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A Few Bad Apples -- Companion Travel Discontinued

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Source: Archived Content

Date: Sep 26, 2001

Effective October 1, 2001, United Airlines has suspended Companion travel until further notice.  Companion travelers who have been traveling prior to Oct. 1, should return from their trip as soon as possible and are required to conclude their travel by Oct. 31.  Companion write-your-own passes will not be accepted after Nov. 1.

United provides three reasons for discontinuing Companion travel:

  1. Companion tickets can be given to anyone, which becomes a question of security. The company does not have any information about these travelers and companions have a greater possibility of being selected for additional security screening. This also translates into a longer transaction time for airport customer service agents.

  2. With scaled back operations and limited staffing at the airport and reservations centers, employees must spend extra time handling companion travelers. This time is needed for employees to assist revenue passengers.

  3. There are ongoing problems with abuse of companion travel benefits. Some companions do not follow policies, including those for check-in, listing and dress code. Companion tickets also have been sold and used for business travel, which is contrary to company policy.

Quite frankly, I don't blame United one bit for eliminating Companion travel.  How many flight attendants do you know that don't have at least one horror story of a time they dealt with a misbehaving companion?  Security issues aside, Companions had the potential to be more trouble then they were worth.

I remember one time when I was working Business galley from IAD to CDG on the B-777.  This guy storms into the UB galley holding something in a napkin.  He demands, "Are you the cook?"

"Well sir, I warm and prepare the meals."  We had just finished the dinner service, which hadn't gone too bad actually.

Grunting, he said, "So, you're the one responsible for serving me this."  He then unwrapped the object in the napkin, revealing a half-eaten piece of cheese; Blue Cheese to be exact.

"Yes, I set up the wine and cheese cart."  I love people and I love to travel I love people and I love to travel I love peo--

"We'll I'm going to write you up to the Health Department!  You not only served me rotten cheese, but could have gotten me sick!!!"  His face was fuming red, with a fine, narrow drop of spittle running down the left side of his chin crevasse.

This awful scene would have been comical, except for two things:

1.)  He was dead serious.

2.)  Blue cheese is supposed to have patches of blue mold veins throughout.

"What?"  There was nothing wrong with the cheese.  My mood was turning ugly.  Probably because of the crew rest on the B-777, or lack thereof.

"You heard me.  I want your name.  Right now."  His hand was shaking uncomfortably as he held the cheese out in front of him like it was crawling with Ebola virus.  Other passengers were looking in our direction, prompting my flying partner to quickly close the galley curtain.

Of course, I refused to provide my name to him, but told him he needed to do a 180 and return to his seat.  I refused to discuss any further his concern about moldy cheese or anything else.  His I'M IN CHARGE HERE talking tactic was no longer working.  In one last attempt to gain control of the conversation, he increased his volume and people were looking at us now, curtain or not.

This was a weird scene, only funny now with a lot of time and distance from that fun-filled day and classy character.

But it gets weirder...

So the passenger returns to his seat, convinced he's got me shaking in my boots about being reported to the health department.  And for a minute, I actually was.  Standing there in the galley, my mind froze for that minute.  In situations like this, your subconscious mind will go on a bizarre sort of auto-pilot.  Mine did just that as I automatically rolled my eyeballs to glance over at that stained printout passenger manifest taped to the oven with the little yellow tape.

It took about 1-2 seconds for my eyes to focus on the manifest printout: The man had been seated in 14A---and it was at that point I noticed the magical letters 'SA' next to his name on the manifest.  I couldn't believe my eyes:  This character, who threatened to sue me, who threatened to report me to the board of health, who at first refused to return to his seat, was indeed an SA traveler.

I requested his presence in the galley for a little 'talk'.  He complied, and it was then learned he was a companion.

I love people and I love to travel I love p---

Oh baby, we went off.  Not off as in 'off the deep end', but off in the kind of way you see in movies or perhaps on television.  Colorful words were exchanged, threats were made, and a detailed lessons including WHY BLUE CHEESE LOOKS LIKE STALE CHEESE 101 and the HOW NRSA TRAVEL WORKS TUTORIAL were provided free of charge by Yours Truly.  In the end, even our very own El Capitan had to come out of the cockpit and get in on the action.

Post flight: colorful letters written and reports filed.  La-de-da.  Not that it matters now anyway.

Needless to say, Companion travel was a good idea...on paper.  But unfortunately in the REAL WORLD, people misused it.  There simply wasn't enough control over the situation---and thanks to a few bad apples, it's gone.  And we all have to pay for their screw-ups.

Some light in this tunnel: United has indicated that "The company will continue to monitor the current situation and will determine whether a companion travel program is feasible in the future." 

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