United Airline services: Wherefore art thou?

As a 2-million miler with 1K status with United Airlines, I have been a fan of the airline and a good customer for almost 3 decades.

United Airline services: Wherefore art thou?

As a 2-million miler with 1K status with United Airlines, I have been a fan of the airline and a good customer for almost 3 decades.

United Airlines has always been fair with their benefits and rewards, and specifically here in Honolulu, they have a very dedicated staff. Over the years I have met many flight attendants that truly went out of their way to help me and other passengers. One flight attendant found my computer with security in LAX and brought it here to Hawaii for me. And then there are those unsung heroes – the last Thai crew that worked a flight to Bangkok before they were replaced by an American crew and kept all us passengers calm as we made an emergency landing in Osaka.

With a sad eye, however, I have experienced the service going down one step at time, with the exception of the flight crew that has constantly remained motivated, attentive, and pleasant.

As for the niceties of flying, things have been changing a little at a time, perhaps hoping to go buy unnoticed, but I noticed. First they decreased the size of the salad to 1/3 the size, and in first class, they took steak off the menu and replaced it with a choice of either lasagna or dry chicken. In the lavatories, the lotion and spray are gone, and pillows and blankets are a thing of the past – even on 10-hour flights from say Honolulu to Chicago, where you might expect passengers to take a snooze.

At the same time, competition in other parts of the world are shining when it comes to service, where they are providing comforts at a level unheard of in the industry. These airlines are making millions while United Airlines has gone through bankruptcy and keeps flying their old planes.

Lately, though, United is slowly improving their international planes. This was the case on my recent trip from Honolulu to Tokyo – Bangkok and returning from Singapore via Tokyo to Honolulu.

Being a very frequent guest on the Bangkok flight, when flying in economy I enjoy the additional space United gives on what they call United Plus. But was I in for a surprise on a flight I took in April when Tokyo Star Alliance partner ANA took over to continue United flights to Bangkok. The old 747 service to the Thai capital is gone, and what is even more surprising is that all the flights I went on via this route were full.

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ANA seats are smaller, but I do have to say that the service made up for the smaller seats. I enjoyed the food and drink variety and the attention of the ANA flight attendants. They call themselves a 5-star airline according to SKYTRAX.

The United Lounge in Tokyo is large, but the food is terrible, and take my word for it – you do not want to try their coffee. Simply put, it is awful.

Free and fast Internet makes up for lot of what they do not have, but as far as food goes, you would be better off walking over to the ANA lounge. ANA is also a Star Alliance airline, so United Gold members have access to this very well-managed lounge where a cook prepares Japanese soup dishes for you.

On my return from Singapore I cashed in my System Wide Upgrade and flew business class. A word to the wise: do not use the United Airlines Star Alliance lounge. No one tells you, but you do have access to the award-winning Singapore Airlines Kris lounge, and here you can enjoy a large buffet of various freshly-cooked food items, good coffee, champagne, fast Internet, and more.

In defense of United, their new Business Class, flatbed seats are comfortable, and the 17-inch video screen with a wide variety of on-demand movies – many of them just recently released – makes the flight go by fast.

But the food, even in Business Class, is nothing compared to Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Thai, or Singapore Airlines, so I chose instead to just sleep. The 180-degree flatbed seat is fine, except with 8 passengers in one row compared to other airlines that have only 6, you only have half the space to stretch – well try to stretch – your legs. If you are tall like me, this means you can only sleep on your side in a bent position, but even so I did get 5 good hours of sleep on my flight from Singapore to Tokyo.

On the Honolulu flight, I enjoyed the same seat and happily a nicer dinner, although it was still just a choice of a pasta dish or chicken, but at least they were better pasta and chicken dishes. And the thing I loved the most about crossing the Pacific Ocean while flying was the Wi-Fi capability so I could connect to the Internet.

Being the faithful and loyal United customer that I have been, I sincerely hope that the airline keeps moving towards improving their services. United has always been one of the “big boys” in the world of commercial aviation, and it is definitely going to have keep stepping up at a higher pace to keep up with the other legacy carriers who were once the new kids on the block but have grown up quite well.

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