Well, I am back on the road! After one week at home with mes parentes, your favorite blogger begins the month of May on the road. This time, it is the RRCA convention. But first, dear and gentle readers, I will be writing about the many ways that United airlines management just does not get it. They are in the customer service business, and while their team is good, the management of United needs to go back to school. Or, maybe, work on a plane for a week!
So, it started out as a pretty normal travel day. Adam, my son, drove me to the airport, with his girlfriend, Rachel, and we chatted about life, business and the glorious weather I was leaving in San Jose. Yes, I do get those feelings like cancelling the trip, pulling out some cocoa butter, a good novel and sitting on a lawn chair and just vegging (I know, the cocoa butter was so seventies, but that, dear readers, was my life).
My travel days are preceded, always, by day of finishing reports, ad proposals and of course, cleaning clothes.
First flights are about one thing. Finding a comfortable exit row, preferably by the window, and sleeping. I slept so well I did not notice that the flight was delayed out of SFO.
When I got to Denver, I arrived at 6:28 PM on the tarmac and my flight, UA 1266, closing the doors at 6:41 PM.
Somehow, I made the flight and got to my seat. I knew my bag was not going to make it, as this was United, not Lufthansa.
The flight attendants on United are always quite nice, and solicitous. I do not blame them. But, I do blame, and rightly so, the chuckleheads that manage United.
First it was the change in coffee (although I hear that they may be going to Pete’s coffee soon), about two years ago. The replacement coffee had the taste of water with an old sock and smelt of offal.
I have done since then, what all seasoned flyers do on United flights, bring your own coffee. Then, it was the charging for TV on the domestic flights. That was not bad enough. Recently, I flew from NY to SFO on a brand new plane with NO TV, NO movies. That the plane actually flew, considering how annoyed most of the flyers was amazing.
Let me explain why I love Lufthansa. It is the details. I fly from SFO to Frankfurt, hit the Business Lounge, get a shower, read the paper and then fly somewhere in Europe. No matter if I am coach, business ( I fly coach except on very special occasions), Lufthansa offers beer and wine to all customers, palatable coffee, and, if you ar delayed, a bag with a t-shirt, toiletries and such. Customers are appreciated.
United, in the US, and in their flights back to Europe, charge for wine and beer in coach, (I don’t drink anymore, but it still annoys me), charges for TV on domestic flights (except first class and business), and now, has discontinued the small bags of toiletries that were given, for the past three decades, to those whose bags were sent to Moscow (mine were about two years ago, and I was going to St.Louis, seriously!).
Getting off the flight today in Spokane, I went to the very courteous baggage claim officer and when I queried him about the small customer service bag United used to provide, he noted, ” Oh, management ended that.”
United management, like many American companies, has forgotten who they work for. They are in business because business travelers like moi, will pay inordinate fares at last minute, and families buy their summer deals. Yet, United seems to be trying to see how far that they can push consumers before they leave.
Funny thing is, United is making money and the employees get none of it. I flew with some investment bankers about six months ago, and the guys were showing me their software. One of the presentations was how much United was starting to make. Much of the profit was off the inordinate charges for baggage that they hit consumers for. Add in the money for booze, food, and such and now, TV, and you wonder, what is next, having us stand up the whole flight to get more people in the flight?
In a time when airlines like Lufthansa have increased the quality of their small flights, from the healthiness of snacks, to their attention to detail when one’s bags are lost, I wonder, seriously, on what planet the management at United is at this time? Mars?
What do we learn from United’s lack of reality? Well, it seems to me, that our sport has similar issues to attend to.
Recently, I was told that the nosebleed seats at a major relay meet are $42 to $52. Well, if one checked said seats this past weekend, one noticed, there were some open seats. Why don’t track meets have a coach and team rate? For $25 a coach can bring in a car full of kids to a meet? Why not $15 seats for those under 18? Fill the place up.
Then, there is the being too far away from the real world. Perhaps the big issue for United management, and for management in any group, is how they keep in real contact with their customers. That real world connection is key, in any endeavor.
I am reminded of this issue when I consider how the Nike-USATF extension of twenty-three years was under announced. Perhaps that was the plan.
When I first read the release on the extension, I was non plused. The release was totally under-stated, in my mind, for something so huge. I went straight to the USATF website, then called my contacts at USATF to make sure it was not a joke. It was not that it was poorly written, but, as it was announced in between London and Boston marathons, and very little publicity surrounded it.
The normal level of negativity on anything that USATF does just did not happen, with this release. Actually, there was very little response to it, except among competitors and those in athlete management. The best coverage of the extension was done by Alan Abrahamson, who put the extension into its proper perspective. It was a huge deal, in anyone’s world.
I was a bit confused that such a monumental bit of info, as an estimated nearly $500 million Nike deal should have been, was delivered with a whimper. A half billion dollars is a lot of money, even I had to take off my shoes and count all my toes to appreciate the money involved. USATF has been attacked for years for not getting their money’s worth in the sports marketing world. Well, at half a billion, it seems USATF should be at least smiling.
Or, if one is in the media, and has spent thousands or even a tank of gas to get to a track meet or road race, how about having wifi that works and for redundancy sake, have ethernet back up? These little things, do not happen several times a year, and I wonder, if the true enemy of our sport growing is no one but ourselves.
It is the little things that matter, in the end.
I want to see our sport grow and prosper, like Lufthansa, not annoy and lose any support, like my dear friends at United.
The truth is, change has to come from the top down. With such a wonderful staff at United, the least their management can do it get their act together.
I truly believe, that the success or failure of our sport is up to us. Tell me what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more info: