United's Ground Maintenance Failure – What is the Appropriate Corrective Vendor Management Strategy?

Earlier this week, I offered a firsthand account about how United Airlines failed to clean up a previously used barf bag that managed to ooze its repulsive contents all over my trousers. I contacted United this week to alert them to the incident, and they sent me a personalized note along with a $200 voucher in response.

Yet they failed to answer my request to explain what they would do to avoid this situation in the future, let alone how they would manage their vendor, United Express, more effectively to prevent such toxic seat-pocket overflows in the first place. As one commenter chimed in on the original post: "There is actually a good angle in this about vendor management and supply risk -- sounds like you were on a regional jet not owned by United, but a United partner (yet flying under the same banner, tickets purchased on the same site, etc.) Did you by chance see what logo was on the barf bag? :-)".

Given that it's Friday and it's been a long week at the office (honestly, I'm not sure I can crank out another word at this point), I thought I'd toss it out to the Spend Matters audience to suggest the appropriate corrective vendor management response on both my firm's part (collectively, we spend around $25K per year on United) as well as how United should work with its own regional jet partner. I've attached United's response below.

As an aside -- perhaps waiting for the input of the Spend Matters audience -- I've not yet responded to their proffering a $200 voucher (I asked for a bump from 1P to 1K status as a conciliatory gesture on their behalf and they turned it down). They also rejected reimbursing me for the pants. Personally, I feel the situation warrants more than $200 and that an overture for compensation ought to have pre-empted my contacting corporate.

In any event, here's the letter they sent me via email:

Dear Mr. Busch,

Thank you for contacting us about your recent experience on UA7473 from Philadelphia to Chicago.

I cannot begin to apologize for the incident that occurred on the flight. I understand that on an incoming flight that was delayed we may try have a quick turnaround, but I believe not cleaning the aircraft is unacceptable. I cannot confirm the contract that we have with the process of cleaning our planes, but it is the job of the incoming flight attendants to ensure that the plane is ready to be boarded. I am thankful that the airport and flight staff was understanding and did all they could do to assist you during this occurrence. Your comments about the flight staff will be forwarded to the appropriate department for review.

Your request for a yearlong upgrade to 1K is appreciated however, we are unable to honor that request. I have included an electronic travel certificate as a gesture of goodwill. In regards to your pants, we are happy to reimburse you for any dry cleaning charge that you may have incurred. Please send a copy of the receipt via fax to 877-406-1059 or mail it to United Airlines Customer Relations, PO Box 66100, Chicago, IL 60666. Please include the above reference number with all correspondence.

Mr. Busch, as a loyal Premier Executive I value your feedback and ask if you may fill out the survey below where you can rate my individual performance. If I could have been better in handling your request, please reply and let me know what I could have done differently. Thank you for choosing United.


Matthew Michaels

United Airlines Customer Relations

In an industry that is entrusted with our very lives, United's thinly veiled obliviousness to the subliminal impact of maintenance failure -- mechanical and otherwise -- upon its customers is unfathomable. So besides the obvious breakdown in supplier management, what does everyone think about United's response both to a corporate customer and what is clearly a failure to manage their own vendor?

I don't think we've heard the end of this multi-tier supply chain barf break down.

Jason Busch

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