Hey United Employee, Help the Passengers Without Being Condescending!

At 5:30am I arrived at the Orlando Airport and proceeded directly to the self check-in kiosk. They were all being used in the economy check-in, but there was nobody waiting in line. As I am proceeding through the check-in screens and refusing all the upsell options, the Indian couple next to me asked for assistance in reading the directions on the screen. The woman had entered a series of letters and the screen would not take any more letters. I really did not know where they were in the check-in process and I told them I did not know why there was a problem.

Just then, the United Airlines employee comes over and says “No! No! No! What are you doing? That isn’t what you enter. You need to enter your confirmation code here!” as she grabs the flight information paper from the passenger’s hand.

“You need to read the screen!”

The couple proceed to check-in and I see they are on my same flight when the Indian woman asks me for help again while attempting to decode the word “itinerary” on the screen. The United employee comes back over and says condescendingly, “You need to read the screen.”

Now I am a credentialed California elementary teacher who has spent thousands of hours working with English Language Learners (ELL) and I confronted the employee and asked her, “But what if a person can’t read?”

She responds, “Then I am here to help.”

“Well damn lady, isn’t it obvious this couple needs help with reading English and there is no reason to be rude.” I didn’t say that, though. I can really get into someone’s face and argue when I get mad and I didn’t want to get kicked off my flight today.

She chided them one more time about reading the screen, but then remained to assist them through the process.

What struck me about the United check-in process was the number of instructions and upsell offers that need to be declined. Reading English at a higher than 5th grade level is just one issue with the United Airlines self check-in process. The other issue is being comfortable navigating through screens and declining all the upsell offers.

$325 for an upgrade? At first I thought my flight cost had increased from $240. I had to navigate to the decline button and move on.

Pay more for the Premier Security Line? I had to navigate to the decline button.

Pay for checked baggage. Yes. I’ll buy one piece of luggage. Insert your credit card.

As I was dropping off my luggage I heard the UA employee berating the Indian couple another time about the amount of luggage they had and there was no way they could take all that on the plane.

I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I am far-sighted, so I could not read the employee’s name badge.

I want to apologize to the Indian couple for their exposure to the “ugly American” this morning.

In a global world we all need to learn appropriate ways to communicate better with persons of different languages. English is a global language and the dominant language of the internet, but for those of us who are native English speakers, we must remember there are more than 5 billion English language learners.

And even native English speakers can have trouble navigating the United Airlines self check-in kiosk.


Follow-up on the United Flights: Tuesday, March 9  home in Monterey at 3:00pm.

United flight delayed out of Orlando by an hour. Flight good. “Up in the Air” was in-flight movie. Decent movie, but so depressing. If you want an uplifting movie about a frequent flyer, check out the  hilarious movie “Last Stop for Paul“.

Now that is that kind of frequent traveler movie I find entertaining.

Iconic LAX

I saw Sean Penn at LAX. I think he was taking a flight to D.C.

On United Airlines.

Probably wouldn’t have truly reognized him except for the fact that I just watched him on Bill Maher before going to sleep last night so his appearance was quite fresh in my mind. And standing near him for several minutes helped.

United Airlines is self-promotiong their #1 on-time arrival ranking. LAX had cupcakes and coffee.

United Airlines #1 On Time Arrival Celebration at LAX

Last Tuesday in Denver the employees were handing out 10% off flight coupons and they gave me several. Now that is a customer loyalty benefit I can really use.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. I wonder if that UA employee has ever used her flight benefits to travel to another country where English isn’t the primary language.

    Especially in a city like Orlando airport workers should be familiar with tourists from many countries.

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