The new United: A trip from hell


I had quite high expectations as I boarded United Airlines flight 15 from Newark to Honolulu. This is, after all, a flagship route and as a top-tier elite customer seated in the forward cabin I expected a level of service and comfort that would be truly unparalleled from the world’s largest airline. That expectation was shattered even before we left the ground when I was threatened with arrest for attempting to talk to the pilots before the cockpit door had been closed. Wh’ev.

Things went downhill from there.

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One of the recorded pre-flight announcements indicated that the flight was operated by Continental Airlines, a brand that hasn’t existed since I put them out of business back in March. Seriously, it has been more than 8 weeks now. That they haven’t fixed the recording is an abomination and an insult to brand homogenization. Alas, following my prior chastisement I chose to bite my lip and accept that the flight was going to be a miserable 11 hours of my life rather than point out to the flight attendants that there was a mistake in the recordings that demanded resolution.

A meal was served shortly after departure. The flight attendants who had appeared so diligent in following my every move prior to departure had failed to notice that I had traded seats with another on the flight. This meant that my meal order was taken approximately 38 seconds after it should have been, with the FA going to the incorrect seat before finally noticing my new arrangements and coming over to ask what I wanted.

Continuing with the branding debacle which started with the announcement prior to departure, the linens, glassware and flatware were a mismatched mess of old and new names and logos.

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The steak was fine – it tasted nothing like leather – but, as can be seen from the photo, there was no bread to be found anywhere near my tray. Truly insulting that the roll wasn’t served as it should have been.

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The ice cream sundae trolley showed up after dinner, laden with gooey toppings and a few choices of digestifs for those of that persuasion. Of course, being a Hawaii trip I was more in to mai tais than liquor and I asked to have another. I was informed that the mai tais had too much sugar, meaning that I should stop drinking them. Oh, and no Grand Marnier, either. Alas, I was stuck drinking the cognac instead.

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All this, and we still hadn’t cleared Wyoming airspace.

The flight continued, as did the abject mistreatment. I wasn’t awoken from my nap, meaning my fresh-baked mid-flight cookie cooled off before I could eat it. They simply do not taste the same when the cookies have cooled.

By this point in the flight, as if by some miracle, additional mai tais appeared in the forward galley and shortly thereafter at our seat. Of course, as part of serving the drinks at this point in the trip, questions were raised as to my consumption habits, including my willingness to mix rum drinks with other rum drinks and the impact that might have on my sobriety. Explaining to the flight attendants that getting drunk was the only way to deal with their subordination didn’t seem like the correct response; once again I bit my tongue.

About an hour before arrival our last meal was served, I accepted the tray from the flight attendant and then immediately realized my mistake. They served the meal with only 55 minutes remaining before arrival and that would mean insufficient time to digest before undertaking the hike from the gate to the curb. And I know how important it is to have time to digest before such strenuous exercise. I considered calling for a wheelchair to avoid issues but instead simply accepted the risk of getting a cramp as I walked out of the airport to our next meal.

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Finally, our landing in Honolulu was anything but normal. We used a different runway than I’m used to from my previous trips to the island meaning that the views I was expecting on final approach didn’t materialize. It is hard to get good photos of a landing when the pilots change things like that on you without consultation.

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At least the flight was finally over. Eleven hours I’ll never get back. Eleven hours of pure torture.

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Yes, the entire post here was decidedly tongue-in-cheek. That said, the service really was rather below par from my previous experiences. Part of that stems from the downgrades in the service offered on the flight (fewer meal choices, entrees of lesser quality) and part of it was from a crew that didn’t really seem to be happy working, much less with a group of six guys in the forward cabin who actually intended to enjoy the trip rather than just idle through until the doors opened again on arrival. I really never did get a roll with my meal, for instance, and things like drink and snack basket service were essentially non-existent. Only one of the FAs was anywhere close to being personable. Oh, and the IFE on these planes really is an embarrassment. Just awful.

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Clearly not actually a "trip from hell" but also not a particularly great ride.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

35 Comments

  1. Hey, it’s about time you posted a trip from hell that really wasn’t. After all, you’re like the only UA flying blogger who hasn’t done so yet.

    That said, while it truly wasn’t a trip from hell (most so-called trips aren’t), it does suck that they’ve downgraded the catering and that the crew was lousy. Those are things that really need to get turned around, and I fear that the company isn’t really that focused on those tasks right now.

    And that IFE should have been ripped out at least five years ago. They’ve held onto that system on the 767s for far too long.

  2. Being such a tolerant “Global Service” you apparently see it as “normal” to be threatened with arrest for trying to chat with pilots. Perhaps time to fly Southwest. Continental seems too full of themselves, good that at least they plaster Continental all over. Seriously, the service is not acceptable and flight attendants have to be written up.

  3. I flew MSY-SFO last week on a reconfigured 737-800, the captain welcomed us on behalf of “Continental” and the “Continental” Newark-based crew on “this merged Continental-United plane”. I understand the pride but seriously it just shows a lack of professionalism.

  4. Did you really mean homogenization? I’m not a scientist (actually failed science)…but isn’t this usually used in chemistry references?

    Love the post! Classic! I suspect they kept the rolls from you so u couldn’t throw them at anyone! A few too many Mai Tais and the bread starts rolling!

    1. I was using the “to make uniform or similar, as in composition or function” definition for homogenize. Maybe not the best word, but I think it fit well enough.

      Yeah, it wasn’t great service, but it also didn’t completely suck. I think a few folks missed some of the tongue-in-cheek part . 😮

  5. Sounds like my trips, they’re bad, but not as bad as I feel they are in my head after I’ve had to deal with crap service and things just don’t done right… none-the-less, made me chuckle.

  6. This was awesome. There are other people out there who would have written this post and been dead serious about it.

  7. I get what you’re trying to do here, and I totally agree that the sky hasn’t fallen completely (although I have seen some pretty terrible irrops handling). However, your point gets a little lost when you do admit that the flight wasn’t very good compared to pmUA and pmCO standards. It comes across as “it is totally ridiculous that people would complain about the new UA, except the catering isn’t as good, the crew isn’t very good, the IFE isn’t very good…)” which seem like pretty legit reasons to complain that they’ve gone downhill

  8. I’ll try again, with the appropriate capitalization this time:

    I guess on this flight you just weren’t Lucky.

  9. Flight attendants who get assigned to those really long flights are usually the ones with the most seniority (meaning they look like my grandmother). They’re tired of working with the public after 20-plus years of doing it. Unfortunately you won’t usually get good service from them, even after you’ve paid full fare on a first class ticket. The union protects them if you complain, and that’s just life. It *is* very sad how most of the carriers seem to be in a race to the bottom. That’s why I will never pay for a first or business class ticket any more… it’s just not worth it.

  10. As a recent convert to the UACO side of the airline industry, I don’t have much experience with how things used to be with which to make a comparison.

    However, I can tell you that there was a WORLD of difference between our EWR-HNL flight on sCO (a fact they were VERY proud of–too much so :rolleyes:) and my HNL-SFO flight on sUA, where I visited the flight deck and talked with a super-friendly flight crew and received top-notch service from our F FA (there was a level of professionalism in both his actions and attitude that was missing from the sCO crew).

    Interesting to compare the two back-to-back like that.

  11. I never claimed it was a great trip, Adam. But other than the changes to the catering (and the food was actually fine, just fewer choices than last time I did the trip) nothing I experienced was merger-related. Many people seem to e claiming that anything that happens is an indication that the merger is destroying the company. This was just a bit of poking fun at that view, while also noting that it wsant the best flight I’ve ever had.

    As for the flight crew, I’ve had good and bad ones from just about every carrier I’ve flown more than once. Some are more consistently better and some less so, but really nothing to suggest that either legacy UA or CO was always so much more consistently better than the other. Heck, my PHX-IAH flight the next morning had a legacy UA FA who switched over to a CO base, giving up seniority to get a better for her pay rate and schedule. And she was, after 20 years working as an FA, still excited and chipper and having a blast doing her job. Such is life.

  12. Are you going to try Hawaiian airlines new non stop? I wonder how it would compare.

  13. Totally fair, I agree that people are claiming “merger! merger!” for just about everything, and some of the complaints verge on ridiculous.

    For me, all I’ve noticed is a lower upgrade rate, some worse than normal irrops handling, and a proliferation of the “the system won’t let me/I can’t help you” attitude (from *both* the pmCO and pmUA employees). Nothing over the top, but noticeably different (and less convenient on a few occasions).

  14. But did you get warm nuts? It would have been a funnier faux rant if you said stewardess instead of flight attendant.

  15. Setting aside the tongue in cheek remarks, which gave me a few chuckles and I enjoyed reading this trip report 🙂

    The only aspect I am disappointed about is the downgrade we are seeing in the meals.

    The F meals looks like the old mid-con dinner meals plus the sundae. The catering program has been watered down pretty significantly from what I am used to from the last two years. EWR-HNL used to have four choices, separate appetizer plate following by entree plate, and then ends with the sundae.

    The old mid-con dinner meals are now the norm for EWR-West Coast flights [sans SFO/LAX] and they created an entirely new meal rotation for domestic mid-con flights. Even though, routes like SAN and SNA does have plenty of premium paid F traffic, which will easily more than justify the costs of having a premium meal on both routes. The new mid-con meals are pretty pathetic and they went from a meat dish or a pasta dish to a carb loaded dish [burrito, calzone, etc] or a salad.

    Throw away the fancy nuts in the ramekin and the tiny on-board cookie along with the tablecloth, and give me a more substantial entree with a proper dessert.

    I know it is airplane food, but it was still decent for airplane food. Now, it is just reminds me of Y meals from the late 90s early 00s and F meals are VERY cheap [$10-12 per passenger for a two/three course meal].

    I am really worried about what the catering will be like on international long hauls when the new program starts in June.

  16. I’ve flown the EWR-HNL flight two weeks ago and cannot agree enough. I asked to be woken up and alas, NONE. Prior to that, i sat in a broken chair, no meal of choice and I was given a cert for 500 miles.. WTF. and then gently told I got a comp UG to the front. WTF! Its only cause i flew 120K last year… the pilot also mentioned it as a CO flight.
    I’ve flown regional carriers like HA to NRT and have loved it. the plane was not the best but the service was awesome. AND they werent full of AARP members.

  17. Seth, as Untied Global Services pax, you should know that EWR-HNL features BusinessFaux service.

  18. The catering on your EWR-HNL flight looks much better than what my most recent Hawaii flights. On the LAX-OGG route, the meal was a choice of either Penne pasta in tomato sauce or beef. Neither was appealing, and there was a three hour departure delay, so Wolfgang Puck Express made for a much better dining alternative to bring on the flight.

  19. Are you freaking kidding me? My perception: Lucky you.. for flying first class, most commoners do not. You got there safely and on time. Thank your lucky stars you pompous ass!! Do you think the people who flown during 9/11 cared about the food they ate. And its very hard to believe that you were threaten with arrest for talking to the pilots (doors opened). Take the silver spoon out from your mouth into your ass. I have neighbors who have seen their homes washed away from Hurricane Sandy. WE ALL NEED TO GO BACK TO THE BASICS AND APPRECIATE WHAT WE HAVE, NOT WHAT WE DO NOT rather what you think you deserve.

  20. Amusing. Alas all airlines seem to be heading south. The really sad thing is that there are so many “I am important” types out there who could publish this review with their tongues not in their cheek.

  21. I’m flying EWR-HNL this Sunday in Economy (bloody hell they call it Economy+ which suppose to be original Economy but they did original Economy worse so now it’s Economy+). A little bit concern about level of service in the middle of airplane (trying not to think about back).
    How people usually survive without meal for 10 hours? I will see soon.
    Will keep you posted.

    1. The decision to not have a meal for 10 hours is completely your own. Whether you buy something on board or bring something with you is your choice, but choosing to do neither is also your choice.

  22. What an absolute cry baby. R u for real ?. Poor boy didn’t get a roll or sissy drink for his ride and had to spend half a day pouting because he couldn’t speak with the pilot. Wow ! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard such a sad pathetic story. Such hardship for you. Suck up and grow a pair pal. Go home to mommy. She can give you milk from her breast and a warm cookie.

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