Here's Why United Was Just Named America's Worst Airline

American Airlines
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In a week that saw United Airlines (UAL) place dead last in a customer service ranking of the major airlines, a picture surfaced that gives some idea of how the airline earned that dubious distinction.
Flyer Talk
A member of travel forum FlyerTalk posted this picture, which he says he snapped in the lavatory of a United Airlines flight.

"Apparently, they ran out in one lav half-way home and couldn't bother to transfer a roll from another," writes the poster. As you can see, a member of the flight crew seems to have hacked together a holder out of duct tape and filled it with cocktail napkins -- which, appropriately enough, bear the slogan "Fly by the tips of your fingers."

And this was no short flight, either: He notes that this took place on a San Francisco-to-London trip. While having to use napkins as toilet paper isn't the end of the world, it's still hard to imagine an airline like JetBlue (JBLU) running out of toilet paper and having to resort to such college-dorm-style innovation.

It's that sort of lax approach to basic customer service that's led to United once again ranking dead last in the American Customer Service Index. The quarterly ranking of various consumer-facing industries and companies found that while the airline industry as a whole has slightly improved, it still rates poorly among consumers, with only TV and internet providers performing worse. And within the industry, there was United in dead last once again, with an aggregate score of 62 points out of 100. JetBlue and Southwest (LUV) led the category, scoring 83 and 81 points, respectively.

The index is compiled through thousands of phone and email surveys, and each company score is the product of 250 interviews.

Of course, United's problems don't begin and end with toilet paper. A recent ranking of airline performance that accounted for on-time arrivals, customer complaints and baggage handling likewise ranked the airline dead last.

We've reached out to the airline for comment and will update this article if we get a response.

Update (3:45 p.m. ET): A United spokesperson responds to the mishap:

"The aircraft ran low on toilet tissue and our crew improvised and provided customers with paper napkins. We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back."

As for the airline's poor customer-service ranking, the spokesperson says that United's operation performance has improved significantly since fall 2012 and that customer complaints are down this year.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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Kevin Streff

I just received "the United Experience."

I was hoping to not do this, but since I can get no consideration from United I believe it right and fair to let the public determine what is right and/or wrong.

I flew United and they experienced a maintenance issue which would have caused me to miss a presentation to lots of people (people that traveled to this conference from all over to hear my presentation). I rented a car and raced 200 miles to arrive in the parking lot 18 minutes before going on stage! STRESSFUL to say the least.

The car rental was $482.23 and United refuses to handle this expense. They also only refunded $83 of $569 airfare. So I am out money and time. United also doesn't care that my experience wasn't enjoyable. They apologize all over but simply bounce me back to their online refund system, then their customer care system, then some overseas support group, then a supervisor (Sandeep Khollam), etc. No-one has the authority to make me whole (at least financially whole because the poor experience and wasted time trying to get a refund can never be undone).

Do your best to avoid "the United Experience".

May 28 2014 at 11:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jonathan Mac Donald

United still sux and has erased the continental service ethics so it isn't clear that United sucked snd the smaller classy carrier was wrong. Get with the program. BTW, saw article of best hub ops Woth most success. All former CO hubs. Are American travelers to ignorant to see this is the influence of the larger crap entity essentially being peer pressure on steroids. I tried to support my CO flight crews by regaining status on crap ua, but not worth it, Gonna go back to AA ( oxymoron ) and B6. U continental employees keep blaming. Co, but don't forget, they had the reputation, the service and THE money to be the one that was in he better position. I think CO would have been better with USAirways or EVEN......AA. SUCH a shame a ruined CO.

January 27 2014 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jonathan Mac Donald

You uniformed people that keep trying to say it is continental that has "destroyed" United. Try and be rational and just think about it! United prior to merger, bottom of satisfaction, many years. Continental, after the disaster of Lorenzo and CAL lite Peanut fares , went from worse to best! Now United Continental is ranked LAST! So if it is CONTINENTAL, how did the carrier that was the high rated turnaround airline go essentially from worse, to best (for many years) end up WORSE again after the merger? United was worst and the BIGGEST mistake was saying they needed the United name,why, to associate with the worse airline? Int' l service requires the name United? Continental isn't a name like America West Continental means just that, CONTINENTAL, which means ALL continents and Domestic USA. I see this, a Continental Crew now part if the UNITED CONTINENTAL group is far suoerior, their planes are superior and their HuBs are superior. BUT, when you take a Larger airline, not more successful, and merge them and keep the NAME OF SAID ENTITY, they bad ways that made United the worse will grow like a cancer. I flew CONTINENTAL FOR years being even just a gold elite. That is from a Miami area resident, I made sure I got at least second level status on both AA and CO for many years. In fact, if you combine my AA and CO history I am just shy of 1m miles, but I couldn't always fly just one. So i made sure I fly both and preference CO EVEN out it south Florida to South America, clearly AA Dominated routes. I preferred to connect on CO TO South AA than AA many times. Now, I get the need for revenues, but the status program is getting worse and worse. I made the decision to go back to "Continental" and start going for UA and tried to like the new UA, isn't happening. If you are lucky to have s former CO FLIGHT AND CREW the service is as best they can do. The planes are better then ANY former UA equipment, but this is going down hill fast ! They poor continental crews have thier hands tied snd do their best to proudly continiue their worst to best accomplishment. Yes CO is incharge for most part, BUT THE bigger, not the best is stressing their cancer throughout the airline, more terrible employes than CO HAD, more crap airplanes and A a culture of miserable staff ,thinking their larger company can dominate . UA had been worse for many years, on all fronts including an attitude of taking excessive time to say no rather than saying yes. The worse to best carrier while smaller would have been a better name that worked fine for international flights, and that big name surely was a big name of terrible experience When you have more employees and from one entity a that had the surviving name , of course Their crap ethic and service is gonna exponentially take hold. CO or UCA as name might habe helped. Plus,get real, united apollo system is ALSO LASTD AND DIEING! Continual, worse-Best-worse again. NWA Had stake in CO, and NW hold CO told them to let CO DRIVE!

January 26 2014 at 11:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

wait no--- they blow massive elephant shlong.

honestly, working for united is like being a nazi. they're airline nazis.

i may just have to dedicate my life to the destruction of united airlines. jeff smiseck: i know where you live.

January 03 2014 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply



January 03 2014 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been flying Continental / United since 1989, and I have never seen it so bad. Unhappy customers, disenchanted employees, and poor ratings for basic on time departures and arrivals. The stock price (UAL) is up, but they do not return any value to investors in the form of dividends so investors are angry. The entire MileagePlus program, especially for those who have been loyal 1K, Platinum, Million Mile members is in total disarray. Upgrades are severely limited, trying use mileage for decent flights is useless, more difficulties to obtain status, and a silly promotion with Marriott Hotels, are just a few of the many problems that MileagePlus is experiencing. Smaller seats that are incredibly uncomfortable, horrendous boarding processes, and agents that could care less, are a consistent hallmark of the present United Airlines. Hopefully, UAL can turn this around, but it is not looking very good at this point.

October 29 2013 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've also been a victim of poor customer service from United. My story can be found here:

August 13 2013 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whoever took over, spare me flights like I had from Zurich to Washington, DC. in May. The plane was freezing, it was dirty, it was the oldest plane I have traveled on, ever. The video screens were so small, with horrible sound. The 5 movies were on a channeled-loop, and to top it off, the system stopped working an hour into the 9 hour flight. HORRIBLE!!! I will avoid United or Continental or whatever as much as I possibly can!

June 20 2013 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TAEH 0630

Stop wasting money on technology improvements on a computer system that can't run them without access to the web. Listen to the employees who actually do the job. There is a simple solution that can be made to this Global Airline that will make a difference when it comes to customer service! All it would take to start the road to a better future for this airline is to take responsibility for making a bad choice and correct it!

June 20 2013 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is only the name United. Continental took over united. It is continental who has 100% control of everything. Continental is still using a 30 year system. It is garbage!

June 20 2013 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply