Flying United Airlines out of Pittsburgh in 2018 has meant no breakfast 75% of the time this year for my travels. When catering let me down again, someone came through from United, but I can’t decide if it’s an example of great customer service that deserves a compliment or only further highlights the problems that warrant a complaint.
Compliment or Complaint?
I can’t decide if this should be classified under compliment or complaint. On my recent flight from Pittsburgh to Houston catering failed to deliver food to the airplane. However, first class was served something on the flight. While we were warned by our FA that the meal was different, we were served nonetheless, something for breakfast. On one hand, it was great that something was provided for breakfast and perhaps by staff that really care about the experience, out of their own pocket. On the other hand, if it came from the airport because they failed to deliver, it really falls short a great deal.
Here was breakfast:
For the third time in four morning departures this year on the route, United has failed to cater the plane. Some of those were very early morning, this particular flight, however, had no excuse at all. The first time it happened, nothing was provided, sorry Charlie. The second time, it happened a $20 voucher was provided for breakfast in the airport (great if you have time, useless if you don’t) and United reached out with a travel voucher. The third time, the half sandwich from the terminal restaurant was offered once in the air.
First of all, the Pittsburgh station needs to get their act together. Once in a while, something goes wrong and maybe I just have bad luck, but 75% of my morning flights with the carrier they just can’t get meals on the plane. If I failed to deliver three times in 10 weeks I’d be out of a job and while that may seem harsh, it’s the case. I am not sure which flight services are optional but at least some of the ground staff at PIT working for United has added catering to the list.
This particular flight was delayed two hours and an aircraft change was made. I personally saw them roll the catering carts off the jetway and into the terminal from the new plane, so it’s not like they didn’t think about it. Why not, roll the catering carts from the old plane (one gate over) to the new plane?
Further, if they knew with enough time that somebody could go out and buy sandwiches, why not share that with the passengers who have been sitting around waiting for mechanical issues for two hours. I would have gladly gotten something from the airport of my own choosing. They could have issued vouchers and let us decide what we wanted to have for breakfast rather than making the decision for us. What if there was a vegetarian on board, or what if you just prefer something else to sandwiches, why not give passengers the choice?
Also, a half sandwich, sausage or bacon, if provided by the airport is pretty weak. Why not just buy a whole sandwich? There are 12 seats in UA’s E175 first class, which checked in full (good job of clearing the upgrade list) – how much more would it have been to shell out for a full sandwich? Why not?
Something is better than nothing certainly and the airport or the staff rose to the challenge that their colleagues could or did not. Maybe something is happening at United’s Pittsburgh catering operation and the food was no longer good to eat. I would rather not eat expired or out-of-temperature food.
If it was the flight attendants that purchased the meals out of their pocket, and I suspect it was, then this should be the highest compliment for flight attendants that went out of their way to ensure their passengers were as happy as could be given the catering challenge. It would explain why the sandwiches were cut in half instead of a full portion and the homemade nature in which they served. Airport meals are expensive and based on where the purchase was made, I assume the costs were north of $10/sandwich which means that one of those flight attendants would have given up a fair portion of their earnings from the flight to make sure customers were as happy as they could reasonably assure.
The flight attendants were also fully aware of the catering failure and embarrassed that this was all they had to offer. They came from the back of the plane from the economy FA who had prepared them and served alongside the red-faced first class FA.
If the flight attendants purchased the sandwiches out of their own pockets, it’s enough to make me a customer for life. If it was the airport staff that not only failed to cater the aircraft, but then failed to offer options for customers during a two-hour delay and provided half sandwiches, then it’s a reason why United fails to hit the mark. If United had done their job on the ground, we wouldn’t have outside catering in the sky. Then again, if something went wrong out of their control, then something is certainly a great deal more effort than nothing.
I can’t decide which way it was and wasn’t bold enough to ask on the plane. I didn’t want to make them feel like it was anything but generous if they provided the meals.
What do you think? Is this a case of creative customer service? What about the possible generosity of flight attendants or ground staff? Is it just another way that United failed to hit the mark?