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United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby, sent a letter to MileagePlus members today detailing plans for the year ahead.
This email aligns with what has been released in 2022 around the future of the airline and a program that United is calling United Next. While some of it sounds exciting, there are some notable omissions. United Next has four pillars and Kirby touches on some in his note.
Pillar 1: Fleet Update and Growth
United will take delivery of over 700 aircraft in the next decade. This includes an average of two new planes per week in 2023. Up to 200 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 737MAX, and Airbus 321neo aircraft are coming. Along with the new planes, United is also refitting existing planes with new interior upgrades including faster Wi-Fi, Bluetooth connectivity, in-seat entertainment screens and power, more premium cabin and Economy Plus® seats, and larger overhead bins.
Pillar 2: Operational Excellence
The email also touts United’s latest marketing campaign “Good Leads the Way” and mentions that UA will hire 15,000 additional people this year to “deliver the helpful, friendly service you expect and deserve.” A lot of this is marketing speak and hiring so many employees must mean that United continues to see strong demand even with a potential global recession looming.
Pillar 3: Customer Service
United talks about two tools it has recently launched. ConnectionSaver advises when planes should be held for late connecting passengers. I have seen this in action and it seems to work well (especially when not in hubs or for flights that do not occur frequently). Agent on Demand provides an agent via the app. Maybe I’m spoiled having been a Global Services or 1K member for over a decade, but I don’t find this to be that exciting. I guess it beats waiting in a mile-long line in the terminal though.
Pillar 4: Unit Cost Control
This is not touched upon at all in the email, but this pillar is definitely in effect. Try dining in a Polaris cabin and you’ll see firsthand how costs are being “controlled.” This also includes labor costs and running a huge operation efficiently. Whenever cost control is mentioned it rings an alarm flashing cuts for the customer in my mind.
Although not one of the pillars of United Next, the email does highlight that United is the flag carrier of the United States and that is will serve almost 40 cities across the Atlantic. United gets major props for its route network and I love some of the recent additions in Europe.
In order for United to go from striving for good (as in Good Leads the Way) to great it needs to address:
- It’s soft product, especially food, trails the other US carriers (forget about foreign carriers as they are light years ahead).
- Customer service agents are still not able to do many of the things that they used to. Give them back control to make customers happy.
- Business travelers are not returning to fly as they once were (some studies say 40% will never return) and leisure travelers are usually price sensitive. Even the pent-up demand for travel that had vacationing folks ponying up for premium seats for trips to leisure destinations the past year won’t last if a recession does occur.
Anthony’s Take: While I commend UA for the strides it is making with new planes, entertainment, and Wi-Fi, there are still some glaring issues with soft product and customer service. I guess time will tell what is truly next for United.
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