United Airlines: your time is worth $4.17/hour

Six weeks after my international flight from Los Angeles to Australia was delayed for 24 hours, United Airlines has finally come up with a value for my inconvenience when a full Boeing 747-load (400+) of passengers waited at the terminal for 6 hours into midnight, sent to an airport motel at 2am, lining up half an hour to check-in (guess what happens when 200 people enter one motel at the same time), sleep and wake up in the same clothes, eat 3 meals of crummy tasteless food and not to mention some LAPD cops busting in a room next door. Four dollars and seventeen cents per hour is how much United thinks my time is worth. Even McDonalds has higher standards.

To be blunt, all I missed was a lecturer, tutorial and some work. I can’t imagine how the family of four who missed their child’s birthday party in Sydney, or the half a dozen elderly couples who missed their retirement Pacific cruise must feel when this arrives for them. Considering everyone paid almost $80/hour for the flight, this is worse than a slap in the face.

27 insightful thoughts

  1. i have experirenced a light version of your story and guess what they came up with? a coffee… that means my wasted day was worth a coffee to them. i feel ur pain :-)

  2. A recent trip from Sydney to New Zealand with Emirates was delayed by four hours… we were given a $30 meal voucher that could be used anywhere in the Sydney Int airport. At least that’s $7.50 per hour and better than UA!

  3. noooooope… that’s $100 because in their eyes you are a “19 year old pimply teenager who doesn’t know any better”.

    Last time this happened to me I got $200 + 25K frequent flyer miles + free upgrade to business class + hotel + phone call allowance + meals.

    On another occasion I got offered an upgrade to first class on a flight from LA to New Orleans if I would give up my economy seat and fly LA -> Washington DC -> New Orleans instead. Unfortunately that time I had to be in New Orleans on time.

    Another time I got offered a 40% refund on my ticket + hotel + phone allowance + meals… I managed to squeeze out a business class upgrade after refusing a few times. Again couldn’t take them up on the offer as I had to get on a plane to Taiwan the following day.

    All on Unite Airlines… on full price economy.

    Oh… apparently the flight cancellation on those long haul flight to Australia happens quite a bit. Especially out of San Francisco… as I am told it’s often because of pilots exceeding their allowable flight time.

  4. @tom: This was due to “mechanical failure”. They told us the PA system did not work and tried to fix it, but could not.

  5. Wow I was in the LA United terminal on that Friday after having had my original flight to Boston cancelled. As an Australian who has made that trip back to Melbourne a few times via LA I saw that on the departure board and cringed a bit as I knew how much I’d hate that to happen to me, sorry it happened to you Long.

  6. You shouldn’t be complaining – you’re lucky you got anything. Once you are in the real-world and out of school where you are pretty much sheltered from the minutia of daily life, you’ll quickly discover you’re gonna get ripped off by companies left and right and that most of the time you can nothing about it.

    …and not to be rude, but how much do you think your time is worth? I doubt you were making crucial business decisions and trading stocks / investing $$$ while on your way to where ever you were headed. I’m not saying you don’t have a right to be upset by being delayed but deal with it – it’s not like you’re the first (or last) person to ever get ripped off by airlines (have you even watched the news recently???)

  7. @Scott: Well I would hardly call this a complaint, but I am pretty disappointed by their “offer”.

    Now that you’ve asked, I really don’t know how much to value my time and I agree with you I wasn’t going to make business decisions anyway, but I do think just the inconvenience has value. It wasn’t just spending 24 hours in LA, but all the extra effort I didn’t plan or think to have to spend after I eventually arrived to “catch up” all the lost time.

    Having said all that, the Australia government is actually intending to introduce law which will put a standard price on international flight delays and that’s quoted to be up to $8000 per day. That’s probably an extreme amount, but I think that shows the seriousness of the problem here. http://www.theage.com.au/news/news/flight-delayed-send-an-8000-bill/2008/03/20/1206206972639.html

  8. But don’t you see? What you went through is what hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of other people have experienced at some point in their lives. I hear people complaining about being delayed on a plane trip and I think, “So…you’re still FLYING to your destination which will get you their faster than if you drove [if that’s even possible]”…you ever imagine how many people would LOVE to fly and jet-set around the globe but can’t because it costs so much?

    That’s like if I complained about having to drive to get to work or having to write a check to pay my rent. Everyone else has encountered this before or is dealing with these common problems and it’s just part of life.

    I think you devoting a whole post to that though shows how ridiculous the world has become. Especially in the tech world where people can’t survive without Blackberries, Twitter or Facebook and email for even a single day. As if the world wasn’t moving fast enough, people can’t survive a minor delay here and there without expecting society to personally apologize…and generously compensate them for them for the “inconvenience”.

    I’m not trying to pick on you personally but I’m just saying how people all over seem to be upset about the WRONG things.

  9. @Scott: While I agree with you that this happens to millions of other people too and that people get upset about the wrong things, this isn’t one of those times.

    This is example is all about customer service. If you go to a restaurant and they screw up your order what usually happens (at a restaurant with good customer service anyway)? They give you something for free. They want to keep your business even though there was a screw up. What they give you is usually a large percent of your total bill so you feel taken care of. If you don’t feel taken care of, you probably won’t come back. Unfortunately with airlines, there are a lot less of them than there are restaurants, so they can sort of get away with not giving you much back when something goes wrong. But it still all comes down to customer service. I think most airlines are still so frantic and nearing bankruptcy that they don’t think they can invest the amount of money needed for people to think they are taken care of when a problem arises. What they don’t understand is that without that initial hit to their own pocketbooks, it will end up costing them more long term as they lose customers to other airlines who make their customers feel like they’re taken care of.

    @Long Zheng: What they’ve taught you from this is that you should fly with someone else (just like you would do with any other company that had bad customer service).

  10. I’m honestly surprised they sent you anything. I believe you should have been compensated better for your time, agreed, but in todays world of corp greed over all, I’m amazed they gave you cash. Erik has the right of it. You dont have a lot of choices so your option of never using them again is tougher, but its possible and like Erik, I agree that they are missing the boat on the big picture/long term, but then again, look at our financial markets. Airlines dont exactly have a monopoly on short-sighted thinking and our govt of fools will likely bail out the airlines just like the investment firms.

  11. When my flight from San Francisco is delayed for 24 hours, I usually gladly take the opportunity to shop and tour around the city within the day. I think the cheap motel is fine, and it’s not exactly cheap as you can take advantage of their bubble bath and TV fully. That’s way better than sleeping at a train station or an airport overnight, as train or bus companies would hardly even pay for motel. Just wait until when you are stuck in one of those real cheap motel in No Country for Old Men, you’ll see! In fact, I’m surprised that they even mailed you a $100 voucher later on.

    It’s the other half of the glass, though I guess Los Angeles truly sucks in comparison to San Francisco.

    As a sidenote, I think this blog has gotten a little grumpy recently, up to the Paul Thurrott level. 😉 What’s wrong?

  12. @Scott – do you work for an airline company? as it sounds to me like you do! Its Long’s blog, he can do what he wants with it. You’re not forced to come here and read his posts. You choose to. You appear to be complaining about something just because its not how you want it.

    @Erik – you’re exactly right! Its totally about customer service! Businesses (seem to?) loose their focus when they get big. Just because there is a ‘limited’ amount of airline businesses, it doesn’t mean they can stop focusing on customer service.

    I would like to know if or when an American airline company has been in the top 3 “best customer service” awards though?

  13. Apparently they wanted to make you wait a “Long” time.

    Okay, enough with the puns. Why didn’t they realize who you are?

    I totally would have been like, “Holy Crap! Its that Long kid! He’ll dig up our patents and expose our plans for world domination!” because thats what the Airlines are heading for. World domination.

  14. “sleep and wake up in the same clothes”? Don’t tell me you were hoping to be abducted by aliens in your sleep and be returned with a better outfit?

    “We hope this travel voucher will give United an opportunity to serve you again” reminds me of a Korean restaurant on Bourke St which has a sign saying something like “If you’re not satisfied with our coffee you can get a second one for free”.

    I’ll need to go through Heathrow T5 next month…

  15. Hmmm…looks as though Mr. Zheng moderates his comments to a point where not one bad thing can be said about him. I responded to Glen above about 3 hours ago and it’s still not showing up. Whenever I try to post again, it says “Duplicate Comment Found”…

    Unbiased, right.

    This is what I wrote below (let’s see if it shows up or get sblocked again)
    I come here to find out about new things relating to Microsoft. Just because I’m here doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to post my opinions on a subject. I don’t see how a plane trip has anything to do with Microsoft or Windows and if I wanted a supposed tech person to talk about everything unde rthe sun EXCEPT tech, I’d just listen to TWiT all day long.

    Also, if there were more posts I wouldn’t care so much but this is a blogger who is supposedly “so good” and “so important” he was given a free laptop a year or so ago (plus gets a ton of $$$ in traffic and adwords). I realize people have lives and whatnot but if he is going to just post a few times a month about Windows stuff, he really should just redirect his traffic to a person who takes their fame a bit more seriously. I don’t have to agree with or like everything Long says.

    …& I have no pity for people who get delayed in planes. Like I said, not everyone flies, people should be grateful they even get that luxury and no matter what you say, flying is always faster than driving or being in a boat. So quit whining and deal with reality. It’s called life – get used to it.

    Time to find another Windows blog to read on a regular basis. Geez.

  16. @Scott: I just found your comment in Akismet’s spam box, I don’t know what caused it to filter it but it does have false positives once in a while so I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m glad you reposted it though.

    Since you’ve mentioned TWiT, I might just add that I’ve been listening to every episode and love it much for the fact it’s so random and fun.

    To be clear, I am not and do not even try to be the “ultimate source for Microsoft news”. Once in a while, sometimes more often, I find interesting stuff, most of which are related to Microsoft but sometimes not as well, and post it. A large majority of the posts in the past may have been Microsoft related, but this is not a Microsoft-only blog.

    Since you are leaving, I might as well recommend you what you should be reading instead:

  17. wow, long, looks like scottie there had a bone to pick.

    if you’re going through a tough time financially scott, i sincerely hope you pull through. but don’t take the hate out here man. that was unjustified.

    i read this blog because:

    1. long has a good sense of humor.
    2. he doesn’t indulge in “bashing”
    3. he posts “different” stuff than many other blogs. this has let him carve out a niche for himself.
    4. he’s the same age as i am. that’s impressive

    as for the laptop, yeah, i would want a free one too, but i wouldn’t cry over it. there are other things in life and i’m sure even long knows that.

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