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united 737 at IAH

Belated: United Announces Changes to Policies – For The Better (One Can Only Hope)

So it’s suffice to say that United (UA) has had a rough week (/month/year) in terms of press and image. Damage limitation is the key word here, yet somehow the airline seems to continue to falter. We had the now infamous incident with Dr. Dao being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight to Louisville to accommodate “must travel” crew, getting a concussion and other injuries in the process. Then we had the scorpion falling out of an overhead bin and biting a passenger in Canada on a UA operated flight. Then one of the world’s biggest rabbits dies on a United flight across the Atlantic under what has been deemed as “mysterious” circumstances. Finally, the nail in the coffin, was the announcement that Oscar Nunez, the CEO of United, would no longer be taking up the position as Chairman of the Board next year as previously announced and planned in the company’s investor’s call – calling into question the confidence United shareholders have in their CEO and the way he has handled what can only be coined as a disastrous past few weeks for UA.

Given that the airline is now in full damage control mode, it has announced drastic changes to its overbooking policies and putting more on par with industry peers such as Delta and Southwest – a bare minimum but nonetheless welcome change.


The Scoop

In a press release today, United announced 10 policy changes in reaction to the events that transpired on United Express Flight 3411 on April 9.

  • Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.
  • Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.
  • Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
  • Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a “no questions asked” policy on lost luggage.

While some of these changes will be effective immediately, some will be rolled out throughout the rest of 2017.

About the incident, United CEO Oscar Munoz has this to say:

“Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect. Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize. However, actions speak louder than words. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

“Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right.  This is a turning point for all of us at United and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline.  Our customers should be at the center of everything we do and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust.”


United Airlines Eocnomy

The seats look fine, but how might they look when a United security officer is dragging you on the cabin floor past them?


The Takeaway

It’s a bit of a case of a little too late on this one. What made matters worse what United’s CEO’s email to the employees of the airline which in this day and age of social media, leaked it out and pretty much showed that the airline was attempting to absolve itself of any responsibility or blame for the situation that unfolded. Wrong wrong wrong – and it seems like he will be paying for it with his job next year.

Look, there’s two sides to every story and there might have been operational reasons as to why this disaster unfolded and mistakes can and will be made under high pressure circumstances – but recovery then becomes key. This is where United failed miserably. Don’t get us wrong – these changes are very welcome, and we’re glad that the airline is learning from this public relations fiasco and is taking the appropriate steps to rectify it – but we’re afraid that it might be a bit too late to have any significant impact. The fact that Delta more than matched these changes nearly a week ago and wasn’t even involved in this situation speaks volumes of the savvyness of DL versus UA.

Let’s just call it as we see it – thanks for promising not to beat me up after boarding me then deciding to offload me because of a mess up on your side – and thanks also for upping my potential compensation to what is now industry standard. Thanks, and bye, United (Felicia).



Featured image credit: United

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