My first United Domestic flights after #Bumpgate

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In a matter of days, #Bumpgate has managed to garner almost as much coverage as the White House.  I wrote several posts on the subject here,  here, here, and here.  Surely, given the magnitude of this fiasco, there will be more to come.  Yesterday United’s CEO was interviewed by Good Morning America, where he apologized and commented on plans to make big policy  and procedural changes to prevent events like these.  Since a few months back I had a trip planned ORD>IAH.  What timing!  I was excited at the prospect of seeing how things would go after such a public debacle – how were gate agents, crew members, and customers reacting.  Here are my takeaways.

Upon arriving at the in Terminal 1 at O’Hare, things seemed normal for the most part, though somewhat quieter.  There seemed to be the expected amount of people, but it just felt very quiet.  Maybe it was just me.  I conversed with a United pilot for some 5 minutes while walking through concourse C, and asked him how he felt about going to work today.  He said he wasn’t sure how to feel and mentioned that what happened should’ve never happened.  He mentioned that his colleagues commented that passengers hadn’t been giving them or the crew a hard time.  I was glad to hear that, as one wrong doesn’t excuse another (much like the fact that Dr. Dao was a victim doesn’t excuse him not disembarking when asked time after time).

So I arrived at the gate very eager to see how things would be like.  Keep in mind, this a major scandal that by this time has been in the news all over the world for days.  I expected gate agents, flight attendants, and pilots to show an above average desire to go the extra mile and show appreciation for the customers that are still giving the company and, by extension, them a chance.

Gate agents

C minus.  Nothing in their behavior or treatment of customers showed that there was a desire to communicate that they understood the terrible nature of what had happened and that now keeping people’s business would become much more difficult.  Where they rude?  No.  Where they negligent?  No.  Did they get the job done?  Yes.  But that’s all expected.  Given the circumstances, a lot more is needed form them.

Flight attendants

A plus.  In both flights to and from IAH, flight attendants were evidently trying very hard to make customers happy.  They were chatty, happy, accommodating, friendly, kind, appreciative…  All these together are seldom found in a United crew as a whole.  Usually, where you find one or two A+, there tends to be one or two C’s or F’s.  But man!  If I was to forecast United’s bounce back from this strictly by how the flight attendants performed on this day, I wouldn’t worry about the fate of the company at all.  Well done!  Unfortunately though it’s not that simple.

Pilots

F.  I thought for sure the pilots would say something to reassure passengers and thank them for their business.  Nothing.  Because of their position I put more responsibility on them than on gate agents, hence the F.  Did they get us from A to B safely?  Yes.  Did they communicate the necessary information?  Yes.  Did they get the job done?  Yes.  But even more than in the gate agents’ case, I was expecting something along the lines of “Dear customers, given what has transpired we want to emphasize how thankful we are that you’ve given us a chance to serve you once more.  We look forward as a United family to provide you with the service you deserve moving forward…  Etc…”.  That would’ve been so reassuring.  It would’ve cleared up whether United understood the issue at hand or not, and more importantly, whether the people that make up United are aiming to improve immediately.  Well they sure clear things up, to United’s detriment.

My takeaway

So what exactly does this mean?  Can we tell much from two flights?  While it’s not the ideal probability sample size, at least to me my experience yesterday points to United’s root problem to begin with – which by the way has just now been magnified but was always there.  United’s culture completely lacks humanity.  And a large percentage of United employees equally perform their assigned tasks multiple times a week like robots, and then go home and live as humans (I hope).  Both the company and the individuals are to blame, though the source is the company, indeed.  Heck if I was Oscar I would’ve spent the previous night recording a short video message addressing the incident and have it played in all flights for two weeks. But nothing like this would ever happen, because as we’ve come to find out this week, it seems like Oscar has also been influenced by United’s culture, which is why he mistakenly waited so long to say anything, and why he said the wrong things in the first communication that first came out of his office.

Is all lost?

Not at all.  In the case of humans, personality traits are the hardest to get rid of; and on most cases something big has to happen for the person to realize the need for radical changes to become a better person.  In United’s case it’s the culture.  It’s just so ingrained in its core…  Something of this magnitude had to happen if United was ever to wake up to reality.  I’m giving Oscar a chance to make things right as he vowed, and largely because in the past year I’ve noticed significant improvements, which I’ve blogged about.  Improvements that I myself have experienced and benefited from.  It appears, however, that these may be scattered, and I just happened to be fortunate to deal with the right people for the last year or so.  So this likely has made them wake up and take a look at themselves.  Just be made aware that much like with human personality traits, this change won’t happen from one day to the other.  It will take time and it will be painful.

Will you stick it through?  There’s a ton of travel value that comes with United loyalty.  The question is: will United make it so that doing business with them doesn’t breach our moral values and personal ethics?  The ball is in United’s court.

Give me your thoughts