Okay, I made it to Chicago yesterday. I'd been anticipating normal mid-January Chicago weather of around 10 degrees or so with biting wind-chill factor and was prepared to bring my fave big down jacket, which I don't get much (any) chance to use in Los Angeles. But I checked the advance forecast before packing...and alas, it's supposed to be in the 40s the whole time, with perhaps some rain, no snow. Actually on Saturday it's supposed to jump all the way to the upper 50s! (In January in Chicago??? Yes, climate change is all a Chinese hoax...)
The flight on United was fine. I consider any flight that lands safely and reasonably close to the scheduled time (this was a few minutes early) to be fine and a complete success. That's the point, and all I require. That said, all airlines tell us, "We know you have a choice of many airlines, so we appreciate you flying us," because it's all those little things that most-separate one airline from another. And on that end, I was underwhelmed by United. Partly it's their odd line-up setup at the terminal gate -- it's very smart in theory but seemed to leave most people a bit bewildered. Mostly though it's their odd entertainment center on board, something even the flight attendant shrugged and said he wished it were otherwise.
Again, in theory it's pretty good. They have a sort of DirectTV lineup available with a great many choices, including on-air broadcasts and channels, like ESPN, MSNBC, Turner Classic Movies and more. The problem is that to get that, they charge you. Not much, but enough that at least 90% of the plane didn't appear to be choosing it. They also provide free entertainment and movies online -- on your laptop and through a mobile app -- using a sort of in-flight free, limited WiFi. The problem is that it's not available on all airplanes...including mine. And you only know that if you a) check the fine-print in the in-flight magazine, and b) know the type of plane you're on. And there's no audio channels for music, at least on most planes. Two aircraft do have it. And no, not on mine.
It's an odd decision on United's part, given how few passengers take advantage of paying for the service. However little much money they make from it, they could probably break that down to about $1 a person on the flight and raise the fare by that buck. And then they'd have 100% of their customers pleased by the service they're being offered, rather than 90% of those customers being annoyed and getting no extra service that separates one airline from another. Instead, you get...a flight with bored customers, as opposed to the competition with provides a flight and entertainment. (Fortunately, I had a book and music on my mobile phone.)
One related oddity about the entertainment center.
In their description of the channels that their DirectTV service provides, one of the is "Family and Kids." It sounds lovely. And then you click on it to see the line-up. And there you get -- Doc McStuffins, Gilmore Girls, Bonanza, Drake and Josh -- and...Booze Traveler, Death Row, Pit Bulls and Haunted Case Files. Heart-warming.
But the flight landed safely and eight minutes early. And that's what counts most. By far.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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