Friday, March 04, 2005


United vs Southwest

United Airlines is in a death spiral. Since it forced us to waste an entire afternoon, from 2 PM to midnight, last year, repeatedly postponing our flight to Vegas, until finally cancelling it, when it could have easily spared us the trouble hours earlier, just by being honest, I have had a loathing for United.

Their flight attendants are incredibly rude, considering they are supposed to be in a 'service' industry. For example, wedged into my seat on a transatlantic trip once, I was yelled at by one attendant who was so fat she hardly fit down the aisle, because she'd got herself hooked up on my headset cable as she passed. Not wanting to get on a terrorist watch-list, and being above lowering myself to that level anyway, I just let her vent.

The worst part of United is their godawful website - proof that if you put a bunch of chimps in a room with enough computers, they will write software. My wife has a lot of United air miles, but they have made their site so appallingly difficult to use - particularly if you're trying to redeem air miles - that it's hardly worth bothering. The whole thing is tortuously slow, taking an age to navigate from one screen to another. It also has a problem of losing state, so you continually have to check you're booking the right flight. No doubt they long since outsourced the running of the site to the lowest cost provider, and it really shows. After all, what developer with half a brain would want to work for United in any case?

Contrast that with Southwest Airlines. Their website is clearly and attractively laid out, simple to use, and very fast. They fly out of Midway instead of O'Hare which despite being only 30 miles distant suffers from far fewer delays. (Midway is 14th out of 31 airports for delays, O'Hare is 30th). Obviously has some sort of favourable micro-climate, or maybe it's just because United doesn't fly out of there.

Business Travellers turn their nose up at Midway as though it's kind of hick - I say to them, fly out of O'Hare if you want, with its endless check in and security lines, and cretinous United employees about the place.

Southwest people seem happy and pleasant, the planes are usually half-empty, and you can sit where you like.
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