We base our opinions on what we see and experience. I’d have to say that, after this past week, United Airlines is a done deal. The Titanic of Airlines was struggling to stay afloat despite their descending quality of service and withering reputation. That’s the United Airlines we all know today.
But there was a time….
I grew up as a United Airlines kid. My dad proudly worked at the airline in it’s Hey Day, which for you younger whipper-snappers, meant when it was “the sh*t!” There was a time when airlines were like banks. There were zillions of them. And while there were big ones that covered the world like Pan Am and Trans-World Airlines, United was the top dog in the U.S., the #1 domestic airline during the 1960s. My dad was a mechanic who kept the service trucks on the ground working so they could service the aircraft. He had come out to California after World War II from West Virginia and landed a job as a fueler for, I believe, was a whopping $1.47 at the time. Over the years, he climbed the ladder and was quite the mechanic for “the friendly skies” back when they were still friendly.
It’s sad that United has ended up in this situation. The United Airlines I grew up was first class. In the 1960s, whenever our family would use employee passes to fly on United, we had to dress up. If we rode in first class, the guys had to wear ties. As kids, we were given plastic wings that signified we were honorary pilots. I can remember United Airlines employee summer picnics at the Los Angeles Police Academy (yep, same place as in the movies, just not as funny), and Christmas parties where Santa Claus actually showed up and handed out a present to each of the kids in attendance.
When United Airlines took possession of the first 747, they invited employees to come out to LAX and go on board before the general public got to see it for themselves. I remember waiting in line on the tarmac with other families, climbing those stairs and going into a brand-new, shiny Boeing 747, complete with a spiral staircase up to the first class lounge.
In college, I commuted home every other weekend on United. Back then, round-trip airfare for me (stand-by, yes, but flights weren’t that crowded back then) was a whopping $6. If I wanted to fly first class, it would have been $12. It cost less for me to fly to Los Angeles than it did for some of my dorm friends to drive home to Portland or Spokane. The planes were clean, the employees friendly. I even worked a couple of summers in the United Airlines flight kitchen in Los Angeles. The next time we get together, ask me about it. I’ve got stories.
That now seems like it was a century ago, even though it was only 40-some years.
United stock has plummeted and this dragging-a-customer-off-the-plane incident is far from over. Since the passenger was of Chinese descent, in China, they were watching that video at a rate of 20-million views an hour. If I was a betting man, I don’t think I would put any money on the airline surviving. But we shall see. It’s not like up until now I hadn’t heard many a complaint about United–delayed flights, lost baggage, etc. There was just a part of me that hoped it could right the ship instead of orchestrating a mutiny with its passengers.