United announced this week that CEO, Oscar Munoz, would step down with United President, Scott Kirby, taking over May 1st, 2020. Changes like these don’t affect flyers often but I’m reconsidering my loyalty to United.
United CEO Munoz Moves to Chairman, President Kirby to CEO
Last week, United Airlines announced that CEO Oscar Munoz would move to an Executive Chairman role with President Scott Kirby taking over as CEO. Prior to United, Kirby was the righthand man for Doug Parker at American Airlines. He is known for making moves that enhance the value of the business, but not necessarily the customer experience. The change takes place in May of 2020.
Why Munoz Was Great
Though I never personally met the CEO, others I know have and I’ve not heard an ill word about Mr. Oscar Munoz. From a professional aspect, he took over following a disastrous case of bribery that led to the departure of Jeff Smisek, neither a Wall Street nor customer favorite.
Early in his tenure, Munoz overcame a heart condition and the Dr. Dao incident. He moved customer service in the right direction. Polaris was launched while he was at the helm which is arguably the best ground experience and a fully competent hard product business class amongst US carriers.
Kirby’s Track Record
Munoz brought Scott Kirby to United from American Airlines, Matthew presumed he was picked to eventually take this role from the start. He is known to be an excellent practitioner and operational tactician, but also for his Wall Street-first, customer last approach. He was a leader in the Basic Economy movement and has kept United as the worst amongst peers in Basic Economy fares (the only flag carrier that doesn’t allow for a personal item and a carry-on bag with the fare.)
He’s reduced meal options and service right after United had elevated the service in Polaris. Gone are the wine flights and domestic meal choices. The steps United took in the right direction, Kirby has moved in the wrong direction from a customer viewpoint.
American is in smoldering ruins and Kirby was a big part of that. He slashed and burned a lot of what made American Airlines flyers tolerate their other deficiencies. He was just as much a part of the labor contract holdouts as Doug Parker. He left without righting any of his wrongs and brought new customer experience devaluations to United.
Reconsidering Loyalty to United
I’ve just switched to United from American. I have zero confidence in American Airlines right now but most of that comes down to changes Kirby made. Delta just doesn’t work for my work flights due to the location of their hubs and my lack of trust in their loyalty program.
The devaluation of the loyalty program and switch to dynamic pricing is something that makes me very, very nervous with Kirby. His policies have run rough shot over their best customers with the assumption that a certain number will fly their carrier no matter how disloyal it is in return simply because of convenient direct flights and habit.
For me personally, I like the way that United has evolved. I think the PlusPoints switch from GPUs/RPUs is a huge bonus as I would prefer to use them for more international routes than regional flights. I see value in the changes United has made to elite qualification and their support of partner flights for elite earnings.
But since those announcements were made, United has also decided to make partner flights dynamically-priced as well and that for me has reduced my enthusiasm for the new Mileage Plus.
Matthew Has Unwavering Support for United
I appreciate Matthew’s loyalty to United and dedication to the airline. I also respect his presumption of innocence until proven guilty for Mr. Kirby. However, my friend Matthew hadn’t seen the airline he loved completely destroyed by Kirby and cronies as I had at American. He hasn’t had to make the switch yet after years or decades of loyalty because of Kirby’s customer-last approach and that’s where we differ.
Perhaps with Munoz holding on to an Executive Chairman role, the customer service changes he helped to lead will remain.
Management at US airlines matter. Kirby has proved he can affect change, positive for shareholders and negative for customers, though operationally he has been very successful. I should follow in Matthew’s footsteps and wisdom by giving Mr. Kirby the presumption of innocence first and likely will through 2020 but I am open to recommendations.
What do you think? Is it too early to jump ship? Will much change at United from where it is now?