United Airlines launched a new website called United Airtime today that invites both customers and employees to provide feedback and promises a level of engagement in which United will respond honestly and candidly to tough questions.
Front and center on the new website is a video greeting by new CEO Oscar Munoz that is well worth a listen–
I’ll do a separate post on his admission that the merger was mismanaged from the start, but his words are music to my ears — especially his pledge to “turn lip service into action.”
The homepage provides a form in which you can either submit and idea or ask a question. No personal information is required to participate other than checking a box indicating if you are a United customer or United employee.
Already, United has answered a few questions. Pay attention to my bolding–
Q: Is there any way to reconsider United leaving JFK? The move will force many New Yorkers to fly another carrier and make international travel with Star Alliance extremely difficult.
A: Even with all the Star Alliance connections, our JFK services weren’t profitable, and there wasn’t a clear path to return to profitability at JFK. Our lease of airport facilities at JFK ends in October, so it made sense for us to review our schedule there. However, we also moved our New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco Premium Service flights from JFK to Newark Liberty International to provide more benefits for our Premium Service customers, allowing us to offer better connections, updated facilities and an overall higher-quality experience.
The addition of our Premium Service flights at Newark will provide nearly hourly transcontinental service to both Los Angeles and San Francisco, so customers will have a better selection of flights. Operating this service out of our largest East Coast hub will also allow for much easier connections, including connecting to our newly upgraded wide-body service to Berlin, Hamburg, Madrid and Barcelona.
We also have extensive work underway to improve the airport experience in the hubs that serve our Premium Service routes. In Newark, we’ve started working with OTG Management on a complete revamp of Terminal C, with high-end restaurants offering menus designed by celebrity chefs, and redesigned gate areas with iPads available for placing food orders and managing your travel. In Los Angeles, this past May we broke ground on a multi-year terminal improvement project that will create a brighter, more open space for United customers. And in San Francisco, we opened the ultra-modern Boarding Area E in 2014.
Q: I recently had to wait for an extended period of time for my luggage to arrive in baggage claim and could not get any information about the delay. Would it be possible to develop a process so that customers are informed about these delays regularly?
A: We understand your frustration and are working hard to improve baggage delivery to the claim area. We’ve seen improvements, but we can do better. We are working to develop a customer facing baggage-tracking application that is scheduled to be finished next year. Customers will be able to see if their bags were scanned upon arrival and scanned onto the claim belt.
Q: Many of your planes are old and the interiors show their age. Also, many times the Wi-Fi and/or entertainment system is not working. Do you have a plan to address those issues?
A: We actually have one of the industry’s youngest fleets after taking delivery of more than 200 new airplanes in the last five years. That being said, some of our aircraft could use updating, and, as such, we are making significant upgrades to our aircraft interiors, including larger overhead bins, more in-seat power outlets, new carpets, mood lighting, boarding music and galley flooring. Here’s a video of United’s new narrow-body cabin design.
We know how frustrating it can be for customers and co-workers when Wi-Fi and/or In-flight Entertainment are not working. Recent improvements have significantly improved Wi-Fi speed and reliability, but we aren’t where we want to be and are actively working with our Wi-Fi providers to make further improvements.
Q: The level of food served has been reduced in first class (fewer entrée choices, no appetizer, no menu). Are you going to make that a focus of improvement?
A: We are listening to customers’ feedback regarding our in-flight food and beverage offerings, and we are making a significant investment to improve in-flight dining by expanding premium-cabin meals within North America flights, and offering customers chef-inspired meals and premium beverages that elevate their in-flight experience. Changes include:
- New, premium salads, sandwiches and wraps for United First and United Business customers within North America
- Prosecco sparkling wine in premium cabins
- Premium-cabin meals to flights of shorter duration
- Fresh meal options for premium-cabin customers on United Express flights
We have also launched all-new food and beverage service – including free wine and beer – for United Economy® customers on long-haul international flights.
Q: Five years after the merger, there are still some tensions and cultural differences between United and Continental employees. What are you going to do to address the different cultures that have been merged to make sure all employees feel welcomed and improve employee morale?
A: United’s new CEO, Oscar Munoz, has made it a priority to meet personally with employees at all levels across the company to address their concerns, especially this one. To underscore how important he feels this issue is, he recently wrote in a letter to all United employees, “In any organization, especially a great airline, it’s all about teamwork. I like to refer to this as ‘shared purpose.’ We are in a service business, and the thousands of people who work here are the key ingredient determining our success. To get our passengers where they want to go safely and happily requires thousands of us working together with a shared purpose of supporting each other in serving our customers. To achieve this, we must create and sustain a respectful dialog about our common goals – an ongoing conversation among ourselves. We cannot do this apart.” Mr. Munoz also addressed the topic in a recent employee message: “We need to unite the company from the inside out and look forward, rather than backward. The merger was five years ago, and it’s time to move beyond subsidiary-level thinking.”
I give United credit here for tackling questions and complaints that I hear all the time. Looking forward rather than backwards and shedding the Continental / “legacy” United allegiances that I still routinely witness are critical for offering the consistent good service than can bring United into Delta’s league.
The option of customers being able to track their bags would be a great addition to the United App and to United’s credit, the onboard food and wi-fi connectivity is improving.
CEO Munoz has certainly earned some capital with the launch of this website and while he still enjoys his honeymoon period as leader of world’s second largest carrier, he would do well to truly seek to understand his employees and customers and above all else, avoid the “lip service” devoid of reality that characterized the Smisek era at United.