United aircraft in new and old livery.

United aircraft in new and old livery.

Being the world’s largest airline has its benefits, but there are also going to be negatives. The larger and more complicated you are, the more that can go wrong. Then add in a merger to the mix and you are just asking for trouble.

United Airlines had a bit of a challenging week this last week and it raises some questions. Even though some mistakes were made, it was sad to see how much of the media grabbed on to the stories, even after the stories were already resolved. Let’s take a closer look at what happened:

UNITED CHANGES ON TWITTER
Previously, United and Continental had two separate Twitter accounts (@UnitedAirlines and @Continental). United had about 194,000 followers and Continental had about 144,000. Having 338,000 followers is quite impressive, but this is where things go wrong. Twitter told United that they can’t combine both accounts. It seems silly that Twitter wouldn’t budge, even for money, but I guess that is how it goes. That didn’t mean that United had to give up all their followers.

With Twitter you can change your account name and still keep your followers. So the question becomes, should the new United take the old United account or the Continental? Sure, alienating either group of followers isn’t the best idea, but neither is giving up 338k followers to start a brand new account — which is exactly what United did.

I really like the idea of United changing their Twitter handle to just “@United,” but they have had one heck of a time getting anyone to follow. Out of 338,000 followers, as of late Friday there are just short of 10,000.

Since the new “@United” handle has been used, it has mostly been interacting with customers who have had bad experiences. Sure, it is great to reach out to your Twitter followers to help them, but if someone just reads the Twitter feed, it looks like nothing goes right at the airline. When responding to a poorly placed ad (see below), they sent the exact same message to over 100 people. That is not the proper way to handle the situation. It is okay to post just one reply to everyone.

I think Delta Air Lines has a slick system with @Delta to keep positive @DeltaAssist to help travelers with issues and @DeltaNewsroom to interact with media. That way fans of the airline that are watching @Delta see positive and helpful information and those customers who have issues still get help by @DeltaAssist.

AD IN NEW YORK CITY
Honestly, I wouldn’t have even known about this ad, except for the fact that United was apologizing to hundreds of people about the ad via Twitter. Anyhow, it looks like United put up an ad that states by ground zero in New York City stating, “You’re going to like where we land.” Okay, maybe not the best call, but come on people. This was an outside ad agency that placed the ad. Do you really think United wants to be associated with what happened on 9/11? They made a mistake, they are correcting it, they are apologizing, now let’s all move on.

REINSTATING 9/11 FLIGHT NUMBERS
With the merger of United and Continental, a computer system assigned the old flight 93 and flight 175 to current Continental Airlines flights. Currently, all flights fly both as United and Continental, so it would appear that United flight 93 and 175, which were involved in 9/11, were flying again. It was an honest mistake that was unintentional.

This was not a group of employees sitting around and deciding to re-instate the old flight numbers. It was more disturbing how big this story got versus what actually happened. Even after the flight numbers were explained, I saw legitimate news sources still waving the “omg why would United do this?” blame flag. I ended up more disappointed in the media than I did with the airline on this one.

New Branding at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

New Branding at Chicago

CUSTOMER DAY ONE
Say what? I wonder if many of you even know about this. On Wednesday United unveiled their new look and brand at their main hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). United put up all new signs and there are no more tulips to be seen. Even though it is sad to see the tulips go, this was a big day for United, their employees (Continentals too) and even for the city of Chicago. Unfortunately this story got shoved under the rug due to all the other things going on this week.

CONCLUSION
United might have dropped the ball a few times, but what company doesn’t? It just seems that airlines get unfair attention put on them when they do mess up and it keeps the idea that airlines are some evil company.

We can only hope that next week will be better!

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

http://www.airlinereporter.com
Allegiant Air is Looking at Charging a Fee for Carry-On Bags
8 Comments

David,

I really respect your coverage of all things related to the Airline industry, but I do take issue with your obvious bias toward United Airlines. The series of events that occurred this week are inexcusable.

What the Twitter situation represents is a lack of consideration for how powerful a medium Twitter can be. People have different for reasons for why they follow an individual or company on Twitter. Granted, Twitter’s policy toward merging the @UnitedAirlines and @Continental accounts is unreasonable. I’m sure this is governed by corporate legal policy, as well as Terms of Service outlined by Twitter.

United was foolish to abandon both accounts in favor of @United. They could have simply chosen to change one of the account names. They could have also implemented a Social Media strategy to help followers transition over to its desired account. Instead, what they did was play copycat to other airlines by deciding to adopt the @United handle. Not only did their short-sighted approach fail, they irritated the majority of their customers. They failed to consider that customer loyalty is a choice not a right.

With regards to the Sept. 11th flight numbers #93 and #175, this is inexcusable as well. If nothing else, this is not a computer system error. Computers are programmed to function. I’m certain the error was unintentional, but even United should be aware of sensitivities pertaining to its brand.

Regarding the issue of the placement of a United ad near Ground Zero, placing blame on the agency for the error is unacceptable. Again, the burden falls on United to protect its image. Agencies are interested in getting paid, not taking care of brands. I’m sure United had visibility into the ad, as well as discussions with the agency regarding placement of the ad. The people involved with the ad could potentially have been too young or immature to understand the impact of Sept. 11th when it happened. 10 years later, it never occurred to these individuals that placement of such an ad might spark some backlash.

What we often fail to see in a product or company effort is that the end result often reflects how the company operates internally. There has been lots of issue around the United livery. To many, myself included, United simply took the Continental livery and put the United name on it in Arial font, and decided to call it a new brand. It’s no surprise to see numerous miscues happen all at once with a company who took such a thoughtless approach to their image, and is widely out of touch of the image their customers have of them.

Perhaps this series of events will serve as a wake-up call to United. If not, this merger will surely fall short of its goal, or potentially fail. One simply can’t excuse what a company has brought on itself. You, however, continue to make excuses for United.

It is complete BS to blame United for the ad agency placing an ad on a subway stop. Do you expect United scouts to go out and select the location for their thousands of ads? No, you pay an ad agency to put ads up, this one falls squarely on the shoulders of the ad agency. I agree with most of the other stuff you say.

bolobar

And I take issue with your obvious bias against United Airlines.
While this series of events were unfortunate, United made
every effort to correct these errors. There is a lot of heavy
lifting in accomplishing this merger. Errors will happen.

Meantime, enjoy your experiences with US Airways and Delta.

They certainly were perfect.

I’m sorry, did I make mention of either US Airways or Delta? Did I refer to any company being perfect?

Apparently United committed enough miscues in one week that it was deemed newsworthy, even by this very site. If none of it is an issue for you, then it is what it is. But, let’s not behave as if these issues could not have been prevented, or that no consequences should be realized from it.

By the way, it’s my United Mileage Plus miles that have taken me to several destinations around the world. That doesn’t mean that they should not be accountable for their errors.

james robert patton

i will do anything not to use this airline . i was treated like garbage by a flight attendent.i an blind in the left eye he made a crack to me ., i called him mr. slater and told if did that again he would have me thrown in jail .never again continal
james r patton lake jackson texas 77566

Swamp Rat

Mark,

I have freinds in the group at United that is responsible for the numbers. The problem is that the numbers came in via the Continental Systtem. Checks were in place on the United side to prevent United operating flights from ever using the 93 and 175 flight numbers ever agian. Unfortunately the systems for codeshare are different and not as sophisticated. An unintential numbering by a CO program slipoped thru the UA systems as they were not designed to find these numbers. There is a lot of work but too few employees make the task very difficult. The employees of both companies are very sorry and the nuumbers were used. The United employees lost ‘family’ on those flights and are very upset. However, making a sory out of it as if it was an intentional disrepect is even more disturbing. I guess the media has never made a typo or missed a chance to edit a story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *