Grace Powers: United Airlines needs to improve service into Hayden | SteamboatToday.com

Grace Powers: United Airlines needs to improve service into Hayden

I was surprised at the recent survey results stacked against support for more direct flights into Hayden Regional Airport. While we may in fact have enough tourists, my recent experience as a newer Steamboat resident in attempting to depart from and return to Hayden makes me wonder, a) might we lose some of the visitors we currently attract; and b) am I the only unfortunate resident who has to occasionally leave Steamboat?

My return flight from Chicago on United Airlines with an attempted plane change in Denver ranks as one of the worst travel experiences of my life. The connection delays eventually amounted to nearly 22 hours, and while I have been whining about it now for several days, I would have been more concerned had it happened to people we invited here.

As I paced Concourse B for the better part of two days with a few dozen other Hayden-bound travelers, I wondered, "will they ever choose the ‘Boat as a vacation destination again?"

Delays happen, but several things about the airline's handling of the situation made a bad experience truly awful.

The first is customer service – a true contradiction in terms if there ever was one. While I stood in the "customer service" line for nearly an hour and a half starting at 11:45 p.m., I witnessed a couple of things that should have made me run for the exits had I not been so sleep-deprived at that point.

First, women traveling with infants and small children were leaving the front of the customer service line literally sobbing, and people leaving the front of the line for First Class and other “extra special: travelers were not exactly waving hotel vouchers. They were carrying tiny blankets wrapped in plastic with toy toothbrushes.

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Delays happen, but besides more direct flights, United Airlines could lessen the risk and trauma of “terminal sleepovers” by doing a few things differently. First, the connecting airline was United only in name. Rather, UAL is slapping their logo on regional carriers with lousy on-time performance track records in all areas from equipment to crews.

Customer service is severely under-staffed, and the policy is apparently to call any and every delay a "weather delay" in order to squeeze through the loophole that denies travelers vouchers for food and lodging.

In my case, the agent said the delay was coded "weather" even though for the prior eight hours they claimed it was "equipment" and then "crew" – and I strongly suspect the nearest "weather" was a rain shower over Guam.

If United wants the business, it needs to fly its own planes into Hayden, hire customer service personnel to handle the occasional fallout and adjust their passenger-punitive policies in cases where the worst happens. In the meantime, my bet is there were any number of would-be Steamboat visitors that won't be back.

Grace Powers

Steamboat Springs