United CEO Oscar Munoz was on hand for a United Polaris Lounge media event last week in San Francisco. Unlike my last encounter, I asked him a couple questions this time.
There were about 30 members of the media present for the lounge preview. Munoz gave remarks, cut the ribbon to the new lounge, then led the procession upstairs (filming it on his own mobile phone) to the second floor of the beautiful new lounge. It was his first time upstairs as well.
Munoz spent about 30 minutes mingling upstairs. He’s always been a very friendly and approachable man.
I won’t call this a “redemption” for not bringing to him a hard-hitting interview in Los Angeles a couple months back, but at least I got to ask him a couple substantive questions.
First, I praised him for the beautiful new lounge. Truly, I loved it and wanted to congratulate him on it. But then I cut the fluff and asked a question.
What has been the most critical factor behind the delays in rolling out the Polaris hard product onboard and opening new Polaris Lounges?
Munoz said that Chicago was an important lesson. Mistakes were made in forecasting size and United wanted to ensure that overcrowding was not an issue in future Polaris lounges. But United has learned and will be swiftly retrofitting older aircraft (one retrofit every 10 days) and opening three more Polaris lounges this year (Newark, Houston, and Los Angeles).
Other than the admission of a learning curve, Munoz did not provide any new information.
I later learned (not from Munoz) that the Houston Polaris Lounge, opening later this year, will be a “boutique” lounge made to feel like a home. Noting the horrific overcrowding issues in some of Houston’s United Clubs, I’m not sure whether the size issue is truly resolved beyond SFO. It does sound like a great lounge, though.
My second question centered on bonuses, both for himself and employees.
Was turning down your bonus a gesture to employees in light of the lottery controversy?
Munoz responded, “I turned down the bonus because it was the right thing to do.”
Sensing that I might be cornering him, one of his minders cut in and Munoz politely excused himself.
I’ve never had as much “face time” with a CEO than I have with Munoz. I hope to one day hold a sit down interview. But at least I got a couple questions in this time.