I took United Airlines last week because I had to. I have about 200,000 miles that I’m trying to unload so that I can start taking better airlines, like Virgin America or JetBlue.

What’s wrong with United? Well, nothing on the surface. They get you from place to place just like any other airline, their prices are competitive, and the seats are more or less big enough for average Americans. Compared to Virgin America, however, flying United is a nightmare. There’s no in-flight WiFi, there’s no DirecTV, no on-demand gaming. In other words, United is bad in comparison to their upstart competitors. Once you’ve experienced flying with someone else, you never want to go back to United.

The only way to respond to a better product from a competitor is to meet or beat that product. So United should be working busily to one-up Virgin and beat them at their own game. The in-flight “Hemispheres” magazine on United suggests that they have yet to grasp this. I came across this United article entitled “Sit Back, Relax . . .” (emphasis added):

THERE’S A GOOD CHANCE you’re seated on a United or United Express flight right now. And except for the aroma of freshly brewed Starbucks coffee or the view outside the window, nothing should distract you from this magazine.

Why? Because United has invested significantly in cabin upgrades to ensure that your experience is a comfortable one.

For example, if you fly frequently in North America, you’ll notice new leather seating throughout the cabin on many of our Airbus A320 aircraft. And all United aircraft are getting new, updated upholstery and carpeting.

Notice a brighter, cleaner appearance? We hope so. We’re installing “cool white” lighting on United aircraft and, perhaps most importantly, we’ve doubled the frequency of our most thorough interior aircraft scrubbings. And our cleaning solutions are EPA-rated as environmentally friendly.

We’ve upgraded audio and video systems, and increased the frequency of inspection, maintenance and replacement of seat controls, reading lights and window shades. All of that means that when you want to recline your seat, your seat will recline. When you want to dive into that great new mystery novel, you’ll have a working reading light.

Because when a flight attendant encourages you to “sit back, relax and enjoy your flight,” we want to make sure you can.

So lets summarize here: fly United and we promise that our planes will actually be clean and that the stuff on the plane will actually work! That’s great United, but that’s not great customer experience. The basics – even if delivered as promised – are no longer enough.

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.