Good move by United Airlines – last minute award redemption fees to be eliminated

Effective July 30th, United Airlines is removing the fee for Mileage Plus customers trying to book last minute award travel.

Several years ago, United Airlines added 2 “last minute booking fees” to award trips; within 21 days, the fee was $75, and 7 days or less would cost $100.

Of course, when the fees were introduced, customers were furious, as last minute trips had long been one of the most profitable ways to use miles.

I’ve been on the receiving end of about $400 in these fees, so they already have one customer that is extremely happy to see them go.

A United Airlines spokesperson said that members told them they want “ease, flexibility and availability when using their miles”. That is a nice way of saying that customers were fed up with the fee racket, and want to redeem their miles without it costing them an arm and a leg.

Kudos to United Airlines for this move. As is often within the airline industry, it’ll probably spell the beginning of a similar wave of changes at their competitors, and that is always good for customers.

United airlines “fat passenger” policy prompts plenty of backlash

On Wednesday, I posted about the new United Airlines policy for charging “passengers of size” for 2 seats, if they are unable to fit in one seat or use a single seatbelt extender.

Now, whether this new money maker is a good idea or not, is besides the point, at least for United, because the PR backlash is already starting to hurt them and has forced them to change the wording in their rules.

The AAPR (not to be confused with the AARP) is the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, and they claim that charging large passengers is just another way for the airline to make even more money. Instead of changing the rules, they say the airlines should change their seats.

“They’re at it again,” said Brandon M. Macsata , Executive Director of AAPR, of the airline industry. “United is now the latest airline to shelve customer service standards in search for higher profits, while claiming that the new policy is to ‘protect’ other passengers. At issue should not be the size of any passenger, but rather why the airlines continue to pack coach passengers like sardines into the cabin.”

I completely agree – airline seats in coach are too small, but in an industry where competition is fierce, packing more people in your already cramped planes is one of the few ways they can still make money.

And to be honest, the policy isn’t really after “large” passengers, it is for “really really large” passengers. If you need more than one seatbelt extender, and/or need more than one seat, then you do need to pay for it, especially if you are going to be an inconvenience to the passengers next to you.

As much as I’d love to see modernized (larger) coach seats, it’s going to take a miracle for the airlines to invest in the back of the cabin. Remember, these are companies that don’t even have the money to hand out free pretzels.

Still, it is nice to see an organization protect the rights of the airline passenger. To learn more about how the AAPR is helping us, check out their site.

United Airlines to charge obese passengers for the extra space

United Airlines just announced their plans to charge obese passengers for the extra seat they take up on their planes.

They are not the first airline to do this, and most likely won’t be the last. That said, their definition of obese means that readers with a bit of a beer belly won’t have to worry too much.

Only passengers who need more than one seat belt extender, or who can not sit in their seat with the arm rests down will have to pay.

That probably means less than half a percentage of their passengers. I’m a big guy myself, but I have no problem using the regular seatbelt, plus I can easily keep the armrests down without bothering the passenger next to me.

The extra charge will be for a second seat, and on aircraft without a spare seat, the “passenger of size” will have to wait for the next flight.

The new rules will be enforced by the gate agents, which is probably going to lead to nothing but trouble for the airline, and I suspect they will be in court with a large passenger defending this new rule pretty soon.

Their official policy can be found here.

United Airlines working harder to clean up your mess

United Airlines has always been the airline with the dirty planes, at least as long as I can remember. I’ve often taken flights with sticky armrests, seat pockets filled with crumbs and the general stench of uncleanliness.

The airline had recently been ranked last in class in a JD Powers customer satisfaction survey. A combination of sloppy passengers, increasing delays and decreasing budgets had forced the airline to put cleaning their planes on a low priority.

That survey forced the airline to start paying more attention to its planes, especially in this economic climate, you don’t want to be listed last on any kind or survey.

One of the big changes United made was in the way it tackled how aircraft are cleaned – a new process was implemented, and is making its way to all United Airlines destination cities. The first change was to clean the interior more often. In the past, the airline found it perfectly acceptable to wait 18 months for each “heavy cleaning”, when 30 days is the industry norm. The new schedule calls for a major cleaning every 30 days on domestic aircraft, and 15 days on long haul planes.

The changes are starting to pay off – 40% fewer customers now complain about dirty planes.

In an in-depth article posted by the Chicago Tribune, the reporter was allowed to get up close and personal with the cleaning crew tackling a United 747 that arrived from Hong Kong.

The photos show the kind of damage passengers make when they are stuck inside a metal tube for 16 hours; magazines and other junk is thrown all over the place, apparently passengers feel it is perfectly acceptable to be a bit of a pig when someone else has to clean up their mess. The article also has a gallery of photos showing just how much work is involved in getting a plane ready for a new load of passengers.

United Airlines getting downright silly with their “Travel Options”

Look, I understand that the airlines are in a pretty bad shape. But United Airlines is taking things a little too far.

The Chicago based airline started offering “a la carte” options to their flights last year. What started with basic upgrades to First/Business, has now morphed into a ridiculous array of nickel-and-diming.

Their newest tactic to squeeze that last bit of cash out of you is called “Premier Line”. This add-on starts at $25 (each way) and allows you to use the same check-in line, security line and boarding group that United offers its lower tier elite fliers.

This is insulting to two groups of people; those that actually flew the airline enough to earn status the hard way, and those that spent their money expecting some decent service from the airline. Sure; nobody is forcing you to add any of these options, but I can’t help feel that the airline should be paying more attention to increasing service for everyone, not just those willing to pay more for it.

I’m honestly not sure where this madness will end. Every time I fly United, I expect to see a coin operated door to enter the bathroom or the captain asking for donations to pay the fuel truck driver.