United says its skies are 'friendly' again -- really?

Its revival of the old ad slogan has gotten little but criticism from passengers who say the carrier is hardly warm and fuzzy.

By Bruce Kennedy Sep 26, 2013 2:16PM

A United Airlines 747 arrives at San Francisco International Airport on July 25, 2013 (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Does corporate America lack a sense of irony, humility or even hubris? Maybe so, if you consider that United Airlines (UAL), the world's largest air carrier, has just revived its "Fly the Friendly Skies" slogan from decades ago -- despite constant and widespread criticism of United's lack of friendliness towards its often-beleaguered passengers.

Airline officials say the new ad campaign is based on customer feedback, emphasizing the "user-friendly" aspects of air travel. "Our new brand campaign expresses the customer focus of all of United's investments," United senior vice president of marketing Tom O'Toole said in a recent press statement.

But in his spot-on take-down of the carrier's inflated ego and consumer cluelessness, business travel columnist Joe Brancatelli counted the ways United has not lived up to its new/old tag line -- both before and after its 2010 merger with Continental.

So far this year, Bancatelli notes, United has "finished dead last or tied for worst among the nation's largest carriers in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, the J.D. Power study, and the Annual Quality Rating, a mash-up of government statistics compiled by researchers at Purdue University and Wichita State University."

In an interview with the Chicago Business Journal, Mark Krolick, United's managing director for brand and advertising, said the "friendly skies" tagline reflected the progress the airline has made in recent years when it comes to flyer-friendly amenities like more Economy Plus seating, greater Wi-Fi access and lie-flat seats for first class and business-class travelers on some flights.

But Bancatelli is quick to pop a hole in the rarefied attitude United C-suite executives have about any consumer issues and problems.

"Tell them about the airline's operational problems and they blame the exigencies of a difficult merger," he says. "Talk about the decidedly unfriendly attitude of some of United's customer-facing personnel and you are told that they are being retrained. Detail United's failure to satisfy its most loyal, most profitable fliers and you are told that too many elite United MileagePlus customers were "over-entitled."

Maybe we shouldn't just single out United for criticism. After all, economy-fare air travel on most airlines nowadays has all the charm of a long-distance trip on a school bus with no air conditioning.

But Tim Winship, publisher of FrequentFlier.com, told The New York Times that United's "friendly skies" ad campaign is not only "so last century," but ridiculous at best. In 2013, he said, "the skies are anything but friendly, and to suggest otherwise is to insult the intelligence of consumers and invite their scorn."

More on moneyNOW

Sep 26, 2013 3:55PM
There is nothing friendly about United or for that matter any other carriers out there.  They nickel & dime everyone....at the rate they are going soon they might charge for toilet paper.  I would rather be charged $50 more & have the ticket be "all inclusive" (checked bag price, lousy sandwich. etc.) than to have a price sheet itemizing each transaction...just a sloppy way to do business in my opinion & pissing off millions of customers.
Sep 26, 2013 3:53PM
One of the worst airlines in the world has suddenly become friendly.
Drink Kool-Aid much??

My pet rattlesnake is friendlier than United, or Delta, or the majority of the U.S. airlines.
Sep 26, 2013 3:24PM
Just asking to be ridiculed. Like quoted above, airlines are not going to be mistaken for being friendly again, any time soon.
Sep 26, 2013 5:29PM
I dislike having to say the author got part of his statement wrong, but when he compares their economy seats, on the airlines, to that of school busses, he has it wrong - school busses are even more comfortable than most airlines now, especially the major airlines.  And that is an outright shame.
Sep 26, 2013 4:13PM
Take high-speed rail instead at 200 mph.  oh wait...we don't have that.
Sep 26, 2013 5:19PM

The last time I flew United was several years ago and I vowed the I would never fly them again. I requested cold storage for Humira syringes (Arthritis treatment) that I have to take with me on extended trips. The stewardess refuse to do this for me although every other airline I had ever flown had done this on a routine basis with a smile and reminders for me not to forget them when I departed the flight.

This stewardesses was lazy and rude and later sic'ed her boyfriend sky marshall on me since I had complained openly about her refusal to provide a routine airline service, not that it did any good because no one was intimidated by the hen pecked sky marshal. The sky marshal took the opportunity to harass me while I was putting my carryon bag into an overhead storage cabinet. He tried to order me to sit down before I could get the bag in the overhead when I clearly needed additional time.


The sad matter is that they are so much worse now than they were then. Foreign airline carriers are much more friendly and professional than American carriers are now. That's something I thought I'd never have to say. 


The worst airlines I ever flew was Alitalia (Italian), but United matched them very quickly.

Sep 26, 2013 5:01PM
Fly Singapore airlines and see what friendly means. United is not friendly at all. They charge for everything except going to bathroom. Prices have not come down even with the charging for food or bags. United has to step up for service.
Sep 26, 2013 4:13PM

Case in point:


Recent flight from EWR to Hamburg Germany - passenger across the aisle, when asked if they'd like chicken or beef asked in response  how the chicken was repared.  The response? "I don't know, it's under foil."  SERIOUSLY?!?

Sep 26, 2013 5:51PM
On a recent trip we had seven hours of delay with United.  I'll fly them uhh - never again.
Sep 26, 2013 4:23PM
You want to be treated right --- fly an Asian airline.  The flight attendants are attractive young females who know how to be feminine yet keep everything in order while providing exceptional service.  All this while I watch employees bowing outside my window as we leave the terminal.

U.S. airlines give you politically correct hags and men whose job is to keep order on Con-air.

Sep 26, 2013 5:14PM
BFD. I don't fly, so IDGAF. Untied, and *all* the airlines, can starve.
Sep 26, 2013 6:35PM
Have flown United all over the world and I mean all over the world and haven't got anything bad to say about them at all?  Still fly in often and will until I'm 6' under or in heaven via the best transportation of all, "The Rapture" of Born Again Believers, either alive or from the grave.
Sep 26, 2013 5:33PM
well since when isn't most advertising pure bullsh*t?  1000 bucks says your burger king burger looks like a truck ran over it when you get it... vs the glorious pictures and commercial version... or political ads...   sheesh...  not much truth or fact there...   no reason united airlines can't lie with the rest of them.....
Sep 26, 2013 4:29PM
Americans love to complain but if you want to know the real problem with the airlines just look in the mirror. Americans want every thing CHEAP and then complain about the product. If one airline starts charging one dollar more for the same service in order the improve the service Americans will leave and fly on the cheaper airline so they can piss and moan about something. I worked for an airline for thirty years and there is not a more complicated and difficult process of getting your butt from point A to B in one piece and most people will still complain because you might be 5 minutes late on an 8 hour flight. There are literally hundreds of people and procedures that have to work together to get ONE flight to even safely depart on time but Hey, this airline sucks because they didn't treat me like I'm somebody special.
Sep 26, 2013 6:04PM
Even on a 1500 mile trip I would rather drive than fly on any airline and be nickeld & dimed to death. Wouldn't surprise me at all if all the planes had a dollar slot in the door to use the toilet and then charge an additional dollar to flush. !!!!!
Sep 26, 2013 6:44PM
Most US airlines have rude customer service at best....my main issue is trying use the damng miles I accumulated over the years....United is the worse...try using miles and forget about a direct flight!! a normal 2 or 3 hour non stop flight all of a sudden only has middle seats and now 2 or 3 flight changes and all of a sudden now it is a 7 hour trip..in the back of the plane in a middle seat
Sep 26, 2013 6:39PM
I just flew to Canada and back on united. it was brutal in all respects. the flight back into the united states was the worst. add the problems at customs, the terrible conditions at the Denver airport (security, luggage problems and gun checks) and you are just worn out. we flew to Denver on a Dreamliner. nice plane but a number of the TV's did not work. the food for purchase was limited. the flight left late. the return was on an old cramped 737. and as always, most of the people were surly. they could care less. they operate as oligopolies and know that they can just yell air marshal if anyone complains.
Sep 26, 2013 6:38PM
I've gone from flying 2 to 4 times a month to once in 3 three years..nuff said
Sep 26, 2013 5:17PM
Ya get what ya pay for. Fly FIRST and pay!
Sep 26, 2013 7:20PM
Friendly skies perhaps if you're outside but it doesn't mean much when you're treated like cattle inside an unfriendly airline.
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