Behind the scenes of every United Airlines delay is a potential internal battle between employees. Determining which “delay code” should be assigned means determining which employee or employee group will take the “blame” for a delay. But now United plans to jettison delay codes altogether, hoping that it will focus employees on looking out for customers rather than looking over their shoulders.
United Airlines Will Eliminate Delay Codes
Let’s say a full flight is boarding and, as usual, overhead bin space runs out. Currently, if flight attendants let the bag onboard and the flight is delayed due to a gate agent checking bags, the delay is assigned to the flight attendants. If flight attendants block the carry-on bags from coming onboard and a delay still results due to too many carry-on bags, gate agents take the blame for the delay.
The consequences are real: employees must account for departure delays and work records are noted. Even if the delay was appropriate, it must be defended before a supervisor, often during an employee’s day off.
The practical results are also real: employees pitted against employees and a focus away from the customer. In my example above, the fear of being assigned a delay code makes gate agents more likely to require gate checking carry-on items and makes flight attendants more likely to limit carry-on items onboard, even if there is space here and there, because they do not want to take the risk.
While United’s new ConnectionSaver technology has helped to ease tensions in the event of delays for connecting passengers, the delay codes have remained behind the scenes. That has caused some gate agents or flight crews to avoid waiting, even if United’s system recommends it, because delay codes are still assigned.
All this changes with United’s plan to stop using internal delay codes to assign “blame” for delays.
In a video message to employees viewed by Live and Let’s Fly, United CEO Scott Kirby notes:
“It’s about working together as a team without worrying about who is going to get blamed if there’s a delay. Most of the time, the best answer for customers is still going to be getting the airplane off the gate to meet D:00. But, as all of you know, there are times when waiting for connecting customers is the best answer.”
Returning to my carry-on example once again, there will no longer be a blame game over whose fault it was there was not enough overhead bin space onboard for the carry-on items. Instead, employees can focus on getting bags properly stored or checked in a way that most helps the passenger. Kirby added:
To me, this is a paradigm shift. It’s a culture change. And it really is another down payment on trying to convince all of you that doing the right thing for customers is what your job is and you’re empowered to do it it.
We have wonderful people at United Airlines who I know want to do the right thing for the customer, but far too often we’ve created these rules and polices that put you in a box of defending the indefensible and make it hard for you to do your job and make it hard for you to take care of customers.
Note these internal delay codes are a different system than the transparency which United provides passengers for delays or that must be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation. While ostensibly only an internal matter, the practical result should be better customer service.
The idea of battling for customers instead of battling amongst employee groups sound almost trite, yet it marks an important step. Many a United employee has told me about the uncomfortable relationship between different employee groups over delay codes. As long as this policy change does not lead to an uptick in flight delays, it seems like a long overdue move.