United Airlines will be running a special Super Bowl ad this year in two Colorado markets, seeking to (not so) subtly draw a distinction between its operations and those of its competitors at Denver International Airport, especially Southwest Airlines.
United Airlines 2023 Super Bowl Ad
When bad weather struck at Denver the week before Christmas, Southwest Airlines imploded and United Airlines did not, even though United arguably had a far more fragile operation (with regional jets and a vast network of flights to other weather-prone parts of the country).
It later emerged that Southwest’s outmoded crew scheduling software was the main cause (even if weather was the catalyst), which United internally sees as validation for the millions of dollars it has spent in updating its technology in the preceding years. But it was more than that. As United has rebounded from the pandemic, its operations have been more nimble, with extra aircraft and crews ready to step up when the weather or other forces of nature do not cooperate. No one can reasonably accuse United of stretching its operations too thin.
Josh Earnest, United’s Chief Communications Officer, put it this way:
“Same weather. Same airport. But a very different outcome for customers flying on United.”
Beyond the headline-grabbing meltdown of its primary competitor at Denver, United has managed to post better numbers than its peers including Southwest. Fewer cancellations. Fewer delays.
To remind customers of this fact, United will run a 30-second Super Bowl ad in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets that tells us a simple story: United got you home for the holidays.
Live And Let’s Fly previewed the Super Bowl ad, which you can watch below:
I love this ad. I believe the message will resonate with many travelers, especially Southwest travelers who may have spent Christmas unwillingly separated from their families. It is so simple, yet so profoundly asserts that United can be trusted. And all things considered over the last few years, United can be trusted when it comes to operations.
But a nice ad is not the end of the story.
While United can stake its high position now, it must carefully guard it. After all, if something as minuscule as the handling of David Dao on a regional flight could bring the airline down, United–despite its impressive technological investment–is not immune to problems of its own (indeed, I encountered some last week on a beautiful, clear day).
I think it’s appropriate to stop and recognize all the work that has been done, applauding United’s human and capital expenditures that have led it to a stronger position than many of its peers. But all airlines are fragile and this glorious victory lap can quickly turn into a walk of shame. At the same time, I don’t want to overanalyze this very poignant 30-second ad. It makes a powerful point and no one can take that away from United. Overall, I love it.
What do you think of United’s 2023 Super Bowl ad for the Denver area?