At 1:37:54 a.m. this morning, I got an email from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. 1:37 a.m.? Geez, Mr. Munoz is one hardworking dude!
Mr. Munoz sent me the email to apologize for the disturbing recent incident in which a ticketed passenger was dragged from a United flight leaving O’Hare in order to allow a United employee to take his seat. Mr. Munoz says the treatment of the passenger broke United’s promise to not only “make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.” That’s a bit of an understatement, Mr. Munoz! Something that doesn’t square with the “deepest sense of dignity and respect” would be, say, getting wedged into a seat next to a smelly, morbidly obese guy wearing a tank top who intrudes into your personal space. Being left bloodied and semiconscious as you’re dragged from your seat doesn’t even square with the lowest level of service or the shallowest sense of dignity and respect.
But let’s not quibble about words. Mr. Munoz thinks the incident happened because United’s “corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values” and “[o]ur procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.” He wants the incident to be a turning point for the company, so he’s changing United’s policies. So now, United will “no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.” That seems like a pretty basic, but certainly appropriate, step. United also will offer up to $10,000 to entice passengers to voluntarily rebook, and will implement a “new ‘no-questions-asked’ $1,500 reimbursement policy” for “permanently lost bags.”
Finally, Mr. Munoz wants me to know that United Airlines intends to live up to “higher expectations in the way we embody social responsibility and civic leadership everywhere we operate.” The goal, he says, “should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, ‘I fly United.'”
I’m not sure I’ve ever said that I was “proud” to fly any airline — or for that matter to own any particular brand of car, or to engage in any commercial transaction with a large company. I found the United incident unsettling, but it wasn’t going to keep me from flying United. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen weird incidents in which overzealous people have overreacted and made really bad choices, and when the United incident occurred I figured that United employees would, if anything, overcompensate in the opposite direction and do everything they could to try to fix the company’s PR nightmare.
Mr. Munoz’s early morning email suggests that that effort is still underway.