United CEO Scott Kirby dreams of United Airlines emerging from the pandemic as the #1 airline in the USA. To that end, United will resume investment in its onboard and ground product, restarting pre-pandemic investments in all cabins.
United Promises Investment In Onboard Product
Kirby sees United in an “intermediate” phase. With positive news on a vaccine, there is light at the end of the tunnel. At the same time, airlines face a dark winter and questions remain over the efficacy and delivery of the vaccine.
In a video address to employees reviewed by Live and Let’s Fly, Kirby laid out three pillars that will guide United’s direction over the coming months. I want to focus on the final pillar.
Number one is testing, testing, testing…
The second pillar is getting back to cash flow positive…
And then finally the third pillar is innovating for the customer.
Kirby, known as a micromanager and bean counter, has at least given lip service to the notion that if United wants to be a premium airline, it must offer premium service (it could learn a lot from JetBlue, though).
“We’ve done an amazing job as we’ve gone through the crisis of starting to change how people feel about United Airlines, but now it’s time to get back on track for the important things that we were working on before the crisis.
“And there’s really two big ones, the growth plan and innovating for the customer. And so we’ve restarted investing for the fleet to get our feet ready, to go back to a hundred percent, to have all of our aircraft ready to fly in 2022. And we’re also restarting the customer investments. We put all that on hold at the beginning of the pandemic when we were burning a hundred million dollars a day, but now is the time to get ready to lead for the future and start with the Polaris investments, the larger bins on board airplanes, the clubs, et cetera.”
Time will tell if this is indeed just lip service or a call to action. As demand returns, United needs to re-open its Polaris lounges and re-introduce more food offerings onboard…that will be a huge step. Over time, United must update its internet onboard (at this point, to match American and Delta, not even outshine them) and continue to invest in its already-superb mobile app.
Ultimately, whether United becomes a leading airline of the world will depend upon whether Kirby can inspire flight attendants and ground staff to offer world class service on a consistent basis, but resuming investments will further that goal by removing stress points between passengers and flight crews.
Kirby claims United will be innovating, with focus on its Polaris product, airport lounges, and more overhead bin space. This is a chance for United to distinguish itself from others and it can do so now. As a frequent customer, I hope Kirby follows through on his plan. But even if you’re not a United customer, such moves spur others to match and thus should also be celebrated.