United’s Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz wants you to love flying United Airlines again.
So does every airline CEO, of course, when it comes to their own airline. But Munoz’s new focus on customer service is a step in the right direction. It’s refreshing. But is it just lip service?
United just opened a new flight training facility in Denver (ribbon cutting pictured above) and Munoz sat down with the Denver Business Journal. While the interview is mostly summarized rather than directly quoted, the gist is this: United has figured out its operational issues, now it needs to win back the heart of customers.
Munoz stresses that United can control customer service, greatly influencing passenger experience even when something goes wrong. I saw that on display a couple weeks ago when my Chicago to Frankfurt flight was delayed by over three hours. Snacks and drinks were brought to the gate area and additional staff arrived to help rebook customers who faced missed connections in Frankfurt. That is just one example, but quite a contrast from delays in years past when passengers were left to fend for themselves.
Munoz points to two examples of customer service that can make a huge difference. If a passenger has a tight connection, FAs should feel empowered to move her up to an empty seat toward the front of plane. Similarly, if passengers arrive at the gate a few minutes past boarding cutoff, they should be let onto the aircraft if it won’t cause a delay, especially if traveling with children.
What about United’s recent decision to raise baggage fees by $5? Munoz pointed to the fact that baggage fees had not been raised in several years. He even added, “This isn’t about making money, it’s about easing the experience.” Well that sounds like double-talk to me, though Munoz says that money from ancillary fees is being re-invested into the passenger experience.
Ultimately, Munoz says success will be measured by “how you respond and how you feel.”
I don’t ever want to be a United cheerleader. Munoz’s sentiment is also not surprising: it should be a given. But I cannot help but feel that United has turned a corner when it comes to customer service. Operationally, my recent 3.5 hour delay was my first major delay of the year. What a difference from just a few years ago. Better operational performance naturally leads to better customer service, because customers have less to be angry about. Even so, I’ve logged over 90,000 United miles already this year and I generally witness excellent service when I fly United. While I only tend to write about my premium class experiences, I’d say about half of my domestic travel has been in economy class this year. Service has not been amazing on every flight, but I have not encountered a single hostile FA this year.
Domestic first class meals have been cutback, but first class fares are about as cheap as they’ve ever been. It is a tradeoff I prefer over pricey first class fares and fancy meals. Meanwhile, United’s economy class experience has vastly improved, with power outlets, wi-fi, streaming video, and surprisingly tasty buy-on-board meals. I’m just very happy to fly on United right now, even though the high-speed internet on Delta is extremely alluring.
Words are cheap, but what a contrast from what we are hearing at American Airlines. One Mile at a Time tore into the service culture at American Airlines earlier today and I simply cannot relate when flying on United. In that sense, United has already made excellent progress toward achieving Munoz’s goal.
Maybe United needs some red caps that it can hand out to passengers stating, “Make United Great Again.” Or maybe not…