Changes I Want to See From New United CEO

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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.

The gross economy meal we were served this year on TATL flight

The gross economy meal we were served this year on TATL flight

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.

Let's all have a little more fun in the air

Let’s all have a little more fun in the air

This Houston based traveling family is rooting for you, Oscar.





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  1. Thank you, Summer for concisely saying this. This pretty much sums up my very frustrating weekend on United with my family. Messed up seating assignments, split itineraries, a terribly complicated upgrade process and rude, inflexible employees – and that’s all before we even set foot in the airport. Let’s not even mention the 3-hour delay and the fit the purser threw when I wanted to swap seats with my wife.

  2. As a former Continental –now United flight attendant, I’m loving this!!! Can we just bring back Gordon?!
    When this news came out yesterday, every employee I know was popping champagne and dancing in the streets. Thank you so much for acknowledging us front line employees… I know I for one still love my job, and we are all praying the new CEO can turn this ship around!!! Happy flying!! …
    And any time a family gets split up on my flights I’m the first to bribe passengers with minis to change seats 😉 works like a charm!!!

    • Laura – you might be my favorite person ever. I was DONE with United after this weekend. I’ll give them another shot now that they’ve booted the CEO. I hope it changes too and I hope I end up on one of your flights!

  3. As a business traveler, I must disagree with some of that.

    I don’t believe that family pre-boarding was a plus, and I have enjoyed its absence. Too many families delayed things, and letting premium and more frequent flyer travelers on board first didn’t change things–except it allows those to avoid the often messy boarding of families in whatever class they are in.

    I also prefer that family members and others who fly on my account/miles do not get the status perks I have earned. I suspect that more elites get more benefits and chances for upgrades and Econ+ as a direct result that the extended families of GS and other elites do not get the same benefits. Eliminating the family/extended perks has improved the perks for regular elites who earned it.

    I also would rather United invest its IT and other dollars on things other than somehow making it easier for families to dilute elite perks for others. If a family of 4 wants to travel together, then book together. I like that United doesn’t give all 4 the perks of the 1 elite flyer. It reserves more perks to the other elite flyers, after all. If the elite flyer doesn’t like it, then he or she can book the 1 ticket for himself or herself and then book the others as a group.

    Otherwise, I do think United’s biggest goal should be to improve service for its entire frontline staff–FAs, customer service agents, ticketing agents, etc. That will go a long way to making United more customer friendly.

    United’s next goal should be to remain competitive by improving its F cabins domestically and its BF/GF cabins internationally–where it gets its lion’s share of revenue. I’d like UA to invest in a new GF suite for its highest revenue routes, and in new BF suites/pods for its other international longhaul routes. UA should also change its BF cabins to 1-2-1 all-aisle access to be competitive. These hard product changes will be noticed and directly impact everyone who flies UA in a premium cabin.

    Food and beverage offerings are the most difficult, since UA and other American carriers will never compete with the best Asian and Gulf carriers. But having nicer premium liquors and wines/beers in F/GF/J is a start. The same is true for the Clubs.

    • Bill, I agree with you about family boarding. It’s a nice idea but abused far too often. I’m totally in favor of allowing ONE adult to board early to install a car seat as this process understandably gums up boarding if the person installing the seat has any issues. What I don’t want to see is Mom, Dad, and four kids all boarding early because there’s one car seat to install. Might as well go back to “family boarding” if you allow that.

      • Really? Just board one parent and the baby, so that they have hold the baby and install the seat at the same time, or leave the other parent with the baby, an 18 month old and two four year old twins to herd onto the plane? I don’t think any parent of 4 would take advantage of your “generous its”

  4. First…to Laura S…. Thank you for clearly saying that it was the Continental employees who were cheeri his departur! There seems to be thi thought that it is only the pre-merger United employees that hated Mr Smisek.It’s good to know that the former continental employees also despised him.As a United Airlines elite flye have to agree that the firs line of business after fixing all the IT issue is going to regain the trus of the flying public especially the higher tiered frequent flyers who are the bread and butter of the airlines revenues.
    Currently the employee situation is not united…pun intended.
    The one thing that rings in my mind time and again is at the very beginning of this merger Jef kept saying that we’re taking the best of both airlines yet ultimately what happened was all continentals managemet… Policies an Policies and procedures but with the united na. That is not a merge that is called a buyout. They need to seriously look at the best products of both pre-merger united and pre-mergeThey need to seriously look at the best products of both pre-merger united and pre-merger continental and take the best things for the n and take the best things for the new airline Brand identity across the board you cannot have the continental globe with the United name and everything else be continenta this rubs employees and long-term Flyers the wrong wa. I’m not saying we should bring back the tulip although I would love it but perhaps a completely new brandin and they can start with renaming the United club with something a little bit more origina personally I like red carpet club it gave a welcoming sens in your min and along the way they should also bring back Starbucks or another high quality coffee on board!

  5. Even if he does nothing else, he needs to improve labour relations as his very first priority. Much of the rest of the issues will go away if his employees are at least reasonably happy. The whole reliability/on time issue is mostly a labour relations issue. The employees are punishing united by making sure that if there is any reason that they can find to delay a flight, they are going to do it. Many of the customer issues will also go away if front line employees treat them with respect and kindness, even if the answers they have to give are not what the customer wants to hear. It doesn’t solve all of the issues, but it certainly will reduce them considerably.

    Unfortunately, with a workforce as jaded as United’s, he is not going to have much time, and it won’t be easy turning a ship the size of United in the time that employees will give him. I have gone into situations where previous management was horrible (in much smaller companies) and he likely has only about 6 months before the celebration turns into disillusionment and a belief that “executives are all the same”. 6 months is not very long to fix all that has gone wrong over the last 3 years, never mind the issues that remain from before that.

  6. Better hard- & soft-products would do wonders! 1-2-1 in J would be a good start and making employees happier/friendlier would be even better. Had an incredibly rude & confrontational FA on IAH-NRT flight and that was in J (she had something like 30-40 years of service). Seniority shouldn’t be an excuse to get away with awful behavior 🙁

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