United will hopefully be going a new direction – Photo: United Airlines
United Airlines’ CEO Jeff Smisek is no longer the CEO. Nor is he even on the board, which he used to chair. It’s a rarity for an airline CEO to make such a grand exit without telegraphing the move to not only the board of directors and shareholders, but even senior management.
There is usually one reason for this. The biggest fear any businessman can face: a federal investigation.
A United 787-9 touching down at Paine Field – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
We’ve all seen the statistic; Airlines For America (a U.S. airline trade organization) is predicting 2.4 million passengers per day this summer in the 91-day period between June 1st of this year and August 31st. 332,000 of those enplanements are going to be international. Obscene!
Great for the industry. Yes. But be careful what you wish for.
At least, if you happen to be United Airlines. Things do not seem to be matching up with their peers over there? What’s going wrong?
Let’s start with the most recent on-time statistics for United for the month of June. 42% of flights in the United system departed without any delay. Amazing! Especially when their internal goal was 52%. Again, all this is fine in a vacuum- there are things like bad weather, known unknowns, and the like; except it trails its two largest competitors by a large margin.
Delta’s on-time performance for June was 66%, American’s was ~60%, and even Southwest was 53%. This is, of course, last month’s data. This month’s will have the blip of United’s router failure that knocked every flight into at least a two-hour delay on July 8.
In part one of this series I provided an overview of my airline sampler trip (5 airlines over 4 days) and offered my thoughts on my very first flight with Virgin America, from Dallas to San Francisco. Here we pick back up at SFO for a quick journey down to LAX in the first class cabin aboard a United 787-8.
This leg of my airline sampler was actually the catalyst for the entire trip. I happened to stumble upon an announcement that United would be briefly returning the 787 to domestic service for once weekly (Friday) service from SFO-LAX. I didn’t get the opportunity to check out the Dreamliner when United had them on domestic runs when they were first introduced. After a number of friends booked their own 787 experiences only to be disappointed by the wrong plane at the gate, due to operational issues, I decided to hold off. I was skeptic for too long and wound up missing my opportunity. Some time had passed and United now had a number of 787s in service, so I figured that the time was right.
The economy fare was very attractively priced at a meager $72.10 — what a bargain! When United.com solicited me to pay an extra $29 for economy plus I jumped at it.
As a Boeing fan-boy, I was excited, but that joy would soon evaporate like spilled Jet A on a hot day. It pains me to report that problems began before I ever stepped foot on the plane…
Updating the gate area means seating that can be enjoyed by everyone – Photo: United
On my recent trip to Chicago with United to experience their new United Club cuisine, we were shown something that the airline had been working on. Something that would have been obvious to so many, but that not so much to others. United has been working on many different ways to improve their boarding experience.
We have all had a bad boarding experience. A delayed flight, people massing at the gates (gate lice), no order at all, bad communication, and confusion. Airlines all board aircraft in different fashions, and each airline has someone (or a team) of people, who are consistently re-evaluating how the boarding process can efficient. Some new methods work well, others are silently stopped and never spoken about again.
But what is sometimes forgotten about in the boarding process is what that gate area looks like, how it is handled, and how passengers actually feel about it. United has decided to take a look at all of these factors and decided on trying a new boarding experience — one where even passengers had some role in the decision-making process.