I love United. I’m a frequent flyer with them and love their daily flights to DC. I’ve never had a problem with any of the United or NAS ground staff in Kuwait. In fact, they go out of their way to be kind, to smile, to say a few kind words. However, returning to Kuwait through Washington is another story.
It is a well-known fact that United’s counter staff at IAD is just rude. My family has had problems; people we know have had problems; passengers waiting near me have had problems. No one – from any class of travel nor station in life is immune. Pay $10,000 for your ticket or pay $400; it doesn’t matter. The rudeness is unavoidable. You can’t get around it – regardless of if you go to the airport and show up as the first customer with no one else around; or if you are passenger number 372 in the line of people, carts, and screaming children.
There could be reasons behind the rudeness. Perhaps they are recruited for their thick-skin; similar to prison guards. Perhaps they have had to deal with passengers for years and years and have grown tired of it (like postal workers?). Maybe they dislike the United/Continental merge. Who knows – and who cares? Wouldn’t it just be as easy to be NICE to people?
Okay, so here is my list of ways to get through it; methodically uncovered through years of travelling through United at IAD:
1. Do not ask questions. Ever. It isn’t the ground staff’s job to answer.
2. At the check-in counter: Use the passport scanner and kiosk – without being told to first - or risk being shouted at. If you don’t know how to use the scanner, refer to #1 above. Ask friendly looking fellow travelers.
3. Once you have scanned your passport and are waiting to have your bags checked, just stand there. Refer to #1. Just wait. Trying to make eye contact won’t help. They don’t look directly at passengers (travelers have cooties).
4. Maintain a poker face. If they see any signs of weakness, they’ll humiliate you in front of other passengers.
5. Try not to look or sound too foreign. They see it as an opportunity to pounce.
6. Wear neutral toned, plain clothes. Do not risk bringing attention to yourself.
7. Do NOT try to be overly kind. They see it as a sign of weakness. They prey on the weak.
8. If you’re elderly, bring a young person with you for protection.
And God forbid you should have to ask a United representative a question at the gate! They have you cornered. (What are you gonna do; leave?) Game on. It is okay to shout at passengers, to humiliate them, to traumatize at will.
Refer to #1 above.
Now, once you’re on the plane, it is a totally new experience. The flight attendants are kind. They smile. They make small talk. They are human. It is as if you have passed a test. If you can make it past the United gate keepers, you’re in.