I’ve been a loyal United passenger for more than 30 years. When I started my professional career United went to more of the destinations I needed and provided quality service. I imagine I’ve flown more than a half million miles with them lifetime. We (my wife and I) like them so much that for the last 20 years we’ve had a United-branded credit card, accumulating miles with them — probably more than 1 million over the course of a decade. As their quality has declined (post Continental merger) I’ve continued to defend them. Heck, my company even has a “no United” policy that lets anyone fly any other airline (even if more expensive) rather than United, because they think the airline is so poor — and yet I still fly them all the time.

No more. This is the story of how a short-sighted focus on money can destroy the loyalty of even the most devoted customer.

My wife and I decided to take a cruise this summer in the Baltic Sea (it was, btw, great — highly recommend Regent Cruise line) and to reward ourselves, I used miles (500,000 of them!) to book us two business class seats on United — outbound to London; return from Stockholm. I booked the flights in February for a June trip. The outbound flight was just fine ….

But the return flight was a deal breaker. We got to the airport two hours early (as requested) only to have the check-in agent ask if we might delay our flight a day. We said we couldn’t because we were hurrying home to our nephew’s graduation. They then told us that they’d over-booked business class and we were going to get bumped to economy plus.

I complained. We had confirmed seats; we’d made the reservation months earlier; how could they over-book business class? How could they ruin out trip? All to no avail.

I seems, of course, that they actually had a revenue-paying passenger to whom they had sold the seat. And when the choice came between bumping the paying customer or bumping the couple that had been loyal customers for more than 30 years, United chose the short term financial gain over the reward for long-term commitment.

In truth, they only needed to bump one of us — but we were determined to travel together. And so some other lucky customer was bumped up into our seat.

Yes, they offered us compensation. But who wants a credit on an airline that treats its long-time customers like this?

In a single moment, United destroyed 30 years of good will. We will never fly United again unless it is absolutely the only reasonable way to get to where we want to go. We are in the process of changing our credit card to another brand. I don’t know how much money United has made in profit from our patronage as flyers and credit card users — my guess would be on the order of several tens of thousands of dollars.

Not a penny more. Never again.

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