Yesterday was a very good day for United Airlines.
The carrier debuted its new customer service action plan and later announced a settlement with Dr. David Dao over the UA3411 incident. Even so, MileagePlus members received a lengthy email from CEO Oscar Munoz that again apologized for that happened.
Let’s take a look at the letter:
Each flight you take with us represents an important promise we make to you, our customer. It’s not simply that we make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.
Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes. We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words.
For the past several weeks, we have been urgently working to answer two questions: How did this happen, and how can we do our best to ensure this never happens again?
It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.
Fixing that problem starts now with changing how we fly, serve and respect our customers. This is a turning point for all of us here at United – and as CEO, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we learn from this experience and redouble our efforts to put our customers at the center of everything we do.
That’s why we announced that we will no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.
We also know that despite our best efforts, when things don’t go the way they should, we need to be there for you to make things right. There are several new ways we’re going to do just that.
We will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000 and will be eliminating the red tape on permanently lost bags with a new “no-questions-asked” $1,500 reimbursement policy. We will also be rolling out a new app for our employees that will enable them to provide on-the-spot goodwill gestures in the form of miles, travel credit and other amenities when your experience with us misses the mark. You can learn more about these commitments and many other changes at hub.united.com.
Okay, let’s pause for a moment. So far, so good and Munoz again explicitly and unequivocally apologizes for what happened. Furthermore, the admission that “our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values” paints exactly the picture Munoz wants to convey, namely that bad policy rather than bad people were at the root of the problem. It’s much easier to correct policy than to correct people. I do believe Munoz realizes this because of the new training initiatives announced yesterday, but that is fundamental: the “old” corporate culture runs very deep at United. Re-training every frontline employee is essential because human benevolence is not always natural.
The letter continues–
While these actions are important, I have found myself reflecting more broadly on the role we play and the responsibilities we have to you and the communities we serve.
I believe we must go further in redefining what United’s corporate citizenship looks like in our society. You can and ought to expect more from us, and we intend to live up to those higher expectations in the way we embody social responsibility and civic leadership everywhere we operate. I hope you will see that pledge express itself in our actions going forward, of which these initial, though important, changes are merely a first step.
Our goal should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, “I fly United.”
Ultimately, the measure of our success is your satisfaction and the past several weeks have moved us to go further than ever before in elevating your experience with us. I know our 87,000 employees have taken this message to heart, and they are as energized as ever to fulfill our promise to serve you better with each flight and earn the trust you’ve given us.
We are working harder than ever for the privilege to serve you and I know we will be stronger, better and the customer-focused airline you expect and deserve.
With Great Gratitude,
While I struggle to label Dr. Dao as a folk hero, I cannot help but to give him credit for being the unexpected catalyst for major policy change. The use of law enforcement as airline bouncers was egregious and even with a gaping “safety and security” exception in the new United policy, it is a step in the right direction.
I do appreciate Munoz’s concern over United’s greater corporate responsibility, but the key is not to change the world. While “social responsibility and civic leadership” are important, United should focus on delivering great and consistent customer service. That’s all. Only when United does that will it gain back the credibility it lost in light of the Dao incident.