United Airlines spins with the best of them

While perusing United Airlines' web site this morning, I noticed this boast at the top of the page: MileagePlus: #1 in award seat availability. Immediately, I realized that United was stretching the truth.

Last May, I wrote a post about award seat availability, so I knew of a certainty that Southwest Airlines had been rated No. 1 with award seats available on 100 percent of its flights. You can't get better than that.

Because the headline conveniently ignored Southwest's superior status, I clicked on the link to assess the spin Chicago-based United (NYSE:UAL) was putting on the facts.

The airline was, in fact, quoting the same survey I'd written about, but was parsing the results by claiming that it was No. 1 "Among United States global carriers (United, American Airlines, US Airways and Delta)."

In fairness, United did have impressive seat availability of 87.1 percent, according to the survey by IdeaWorks. However, so did AirTran (which was acquired by Southwest). More importantly (to United, at any rate) was the fact that AirTran is not a "United States global carrier." By that logic and with those qualifications, United was indeed "No. 1 in award seat availability."

Certainly, "No. 1" sounds a lot better than "tied for No. 2" but claiming to be No. 1 -- even in a headline -- without a qualifying statement such as MileagePlus: No. 1 among global carriers in award seat availability, does more than stretch the truth; it damages credibility.

Are you listening, United?

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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