Over the past ten years travel has been a necessity in the business I’m in. I’ve had to travel all around the world for various clients, projects, meetings, etc. As such, I’ve been a Delta Platinum/Diamond member for multiple years, Virgin Atlantic Silver/Gold member, Scandinavian EuroBonus Gold member and most recently United Premier Executive (I’m only a few miles away from 1K status).

In the recent months of travelling on United, Jeff Smisek, CEO of United prefaces each safety video with the fact that as of October 1, 2010, Continental is now United and United is Continental. This is also the focus of many of the articles in Hemisphere and it got me thinking, is United really ready for Continental or are they going about this without planning? Here’s my thoughts:

Painting Planes

In both the October 2010 Hemisphere’s as well as now in the November article, it’s pointed out that the first thing we’ll see as frequent flyers is the new livery. Big Deal. Here’s a suggestion, why don’t you take the money it takes to paint the plane and invest it in something worthwhile, rather than making sure the new United font is on the outside and the globe is on the tail. What do I mean? Well, a while back United was a pioneer in on-board wireless connectivity. They boast about being the business man’s airline, yet when I get on board, I don’t have wireless capabilities. Almost every other airline does. Take the money you’re using to paint the planes and put it to something more useful.

Take care of your Frequent Flyers

Currently in the Miles Plus Frequent Flyer scheme, there are five tiers (four if you count the default one) – Premier, Premier Executive, 1K and Global Services. The last tier is a coveted one for buying loads of full fare tickets but the others are attainable by flying more often. However, while there are some “perks” with each tier, in my years of travelling, the perks with United are minimalistic when it comes to flying and it seems as if they don’t care too much. Here’s an example. I was on an international flight the other day and asked if business had checked in full. The gate agent said no. I asked as a Premier Executive if there was anything I could do to get an upgrade and their response – no. Again, this is something small, but other airlines give vouchers as that level and also should Business Class not check in full, be kind to those that travel often and give them a complimentary upgrade – after all, the food is already on the plane and the person is going to be on the plane as well.

Continuity

October was a busy month and I got to go both east and west – essentially crossing both oceans. What I noticed amazed me. There is no continuity between overseas flights on United. What do I mean? Well on a flight from Seattle to Tokyo – an international flight – alcohol is free. Yet, take a flight from Chicago to Amsterdam (same distance), again another international flight, but this time you’ll get charged $6.00 for alcohol. Another small thing, but the mapping program onboard…go east you get one version, go west you get another one. Further, go west and it will end up in English as well as the destination language. Go east and it will only be in English (however I must say the east bound version seems newer, more clean and the better of the two versions).

Channel 9

United was really on to something good when they introduced Channel 9 on to their planes. I remember about 4 years ago finding this channel and thinking, wow, for the avid flyer, this is pretty cool. For those of you unfamiliar with Channel 9 it’s “straight from the cockpit” wherein you hear the communications of the pilot with ATC. However, the problem with channel 9 is it’s like a crap shoot. One plane will offer it, one won’t and there isn’t any reason why. Sometimes pilot’s tell you they’re going to do it, other’s just ignore it and there’s no method to the madness. Why not write in to the policy of the flight attendant or even the pilot in his/her intro message to tell you about channel 9, as you were really on a winner on this one, but now it’s hit or miss…

Conclusion

There are more than the above I’ve noticed however they are some of the main ones. Another one that makes me laugh is that United don’t seem to provide luggage tags for Frequent Flyers (it promotes your airline after all guys), yet every other airline does. It gets so bad that a group of people over at FlyerTalk have devised their own. Again, is it important to update the livery rather than simply print luggage tags for those who fly often with you?

In short, I think United really has some housekeeping they need to look at/address first before they think that taking on Continental is the best thing to do. After all, what are you going to do when merging Continental traveller’s in to your system? The elite get free standby and we don’t on United and their top tier is 75,000 miles not 1K.

Seems United is trying to run before it can walk…Just like any IT project – planning is critical here and I’ll be interested to see what comes off the back of this grandiose plan/scheme that Mr Smisek says “good things are going to come from”…