Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 17, 2009

SFO: Fair-weather Friend; UA: Foul-weather Foe


Just back from two days in San Francisco, but it seemed longer. Maybe that is because the majority of the trip was spent in one airport or another, waiting out weather delays.

Yes, it rained. But it was just rain. Yet, for SFO, an inch of rain might as well be two feet of snow. For some reason, this airport deals with weather issues in a manner that is worse than just about any airport in the United States.

The problem is aggravated for those who fly United Airlines, which seems to perform worst among the airlines that “serve” SFO. Throw a weather problem in UA’s way, and the whole airline starts to unravel. Customer service is almost non-existent, unless you count surly, uncoorperative and deceptive employees as a “service”. It can take days after a weather issue at SFO for UA to get back on track. It’s inexcusable.

I’d like to note here that SFO is the home airport for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has written me with glowing reports about her “Passenger Bill of Rights” legislation that never seems to get past the press conference stage.

On my particular flight from LAX the other morning, I noted that an earlier flight to SFO closed its doors 10 minutes EARLY – without apologies to a number of would-be passengers who had been held up in security line delays.

It was particularly insulting for these people to have to then stand there and watch their plane still at the gate, but with its doors closed sit there without leaving for another 20 minutes.

The leftovers from that flight were passed on to our flight, which soon became one of the only UA flights to SFO to remain uncancelled.

Our flight was delayed numerous times, usually in increments of 45 minutes or so – kind of the drip, drip torture method which keeps you from leaving the terminal to go find a flight on a real airline.

Finally, just short of three hours late, UA loaded everyone on the plane – and then announced something that they had obviously known before loading us: That air traffic control wasn’t going to let us leave for another hour and 20 minutes. Of course, if we had not been loaded UA might have owed us some compensation. Nah, airlines don’t owe anybody any compensation for anything anymore.

But just to clear that up, the stewardesses made a PA announcement that anybody who wanted to could leave and try to get rebooked. But if you left the plane, you could not get back on. Your seat would be given to one of the many dispossessed standby passengers still in the lobby.

Also, if you missed your connection in SFO – which was likely since you would be four hours or more late, and UA wasn’t holding any flights for anyone – you would be on your own as far as overnight accommodations, if you should need them.

Just a little reminder from The Friendly Skies.

Eventually, we did make it to SFO – which by that time had been basking in bright sunshine for several hours. The weather was long gone, but the delays lived long after. I arrived just about in time to catch my flight back home.

It would be nice if – with all the Passenger Facility Charge billions that SFO is sitting on – the runway design of the airport, especially vulnerable to weather complications, would be corrected someday. Decades of talk with no action doesn’t cut it!

But neither does the continuing incompetence of United Airlines.



  1. Jet Blue actually does have a Passenger Bill of Rights and the delay you described, had it been on Jet Blue, would have entitled you to a $50 voucher on another Jet Blue flight.

    Not as good as no delay, of course, but at least a recognition that your choosing their airline matters.

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