United Is the Most Complained-About Airline in America

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The world's largest airline, United, has had a rough few months. It was the most complained-about airline in America, by far, in the latest statistics released by the government.

In March, United planes were late one out of every four times. Only the much-smaller airlines of Virgin America and ExpressJet Airlines had worse records among US airlines.

Also in March, United's rated the worst in mishandled bags, among comparably large airlines. It also bumped more passengers because of oversold flights than any other airline of its size this spring. It was double the industry average on this score, which is bad.

Overall, the airline notched up 260 consumer complaints through the government's website, three times more than the next highest number of complaints logged by another airline. That may not sound like a lot, but few travelers take the time to report complaints to the government. As a trend, it is significant.

Want to lodge your own complaint with any US airline? Fill out the complaint form on the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.

United has admitted it has stumbled this year, but it blames its merger with Continental Airlines. It especially blames a March 3 switchover to a new computer system for causing problems.

The airline says it knows how to improve its performance this summer. Its top goal now is to re-train its staff to make rebooking passengers when a flight is canceled go faster.

In mid-May, the airline switched to a new system for routing phone calls through the reservations department. Computers detect when a caller is at an airport and needs to rebook urgently. It moves calls like that to the front of the line, essentially.

In another fix, United is, increasingly, letting gate agents hold flights for connecting passengers, instead of following a strict no-exceptions cutoff. If a gate agent judges a plane will still make it on time to its destination by holding, he or she can hold a flight until connecting fliers arrive.

The company pledges to keep complaints to below about 3 for every 100,000 passengers this summer.

What are your stories? Have you had a smooth flight or a rough ride when flying United lately?


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