United Airlines' Apology Form Letter

Form letters are a great way for companies to ensure consistency and save time, but they have to be customized. United Airlines forgot this important step.

United form letter

A spokesperson for the airline said, "I cannot confirm if it is authentic based on the picture, but it appears to be an unfinished customer response letter. If I knew who the customer was we would reach out to the customer and apologize for the response." The letter was posted on Reddit.

A week before this letter was written, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about airline apologies. According to the article, Southwest employs 200 people just to handle complaints, and Delta employs 150 to answer complaint and compliment letters. Delta no longer uses form letters.

United told the WSJ reporter, "Generally we tell the customer we are sorry they did not have the experience they expected on United. We try to be empathetic to the customer but not sound insincere." The article confirms that United has some work to do:

"United Airlines, which had the highest rate of complaints filed at the DOT among major airlines the past three years, has a team of about 450 customer-care agents handling general issues and refunds. Add to that 400 people handing frequent-flier program issues and about 100 answering baggage-related letters and emails."

United apologies dating back to 1996 were form letters. Here's a comparison on Untied.com.

Discussion Starters:

  • In addition to the obvious missing information, the letter has some other problems. What are they?
  • The WSJ article mentions a 2009 study showing that an apology may be more valued by customers than compensation. What works best for you? Think about a time when service didn't meet your expectations, and you told the company. How did it respond, and what was your reaction?