So a transition through Newark airport which was supposed to take two hours ended up taking twelve. Sure there was some bad weather involved but eventually our flight went from delayed to cancelled because of a broken seat. Seriously – that’s what we were told. Here are the lowlights of my United Airlines experience.


As the flight delays lengthened so the story changed. ‘Your connecting flight is on its way’ became ‘Your connecting flight has not left Cleveland yet’ became ‘Your connecting flight is on its way’ and so it went on. Delay times shifted and so did the story. Six hours after the flight was supposed to depart we were finally given the news that the flight was cancelled.

I was surprised and a little angry that the airline staff kept feeding us these inconsistent lines and was left wondering what kind of workplace culture means that a) it’s OK to mess customers about like this and b) no staff seemed willing to question the garbage they were being asked to share with us.

No Ownership

A couple of fellow passengers were speaking with the boarding gate staff and looking for assistance to help fix broken travel arrangements caused by the long delay. ‘I have no authority to deal with that, you need to speak to my supervisor’ was the broken record reply. ‘Where is your supervisor?’ asked the passengers, ‘Round at Customer Services’, came the reply. I followed my fellow passengers out of curiosity and they put their question to the Customer Service desk and got this answer, ‘I have no authority to deal with that, you need to speak to my supervisor’. The conversation stalled and United Airlines were saved by the bell as we were finally asked to board.

When Dave Carroll wrote United Breaks Guitars, the song emerged out of Carroll’s frustration at United’s ability to react beyond what was effectively ‘I have no authority to deal with that, you need to speak to my supervisor’.

On the basis of what I experienced, nothing’s changed. There appears to be no engagement between customer services and HR – and in a round about way I suppose I should be grateful as United gave me a great story to start my talk on rehumanising the workplace with at Ohio SHRM. When mistakes happen, you get a chance to see the real version of the company you’re dealing with. How they react and respond when the shit hits the fan says a lot about how a company treats its people and its customers. Ultimately what really bothers me about this story is that United Airlines think it is OK to put people in the customer service line of fire with no proper training and no power to sort even basic things out for the customer.