Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
As you probably have seen, the Chairman and CEO of United, Jeff Smisek (as well as some other United big wigs) stepped down effective immediately yesterday in light of a federal investigation and potential “funny business” over United starting up a money-losing route from Newark to South Carolina where a (former) chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had a vacation home via a “wink, wink” agreement.
Whatever the reason for the abrupt departure, many United flyers rejoiced as the direction the airline has taken in recent years since Continental and United merged has generally not been viewed as positive…at least not in the circles I fly in.
The new CEO, Oscar Munoz, has a lot of work on his plate. In addition to of course helping get the company past the scandal that outed Smisek and some of his crew, there are a bunch of other smoldering fires that I hope he addresses quickly. All United flyers probably have their own lists of pet issues that they would like to see changed, and I am no different.
So, welcome to Mr. Munoz. I hope you have a big pot of (better than standard United) coffee brewing. Here’s one more wish list to add to the pile from a family of United flyers.
Make employees happy
My first request is that United does what they need to do to unite employees and make them happier. It is unrealistic to hope that the employees will be nicer to customers on a regular basis until they are a part of a more unified and harmonious work environment. Do what needs to happen to bring the company together and make employees happier – the sooner the better.
Ensure employees are nice to customers
I want employees to have a happier work environment for many reasons, but one is a selfish desire to simply be treated a bit better when I fly United by a happy employee. Of course there are United employees who are great and nice to customers now, but I want that to be the norm. I don’t want to be treated like I am an enemy or doing something wrong until proven otherwise on a semi-regular basis. I want to have my family leave the plane with a smile, and not encountering “grumpy” employees on the journey is a big part of that equation.
Fix IT issues, especially those that split families
I’m sure there is a mile long list of IT issues that United should address, but my biggest pet peeve is the upgrade process that is totally broken for families. Unless our upgrades clear before we actually check-in, we have to split our reservations in order to potentially get upgraded – this is true even when it is just a party of two traveling. Having split reservations creates big headaches for families since seat assignments can more easily be messed up, the perks of my status that extend to them when they are on the same reservation no longer works without calling in, and if this happens on the outbound then on the return my family members won’t even be on the upgrade list or in my same boarding group without some real magic being worked.
Bring perks back to MileagePlus
In the last couple of years pretty much all changes to MileagePlus have been cuts. I don’t know how the real internal numbers look, but the anecdotal reports at least within the frequent flyer community have included many frequent flyers that have viable alternate airlines available to them jumping ship. I live at a United hub, so I don’t have a good alternative and haven’t “jumped ship”, but I certainly didn’t feel special as a top tier United flyer and didn’t care enough about losing top tier status to keep it.
I don’t think that top tier elite travelers are “over-entitled”, as Smisek stated, but instead think they should be valued and treated well. Simple changes such as bringing back the transferability of benefits to family members flying on elite’s miles, fixing the IT issues that make it easier to share elite perks with those traveling with you, introduce some perks to higher tier elites who don’t get upgraded such as a free drink or snack in economy, and (gasp) maybe even back-pedal some on the new revenue tie-ins to the frequent flyer program.
Improve on-board experience
Some of these changes may take more time, but commit to improving the on-board experience. The planes that are old and outdated have to be improved – even the ones on routes that may not be as important to United. These images below should not be considered business class on 8 hour flights such as Houston – Honolulu.
The meals served, not just in first class, but also in the back of the plane need to be something that the CEO himself would willingly eat and serve to his family. I know United has done some work with improving the meals in recent months, but I think they need to really commit long term to all meals served on the plane being something that the United leaders would willingly eat for their own lunches.
Acknowledge and fix problems promptly and proactively
When things inevitably go wrong via delays, cancellations, mishaps, etc. I would love to see United go back to apologizing promptly and proactively more frequently. They don’t need to go over-board hand out $200 travel vouchers for in-flight entertainment not working on a one hour flight, but they should ensure that obvious mistakes are acknowledged and fixed without huge delays or awaiting complaint letters from customers.
Bring back family boarding
This is clearly a “pet wish list” item, but I’d love to see a friendly change of bringing back early boarding for families with children 5 and under, or similar. At the very least, if they would offer early boarding to families with car seats or other safety devices to install that would be so helpful with not slowing down the boarding line or stressing out families who are trying to get that equipment installed quickly and safely without knocking someone’s knees while going down the aisle of the aircraft.
Improved training around family issues
I don’t want to read any more stories about families flying on United getting mixed or incorrect messages about breastfeeding on a plane, using car seats for young children, or families getting kicked off for questionable reasons. I have personally been told we couldn’t use our FAA approved car seat on a United flight, so I know this kind of thing happens. It needs to stop, and this is a good time for some basic training to rectify these common issues that family travelers face.
Make flying fun
Flying used to be fun, and while United can’t single-handedly bring the fun back, they could make it a bit more pleasant by making some of the adjustments above, and of course making some changes that I’m not creative enough to come up with.
This Houston based traveling family is rooting for you, Oscar.