Why United is the Best Worst Airline

Domestic airlines get a bad rap… mostly for good reasons, but that’s beside the point.  If there’s any reason to justify voluntarily sitting in the livestock transport that is today’s passenger airliners, it’s to amass frequent flier miles like you’re the Sultan of Brunei. I’m (a little) biased as I’ve been flying with them since I was about 4 years old, but let’s take a look at why United is the abusive partner of choice for your frequent flier rite of passage.

Order vs Chaos

Boarding a plane isn’t a complicated process, but judging by some of the scenes I’ve witnessed, some of our less genetically-evolved counterparts have a difficult time with the concept. Completely disregarding the US airlines that have zero order to boarding other than basing your sequence on check-in time…

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looking at you, Southwest…

United’s regimented, OCD-pleasing, 5-boarding-group process with group-dedicated queues keeps the process organized, free of confusion, and efficient. This is in stark contrast to the herd of simpletons that forms over at the anything-goes American Airlines gates, whose sole purpose in life, it seems, is to stand in the way of one another.

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Furthermore, United is the only US airline that employs the “outside-in” or “WilMA” (window, middle, aisle) boarding approach which has been proven to be far more efficient than the “back-to-front” method utilized by nearly every other competitor. I’m often impressed by United’s ability to pack their meat cargo so quickly between scheduled flights.

Status

Acronyms incoming… United premier status starts at 25,000 miles flown in a calendar year (CY) to attain the most basic Silver level. 100,000 miles flown in a CY is recognized with elite 1K status, granting generous complimentary upgrade eligibility, including 6 “Global Premier Upgrades” (GPU) and an another 2 for each additional 50,000 PQM flown within the same CY. Use these GPUs to experience United’s new Polaris premium-cabin product & accompanying lounges including private restrooms and showers without dumping out every one of your children’s piggy banks (& maybe college funds). With Gold, Platinum, 1K, as well as the coveted Global Services, you also get Star Alliance (*A) Gold Status which comes with access to over 1000 United and *A lounges when flying internationally in any class of service. And speaking of alliances…

Travel Options

United is the only US member of the Star Alliance which is, by far, the largest airline alliance on the planet. With United & its Star Alliance partners, you can fly to nearly any country in the world with 190 countries served (even North Korea, if you’re so bold) – 13 more than its closest competition over at SkyTeam. More domestic and international destinations, more flights, and more aircraft than any other domestic carrier to choose from when using and earning your precious miles. Simple, quantitative facts – don’t argue. Moving on.

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Redemption

No, I’m not suggesting United’s mile redemption system is the best – it’s not. They’re virtually the same as every other domestic carrier. Rather, I’m talking about how they redeem themselves when they screw you over or piss you off. Yeah, I’m praising United Airlines customer service. If you haven’t laughed yourself into a stroke at that last sentence and you’re still with me, hear me out.  Yes, they’re a domestic carrier. No, there isn’t a phone number you can call to request a ticket refund. Yes, most of the customer service agents at the airport wouldn’t care if you had to sleep in a dumpster after your late flight misses a window to take off before a massive storm front moves in, resulting in a “weather related” cancellation – because the pilots that were 30 minutes late coming in and then the maintenance issue pushing back departure another 45 minutes had nothing to do with it… All of these transgressions are pardoned because of one little form.  This form, alone, is the whole reason it’s worth putting up with our beloved United’s bullshit.  Had a bad flight? Enter a survey. Missed a connection and had to drive the rest of the way home? Enter a survey. WiFi broken? Enter a survey. In-seat TV won’t power off? Enter a survey. This little-known form is a channel to the only department in the company which contains at least one person in possession of a soul.  What is the result? Sometimes an apology, but in my experience, usually an Electronic Travel Certificate worth anywhere from 20-70% of your ticket value. For someone who travels a lot, that’s as good as cash as far as I’m concerned.

For example, when Erik, Sasha, and I went to Singapore last month, we paid around 600 USD for the round-trip ticket from New York – an amazing deal to begin with. After we returned, I submitted a survey containing a politely worded message regarding an encounter with a gate agent exhibiting a Napoleon complex and faulty WiFi systems on 3 of the 4 segments of the trip. United comes through with a 400 USD Electronic Travel Certificate, recouping 2/3 of the cost of the trip. Although this is only one example of many, I share this with the footnotes – be reasonable, don’t abuse this, and try not to be a jerk. I’m sure United isn’t going to keep handing out certificates to some douchebag that’s cursing them out every week because a flight attendant ignored their unwelcome advances.