I have not blogged on airlines in quite a while and I thought it was appropriate to look at the category again in light of the new CEO for United Airlines (Read a market study on the entire category here) and my thinking that airlines need culture change.
Funny thing, United is getting criticism for not looking within the industry when it appointed Oscar Munoz as its new CEO. It seems that United has trailed all of the major carriers in terms of customer satisfaction in the past few years and this is being blamed on the fact that former CEO, Jeff Smisek, who resigned last month because he was a sleezball, was not from inside the industry either. Come on. Give me a break.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am what United has designated as being Global Services. This is their highest status in their frequent flyer pantheon. For those that do not know all the benefits I am privy to because of this status, it means that I get to board the aircraft right after the lame and the infirmed and then have the privilege of being crammed into a tiny seat for longer than almost all other flyers. In the common event that the flight is delayed, I get to sit in my confined space a few minutes longer than others. Sounds good doesn’t it?
United has continued to disappoint me. It doesn’t even recognize that, in an industry of mediocrity, that all airlines needs culture change. The flights are so delayed that I have taken to flying out of my local airport first thing in the morning even if my connecting flight leaves late in the afternoon. All too often, subsequent flights out of Greensboro are later and later as the delay in takeoff is compounded by all the other late flights that my aircraft suffers before arriving to GSO (Triad International Airport, named so despite the fact that no international flights begin or end there). These delays are getting all the more common as airlines (not just United) push these planes to the breaking point by flying tight schedules designed to eek out every penny of profit from the over-worked commuter flights that feed their infamous hubs.
Airlines need culture change not more of the same
I recognize that all I do is complain about airlines. Some of you may say that I need to move to a city that has direct flights and does not rely on connecting flights as a requisite to get anywhere. I have to admit. I have entertained this idea at times. But such a change in domicile is not without costs. By COSTS I mean the flights that fly direct are WAY MORE EXPENSIVE. It is actually cheaper, much cheaper, for me to fly from Greensboro to Washington Dulles and then connect to a flight to Geneva then it is for me to fly direct from DC to Geneva without the connection. Crazy.
The problem with airlines is the airline insider. Think about the way those in the industry measure customer satisfaction. The percentage of on-time flights, comfort in the seats and whether the airline gives you a 5-cent bag of pretzels and 4oz of a soft drink or water. They also offer coffee but I don’t seem to be able to recognize the taste as any version of coffee. Think about it. They measure customer satisfaction by standards that should denote the lowest common denominator of any airline.
I think the industry only has hope by looking to an outsider to change direction and recognize that, while they may be in the transportation business, the airlines are equally in the hospitality business. Is Oscar Munoz the answer? I don’t know. If he fails to change the entire paradigm, I would suggest that they appoint a new COO who understands the logistics of the industry and then hire a senior leader from Ritz Carleton as its next CEO.
How might culture change when leadership decided that customer satisfaction was more than being on-time? Ritz is not just a hotel brand. It has actively positioned itself as different and better from its competition. It has made service personalized and actually makes you feel as though you are fortunate to have chosen that brand.
What ALL the airlines need is culture change and a recognition that we would like more than what we are getting. They could start to measure their preference not in terms of oversold flights because they have cut back on the schedule but rather how many more flights they would need to account for the increase in traffic. Even Southwest would begin to worry. Maybe standing in line for a seat is not that much fun. Is everything in the airline industry based upon discount fares and fewer fees? There may be a different path. Hopefully someone sees that. Airlines need culture change.