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Friday, May 16, 2014

United Airlines Does it Again

Our trip as a trio of McDougalls tracing Basil Kimball's career in WWII closed Wednesday in Fellbach, Germany.  We spent the final two nights at our beloved Alte Kelter, enjoyed a fine meal there with Dietmar and Ferdi Schmid, then on Wednesday morning, took two taxis to Flughafen Stuttgart (STR) for our flights, with my flight departing at 07:15 for Berlin, (and on to Bucharest, and Cluj), and Alex's and Shirl's flight departing at 11:00 for Newark, NJ (and on to Manchester, NH).

As it happened, flying with Air Berlin and then TAROM, I arrived safely and on time in Cluj, about 6:00 PM.  It was a long day of travel, but fun in terms of the people with whom I chatted, and called in Bucharest, once I was finally in my cell phone's home country.

Thankfully, I can report that Shirl and Alex also had a safe return, though their itinerary was changed by the notorious United Airlines, which cancelled their Newark-to-Manchester connecting flight, and rather flew them to Boston.  

I say "notorious," because United Airlines is in the habit of cancelling lightly-booked flights. They have an apparent policy of grabbing market share by scheduling many convenient flight times, but only flying those that fill to a profitable load factor.*  The ethics of this policy are lousy, but I'll bet there are others out there who will agree with my assessment of this situation.  In this case, it is obvious; when Shirl and Alex picked up their bags in Newark to go through customs, they discovered that they had been checked to BOS, not to Manchester.  Thus, over nine hours before, at their Stuttgart departure, United had known that their booked flight to Manchester was not going to be flown.  

I am sorry to say it, but this unethical business practice on the part of certain American trunk airlines is not new.  Back in the Sixties and Seventies, my father used to curse at both United Airlines and American Airlines for cancelling scheduled flights simply due to low load factors.  He was a trial lawyer who tried cases in federal courts, and has to fly frequently, all over the United States to see clients, or to appear in a Federal District Court.  He hated having his weekends shortened by having to take flights that came to Chicago through Dallas, or Minneapolis, rather than direct to O'Hare, because of a last minute cancellation.  

In fact, United and American helped Southwest to succeed and prosper, as even those flyers with expense accounts learned that the larger and better-known airlines could not be trusted to fly their own schedules.
*Load factor is measured in Revenue Passenger Miles/Available Seat Miles, or RPM/ASM.  It is the airlines' equivalent of a hotel's occupancy rate.


  1. A comment from my (slightly) younger brother:
    "Dunc, Don't get me started on airlines capriciously cancelling flights. US AIR was one the worst offenders during the days when Southwest competed with them on flights from Philly to Manchester, Providence, et al. Wickedly dishonest because (A) they knew well in advance; (B) didn't inform the public there was a "problem" until all the passengers were trapped inside security; (C) always claimed some "equipment failure"; (D) assigned some "good cop" (usually a co-pilot) who assured us he would "see what he could do." Given how over-regulated US business is in our era, why can't the regulators at least do something to protect the public against such fraud?"

  2. My brother adds: "You might add that USAIR successfully drove Southwest out of those markets, whereupon fares (if not service) skyrocketed."


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