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Passenger Complaint Site Leaves United Fit to Be Untied

Leon Kaye | Friday November 30th, 2012 | 0 Comments
United Airlines, United, Untied, Untied.com, Jeremy Cooperstock, legacy airlines, Leon Kaye, customer service, passenger complaints, air travel

Where is my bag? Deplaning at United’s hub in SFO (Leon Kaye)

In another case of attorneys bullying a web site because of technicalities over trademark and copyright infringement, United Airlines’ lawyers have sued a Canadian-based web site, Untied.com. Naturally the official reason was not because of all of the passenger complaints, but over intellectual property and to protect its logo (in case anyone actually cares) from the site’s owner, Jeremy Cooperstock.

One of United’s complaints is that the company wants to ensure that consumers are not fooled into believing that they are filing official complaints with its customer service department; in other words, the airline gives the impression that it believes passengers are stupid.

It is not easy to be an American-based legacy airline these days. Awful customer service, disgruntled employees, flight attendants who would probably be more cheerful if smoking were allowed on airplanes again and aging fleets–or cramped planes that age you–have long provided an opening for upstart carriers. Southwest Airlines has become both the busiest and most luxurious airline of choice; JetBlue and Virgin America have their devotees, too.

Of course, passengers have to adapt to the changing realities of air travel. Depending on who you read, the airline industry overall has either not made a profit the past 100 years or has barely broken even. Spikes in fuel prices and, of course, the 9/11 attacks have dogged the airlines. As someone who flies often, I view the airlines as a way to get from point A to point B–not to eat, not to be entertained and not to be comfortable. Just make sure you get that coveted window seat, gulp some Benadryl or melatonin and be done with it.

Nevertheless, United and its competitors have long been notorious for subpar customer service and nonchalant employees, and not just from the occasional traveler off to his or her summer vacation. Cooperstock’s site, according to the Chicago Tribune, has logged complaints for 15 years, but a site redesign in April caught the airline’s attention. As of today, the site is now shuttered.

Whether companies in United’s shoes admit it or not, the result of such litigation is it gives the appearance that companies are stifling public discourse or just thin-skinned and petty. Parody web sites such as Untied.com are hardly immune. Earlier this month, a Twitter meme mocking the New York Times, NYTOnit, was briefly suspended until the account’s owner, Benjamin Kabak, 86ed an altered version of the Times’ “T” logo. After another outcry, Twitter restored the account, and to the relief of the NYT’s vapid Vice President of Corporate Communications, Eileen Murphy, the offensive “T” disappeared.

In an era where more people glean their news from the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, disgruntled stakeholders will take to satire and parody to air their grievances. Companies’ inside and outside counsels may want to think beyond legal technicalities; and as for folks such as Dr. Cooperstock, take a page from Method. When Clorox sent Method a nasty-gram over a daisy trademark, Method’s mocking response was not only brilliant, but forced Clorox to back down. The upshot is never try to beat a company’s legal department on its terms; creativity will end up stunning the opposition instead.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Leon Kaye


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