Is there such thing as the "United Airlines Effect"?

Just over a year ago, United Airlines and Continental Airlines announced they were merging. At the time, I predicted that the combined company would get bigger, ruder, and less efficient

The American Customer Satisfaction Index has just released their latest airline passenger satisfaction index and it appears my ruder prediction is coming true. The index is still tracking United and Continental as individual airlines, so you can see an interesting trend. I call it the "United Airlines Effect" where you take something bad (United Airlines customer service) and merge it with something mediocre (Continental Airlines customer service) and end up with something bad.

I've thrown in industry service leader Southwest Airlines for the sake of comparison.

Source: The American Customer Satisfaction Index

You can see that United Airlines hit rock bottom in 2009. Service at both United and Continental went up in the 2010 index, which was released just after the merger was announced. Since the merger, service at United Airlines has risen slightly while the service rating for Continental Airlines has tanked. The "United Airlines Effect" appears to be real.

Some of my friends and colleagues regularly fly both United and Continental. Some have even reported a few instances of unusually good service when flying United. Is there a newly discovered service spirit within United? Are they motivated by a desire to prove themselves during the merger? Or, is service at both airlines simply heading towards a mid-point that reflects their newly combined operations?

Whatever it is, I'll stick with Southwest Airlines whenever I can.

Another last to first customer service merger

My relaxing Sunday was disrupted by news that AT&T it is purchasing T-Mobile USA from Deutsch Telecom. Ugh.

I've been a loyal T-Mobile USA customer for a number of years after fleeing AT&T's terrible customer service. The worst part is AT&T has continued to stalk me like a psycho ex-girlfriend (see that post).

This is another example of a company whose service I despise purchasing a company I enjoy doing business with. T-Mobile currently holds the #1 spot for customer service ratings with both J.D. Power and The American Customer Satisfaction Index. AT&T, on the other hand, is tied for last in J.D. Power's rankings and holds last place by itself in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The last example of one of a service nemisis taking over a decent company was United Airlines buying Continental Airlines last year. (See: United Airlines will get bigger, ruder, and less efficient.) When that was announced, I walked outside and looked up at the sky while shaking my fist and screaming, "Noooooooooo!" (To be fair, commercial airliners regularly fly over my house.)

So now what? Will T-Mobile's outstanding customer service somehow rub off on their new owner? Not likely. Something tells me my future involves a switch to Verizon.

United Airlines will get bigger, ruder, and less efficient

United Airlines has just announced that they are buying Continental Airlines for just over $3 billion in stock. A company that lost $651 million last year is buying a company that lost $282 million so they can form the world's largest airline. Who will this benefit? Certainly not us.

Last year, United Airlines ranked last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index for major airlines with a score of 56. Their poor service became even more legendary last year with Dave Carroll's video, United Breaks Guitars, that has generated more than 8 million views on YouTube.

It's hard to imagine a company run as poorly as United Airlines can handle a massive merger with grace and style. In the short run, customers should expect even worse service as employees face the fear of uncertain job security, potentially contentious union negotiations, and the general confusion that is sure to come from this deal.

The one bright spot may be that Continental's CEO, Jeffery Smisek, will be at the helm of this new company. Contintental scored a 68 in last year's American Customer Satisfaction Index for major airlines, second only to Southwest which scored an 81.

Do you fly United or Continental now? If so, it may be time to cash in those frequent flyer miles and start looking for another carrier.