United Airlines’ President Scott Kirby recognizes that when you fly on United Express, you are flying on United.
Speaking to United employees in Houston in a recording obtained by Live and Let’s Fly, Kirby addressed the “confirmation bias” of dismissing delays on regionals as being somehow divorced from United Airlines.
There is sometimes a confirmation basis with all of us that if something bad happens on a regional, we say–if there’s a maintenance delay, if there’s anything–that’s because it’s a regional.
If something happens on the mainline, we never say, well, that’s because it’s the mainline. We say, that’s because of maintenance, or that’s because of the weather. So there is a confirmation bias that all of us have, including me.
That said, we do have pockets where the region–well actually one thing that regionals are much worse, all of our regionals are much worse than the mainline, is completion factor.
We cancel a lot more flights on the regional. But if you look at their controllable cancellation rates, they’re actually close to the mainline in terms of things like maintenance delays. Mostly our cancellations at the regionals are because we tell them to cancel a flight. If there’s a ground delay program here in Houston and we’ve got to cancel 20 flights, we’re going to cancel 20 regionals instead of canceling a mainline airplane that has three or four times as many customers on it.
And so the completion factor is lower on them, but it’s really not their fault. It’s because if we are going to have to cancel flights, we pick on the regionals. We try to spread it around between markets, but we’re more likely to cancel regionals when bad weather than we are mainline just because it impacts fewer customers.
There is a lot of work underway with all of them, though, to get the operating metrics to be the same level as United, and the customer service to be the same level as United.
But we all agree we should manage them to the same standards. When a customer buys a ticket on United Airlines, they’re not buying a ticket on Mesa. It says United Airlines on the side of the airplane. It’s United Airlines, and we should treat them–they’re a United Airlines customer and we should treat it just like it’s a United Airlines plane.
It wasn’t just the David Dao incident in which United was quick to emphasize this was a “United Express operated by…” flight. This is a routine tactic by airlines to avoid responsibility when something goes wrong.
But Kirby’s words could not be clearer and his attitude is precisely correct.
To United’s credit, we’ve seen the introduction of regional jets that are (arguably) more comfortable than mainline. These jets feature streaming IFE and wi-fi and real meals in first class…a huge jump from a few years prior.
Kirby’s words are refreshingly candid and precisely correct. I’ve never understood the distinction, especially from a customer service perspective, between mainline and regionals. I’m glad that United understands that it must provide more consistent service.
image: Alan Wilson / Flickr