Here's Why United Was Just Named America's Worst Airline

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In a week that saw United Airlines (UAL) place dead last in a customer service ranking of the major airlines, a picture surfaced that gives some idea of how the airline earned that dubious distinction.

Flyer Talk

A member of travel forum FlyerTalk posted this picture, which he says he snapped in the lavatory of a United Airlines flight.

"Apparently, they ran out in one lav half-way home and couldn't bother to transfer a roll from another," writes the poster. As you can see, a member of the flight crew seems to have hacked together a holder out of duct tape and filled it with cocktail napkins -- which, appropriately enough, bear the slogan "Fly by the tips of your fingers."

And this was no short flight, either: He notes that this took place on a San Francisco-to-London trip. While having to use napkins as toilet paper isn't the end of the world, it's still hard to imagine an airline like JetBlue (JBLU) running out of toilet paper and having to resort to such college-dorm-style innovation.

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It's that sort of lax approach to basic customer service that's led to United once again ranking dead last in the American Customer Service Index. The quarterly ranking of various consumer-facing industries and companies found that while the airline industry as a whole has slightly improved, it still rates poorly among consumers, with only TV and internet providers performing worse. And within the industry, there was United in dead last once again, with an aggregate score of 62 points out of 100. JetBlue and Southwest (LUV) led the category, scoring 83 and 81 points, respectively.

The index is compiled through thousands of phone and email surveys, and each company score is the product of 250 interviews.

Of course, United's problems don't begin and end with toilet paper. A recent ranking of airline performance that accounted for on-time arrivals, customer complaints and baggage handling likewise ranked the airline dead last.

We've reached out to the airline for comment and will update this article if we get a response.

Update (3:45 p.m. ET): A United spokesperson responds to the mishap:

"The aircraft ran low on toilet tissue and our crew improvised and provided customers with paper napkins. We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back."

As for the airline's poor customer-service ranking, the spokesperson says that United's operation performance has improved significantly since fall 2012 and that customer complaints are down this year.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.