United Airlines CEO: Our service has been terrible

United Airlines CEO: Our service has been terrible

New United CEO Oscar Munoz has surprised everyone with his apology.

The new CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, has surprised observers by coming straight out and saying that the airlines’ customer service has been straight up bad.

In a recent video message, he said: “Let’s be honest, the implementation of the United and Continental merger has been rocky for customers and employees. While it’s been improving recently, we still haven’t lived up to our promise or our potential,” according to a Fortune report.

Munoz took over Sept. 8 for the airline, and has been taking a look at long-standing customer and employee complaints. He promised big changes that would pay dividends for customers and employees alike, and that he would listen carefully to all feedback he gets.

United Continental Airlines is now opening the discussion to the public in the form of full-page ads in 13 publications, where a letter from Munoz invites customers to leave feedback on their new website, UnitedAirtime.com.

The comments so far do give some praise to Munoz for acknowledging that the merger between United and Continental that happened back in 2010 has been rocky at best. However, not everyone is on board with UnitedAirTime.com, with some wondering whether Munoz is actually even the one answering the questions from customers.

Still, the site at least attempts to tackle some frequent questions from customers, including the decision to move from JFK Airport, what they’re doing about baggage delays, and why the WiFi on planes is so bad. However, many of those answers were fairly vague, with the response to the WiFi question simply being “we aren’t where we want to be.”

Customers and industry observers will be watching to see if United actually intends to make substantive changes or if this is merely a public relations move intended to make it look like United cares while making only superficial changes.

Munoz says he takes flights on United Airlines himself to better understand the service that customers experience. He recently had a bad one to Chicago on Labor Day, shortly after his daughter got married and shortly before he took over as CEO of the company, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

He said he was on a cramped, overbooked 50-seat regional jet where two people weren’t able to board because of overbooking. The flight was also delayed by a half hour, and then delayed further because of problems with the airport gate. Then, there was a five-hour wait for luggage. The one silver lining, he said, was Jenna, a flight attendant who he said was incredibly helpful to him and other customers. He said people like Jenna may be key to getting good customer feedback again.

However, Munoz also acknowledged in a letter to frequent fliers shortly after his appointment that the airline needs to do a better job making sure its flights are on time. It posted an on-time rate of just 73.5 percent in July. Only Frontier and Spirit performed worse than United. United must do a better job of taking care of the small things that ensure that a flight arrives on time, Munoz told the Tribune.

Before being appointed as president and chief executive officer of United Airlines, Munoz had been serving on the board of directors for United Continental Holdings, the parent company, ever since the merger happened back in 2010. Before that, Munoz was a member of the Continental Board of Directors from 2004.

Prior to getting involved in the airlines business, Munoz was president and chief operating officer of CSX Corporation, and was chief financial officer and vice president of consumer services at AT&T. Earlier than that he had held positions with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

United Continental Holdings, which is headquartered at the Willis Tower in Chicago, is a publicly traded airline holding company. It operates United Airlines, and is the successor of the UAL Corporation. It changed its name to the current one after the merger between United and Continental Airlines.

Most of UCH’s operations happen out of the following airports Chicago–O’Hare, Denver, Guam, Houston–Intercontinental, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, Tokyo–Narita and Washington–Dulles.

UAL Corporation and Continental Airlines began merger negotiations all the way back in February 2008. It was a complicated situation that was not finalized until two years later.



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