I’ve read memos from United’s new CEO Scott Kirby for years. I’ve heard him speak. I’ve met him on multiple occasions. A video letter to United customers simply does not sound like him. But it’s the first step in his evolution from the man pulling the puppet strings to officially being the man in charge.
Start with his letter. If you prefer, you can watch the video instead:
Hello. I’m Scott Kirby, the new CEO of United Airlines. I’m a proud Air Force Academy graduate and have spent my entire career in and around aviation, including the last four years as President of United.
While I had planned for my first communication with you to be about the meaningful investments we were making to the travel experience and our continued growth across the U.S. and expansion to exciting new destinations around the world, today, the situation rendered to us by the COVID-19 pandemic leads me to a different type of message.
First, I graciously and humbly thank you for your business. Now, more than ever, our customers’ loyalty is so deeply appreciated by every member of the United family.
As essential workers, the men and women of our airline have been hard at work over the past two months to transport vital medical supplies and critical goods to places that need them most, to provide free travel to healthcare professionals and to help thousands of individuals repatriate to their home countries.
Safety has always been our top priority, and right now in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it’s our singular customer focus. We recognize that COVID-19 has brought cleanliness and hygiene standards to the front of your mind when making travel decisions. We’re not leaving a single stone unturned in our pursuit to protect our customers and employees.
We are installing plexiglass in lobby and gate areas, we’re using the same equipment used to clean hospitals to disinfect the interiors of our aircraft, all crew and customers on board are required to wear face mask coverings and we’re taking the temperature of our employees before they start work.
But at United, we’re not stopping there. We’re teaming up with experts from Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic to set a new standard for cleanliness and healthy flying that we are calling United CleanPlus℠.
Clorox is working closely with us to improve how we disinfect common surfaces and provide our customers with amenities that support a healthy and safe environment.
Physicians and scientists at the Cleveland Clinic, will will advise us on new technologies and approaches, assist in training development and create a rigorous quality assurance program. And, as scientists learn more about how to fight COVID-19, Cleveland Clinic experts will help us use those discoveries to quickly implement new ways to keep our customers safe.
While we may not know when this pandemic will subside, what we do know is that travel is so deeply woven into the fabric of our global culture. We all desire to visit family, dance at a friend’s wedding, hug parents…and see the wonders of this beautiful world. No matter how sharp the picture quality – or how strong the WiFi signal – there’s simply no substitute for being there – in person – to collaborate, celebrate, explore. We are confident that travel will return. And when it does, United Airlines will be ready to serve you again in the friendly skies.
Thank you. Be well. And I look forward to seeing you on board.
Where’s The Doom and Gloom In Kirby’s Letter?
It’s a nice note, in the sense that it is upbeat, introduces a new initiative called United CleanPlus (which I’ve asked United for more details on), and provides warm and fuzzy words praising employees and thanking customers.
But I must admit, it doesn’t sound like the Scott Kirby I know. That doesn’t mean I am calling this letter two-faced or downplaying his new role as peacemaker and the public face of United. It does suggest, however, that Kirby will not be so publicly blunt and direct as he is behind the scenes.
For over two months, memos and interview from Kirby have warned that United is in an existential threat for survival. Today’s note simply talks about confidence that travel will return again and United will be ready to capitalize on it.
Perhaps Kirby is realizing that doom and gloom is fine to satiate airline analysts and pacify employees, but is probably not the best strategy for talking directly to customers.
Finally, it should be noted that United is stressing health and safety, not onboard service. More so than at American and Delta, I expect onboard service to take a hit as United continues its effort to preserve cash during the COVID-19 era.
Obviously, I wish Kirby the best and hope that he greatly outperforms all expectations in his new role. He’s a hardworking, detail-oriented guy who is more nuanced than simply being a bean counter. He’s engaged, smart, and shrewd. Interestingly, now he appears to directly be assuming Oscar Munoz’s persona of the uplifting and inspirational leader.