Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fly the "Friendly Skies" again with faith

In 1966 United Airlines coined the term "Fly the Friendly Skies." Throughout my childhood, my parents and I did just that, wracking up miles like a rain gauge in Oregon, with never a worry about service or smiles.

But as I started to travel with Craig after 2001, my view of the Friendly Skies changed as dramatically as the company's financial situation. We started to notice drastic differences between the airline companies and their employees, and began picking and choosing our flights no longer based on price, but on pleasant experience. After many of Craig's wheelchair parts and other mobility devices suffered extreme damages from many companies, often without apology, and also after many unpleasant experiences with the staff and lack of knowledge of Craig's rights, we of course had our favorites to fly. Surely from our previous posts here, you can guess who those were.

And for almost five years we simply didn't fly United for all of these reasons.

But this past June, we had no choice but to get back on the horse. United is the only service out of the Steamboat/Hayden airport in the summer, and our schedule didn't allow us to fly out of Denver this time.

So we reached out to one of United's top supervisors, explaining our fears, and hoped that this trip would be different.

We were more than pleasantly surprised. I don't remember United employees ever being so pleasant, helpful, accommodating, and even downright chipper.

Something drastic has changed in United Airlines' infrastructure, and frankly I don't need an explanation. I am thrilled to say that this company now handles customers with disabilities and their equipment with care from start to finish.

The highlights:
  • The staff knew we were coming, and knew we needed assistance.
  • They also didn't balk at the medical equipment free-baggage allowance for his toilet seat.
  • The flight crew knew we wanted Craig's wheelchair on board, and made every effort (when possible) to make this happen (both DEN-IAD flights) and knew it was in his FAA rights to do so.
  • Everyone greeted us with a smile.
  • No one ignored us. (Really, that's a highlight!)
  • The pilot even introduced himself. When does that EVER happen?
  • None of Craig's mobility equipment was damaged.
While I would like to assume this would be the standard treatment without the big red flag warning we sent out (an email that seemed to make it all around the company, as many of the supervising staff helping us mentioned it- hopefully it was well written!), they won us over nonetheless.

Of course we returned the favor with Life is Good stickers for everyone, and now I'm proud to say that this company is joining team with one of our favorites (Continental) at the end of the year.

I do hope that Continental Airline's Disability Advisory Board is retained through the big merger however- despite the positive message this post, there's still a lot of work to be done on all fronts in the airlines, but we see progress, and progress is always good.

But we will be flying with United again someday soon, I guarantee it. We hope you give them a shot too.


Mary said...

The reason I LOVE United? When O'Hare first opened, my friend Diane and I (in late high school) went out there (in those days they let anyone go anywhere in the airport) and walked up to the United gates. A flight attendant noticed how entranced we were and gave us a tour of her plane and United tshotshkees! They won us over then and there.

Scott Rains said...

Public congratulations to Continental Airline's Disability Advisory Board for excellent work!
Let's hope the momentum survives the merger.