7 Ways United Airlines Can Redeem Themselves
Today over 80,000 United Airlines employees will go to work to operate more than 4,500 flights a day to 339 airports across five continents. Every one of them is waking up, taking a deep breath, and worrying about the criticism and judgment that is surely going to come their way.
If you’re not familiar with the problem, here’s a quick recap. On Sunday evening United forcibly removed passengers from an overbooked flight. One of the passengers did not want to co-operate, Law enforcement officers were called, and the passenger was physically assaulted. All of this was captured on video.
The next day United’s CEO offered a terrible attempt at an apology, only making the matter worse.
Finally, after the company’s stock market valuation plunged nearly $1 billion, the CEO made a second apology taking full responsibility for the mistreatment.
It’s a shame that the actions of a few United employees have caused such a tidal wave of damage to the company, and its tens of thousands of good people working for the airline giant.
As a frequent flier on United through its Denver hub, I encounter the good people of this carrier almost every week. They are kind, patient, and a pleasure to deal with, given that delays happen and so many factors are outside of their control. But make no mistake, because of this incident, United’s reputation and the reputations of over 80,000 employees has suffered. They’ll likely suffer verbal abuse on the job, and their stress levels will be through the roof as they walk on eggshells for the next few weeks.
This is not unlike how our own reputations are sullied when a close friend or family member makes a grave mistake. Through our proximity, we take on the backlash of others’ wrongdoings. But just as United employees cannot allow a few bad apples to spoil the entire bunch (although we as humans love to generalize people and groups for the sake of conserving mental energy), we can’t let ourselves get off track from something — or someone — we cannot control.
As you read this, 25% of the year is over. Time is flying fast and we need to get back on track if we’ve slipped from our path to success. Today is the perfect time to start again — for both United and for ourselves.
Listen, something bad happened. United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, then made a huge blunder. At first, he refused to take the blame, casting it upon the passenger, and then using silly phrasing like “reaccomodate the passenger” to imply that United did nothing wrong.
When things go sour, you have to step up and accept the consequences, then make the apology, and get to work on fixing things. By not taking the blame, Munoz dug a bigger hole for the company and delayed United from getting back on track.
No one at United Airlines woke up on Sunday morning and thought, “Let’s assault a passenger today!” But in the heat of the moment very bad decisions were made. Likewise, we didn’t wake up wanting to yell at our children or drop the ball on an important work project, but sometimes things go sour.
When bad things happen, after you’ve fixed the immediate emergency, accepted the guilt, and apologized, the first thing you need to do in the aftermath is reflect. Identify what matters to you, adjust your priorities, and start working to get back on track to what your values are.
United needs to reflect on its Core Values. It needs to start living its slogan, “Fly the Friendly Skies.” If this is truly what United believes, then the company needs to start acting in accordance with its values, and eventually customers (like me) will forgive and return to the company.
Plan and Prepare
Once damage control is over and the emergency has been taken care of, it’s time for United to get to work on regaining trust. It might need to plan out a sale, take out apology ads in the New York Times, or do the talk-show circuit. Whatever the plan, it needs to be as detailed as possible. It also, quite obviously, needs to put a plan in place so that this never, ever happens again.
In our own lives, when we get off track, the best thing we can do is reflect on what really matters to us and then put in place a plan for us to move in the positive direction every day.
If you want to lose weight, plan and prepare your meals and exercise program. If you want to get out of debt, put in place a plan to cut expenditures and increase income. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This burned United. Don’t let it burn you.
Every United employee has a chance to make small amends today, tomorrow, and every day forward, by doing their job and doing it well. They can’t be ashamed or bothered with what someone else did halfway across the country. If every United employee focuses on delivering an amazing customer experience, being as personal and polite as possible, and going out of their way to ensure we are “flying the friendly skies,” then this matter will reveal itself as a focused issue (and not a company-wide epidemic).
If you find yourself off track because you’ve gone off-plan and are wasting your time, then also need to focus on what matters. You need to bring your best to your big goals and dreams.
Each United employee needs to harken back to the core values of the company, to the reason they joined United — and the airline industry — in the first place.
When United flight attendants “Stephanie” and “Bob” get on board that flight from Denver to Orange County (a route I often fly), they need to prioritize their energy on making it the best flight they’ve ever served. Yes, there will be some negative energy, and yes, flight delays are sure to happen and make things worse, but if they focus on their priority of being the best flight attendant possible, it’ll get United back on track.
If only this rule had been followed in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all. But somewhere along the way someone at United forgot the reason they represent the airline in the first place — to care for the customer. Here are the best secrets for great customer service to review.
We must all follow the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Look for the good in everyone, and it will help bring out the best in you and help you make the right decisions for your life. Such a simple 4-letter word can make all the difference in the world. Not only will it help you get back on track fast, but it’ll keep you from going off track in the first place.
Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement. It’s about getting better every day.
In all times, especially in these troubled times, United should be committed to always learning and improving. This is also the 7th Core Value of Early to Rise. We are always learning and getting better at serving our customers, creating our content, and sharing our information with the world.
Now, more than ever, United must be committed to this approach. And they must never stop. They have a big hole to get out of, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It won’t be easy. Nothing is. Just as when you get off track, or when an embarrassing incident happens to a friend or family member, we all just have to suck-it-up, accept the consequences, and then get back to work to get back on track.
After all, what else are you going to do? Quit? No. Never.
United’s not going to stop flying, and you’re not going to give up on your goals, no matter how far from them you might feel.
Photo courtesy United Airlines