely weigthed by its usefulness. Millions of people use UA for getting from point A to point B, but I can hardly see a point in the existence of a huge multinational coffeehouse chain. Why people come to Starbucks in the mornings to get coffee from coffee machines when every workplace already has the same coffee machines?

  67. I don’t understand this… Starbucks is the 2nd most admired company in America, as well as the 17th best to work for… and what about United Airlines??