When Oscar Munoz took over at United he went around telling everyone who would listen that he needed to get employees motivated to provide great service. He ‘needed more Jennas’ telling a likely apocryphal story about a flight attendant whose caring service made all the difference to customers.
Yet through that, his most vivid recollection is Jenna. Jenna was the flight attendant on that miserable trip. “Throughout that whole disaster, her smile, her willingness to take care of everybody on that small flight, asking ‘more ice, more drinks, anything else I can do?’”
As he waited at the baggage carousel, he sidled up anonymously to a young couple and prodded them for complaints, “Can you believe how long this luggage thing is taking?” They agreed but quickly mentioned Jenna. “Wasn’t that woman nice on that flight?” Munoz called that a watershed moment for him as he takes the controls at the world’s second-largest airline. “Everybody on that flight remembered that,” Munoz said.
United CEO Oscar Munoz Before Media Preview Flight for New Boeing 777-300ER
He said that what United needed was “5,000 Jennas” to “make it work” at United.
This was October 2015. It was before he went out on medical leave. It was before he hired the President of American Airlines, whose prior experience had been running US Airways and America West, to become President of United.
And it was before forcing children with their own tickets to sit in parents laps instead of seats, having law enforcement remove passengers flying to their wedding, kicking a passenger in the head, and before we learned about a customer service agent pushing a 71 year old man to the ground… Let alone breaking a passenger’s face.
I think it’s safe to say that United Airlines hasn’t yet found sufficient Jennas to provide world class customer service to all its customers.
But Munoz is apparently now happy with the quality of service the airline provides because in opportunistically taking a shot against Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — calling for protection of competition so that consumers don’t have a choice but to fly his airline — he suggests that United flight attendants are “world-class”, that he “cherish[es]” their contributions, and that he’s proud of “the qualities they bring to our team: intelligence and integrity; experience and empathy; care for our customers and one another.”
Above all, we value our employees’ dedication to the highest standards of professionalism and safety. These are the reasons why, wherever you travel, our employees say with equal pride and emphasis: ‘We are United.’
I am always deeply proud to say those words myself, knowing the incredible professionals with whom I am privileged to be associated. I want to express my deep gratitude to all our colleagues for what they do to keep us flying right, everywhere we serve.
United CEO Oscar Munoz Announcing Boarding for Chicago – San Francisco 777-300ER Preview Flight
His message is no longer, ‘come on folks, let’s pull together and ask out customers “anything else I can do?”‘ His message is that United’s flight attendants are already meeting the highest standards possible.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker referring to flight attendants at US Airways as ‘grandmothers’ was tone deaf at best. He’s often his own worst enemy giving soundbites that Delta can use in videos that seem to serve no purpose in their argument other than to appeal to the worst racist instincts Americans have of Middle Easterners.
Delta’s video shows Akbar al-Baker in a Middle Eastern thawb or cloak saying he would ‘do business with devil’ and giving an evil smirk (1m52s).
However al-Baker’s misogyny referring to US airline flight attendants as ‘grandmothers’ and suggesting only younger woman can provide good service in no way excuses Delta’s racism and fear-mongering). Akbar al-Baker has since apologized for his comments. On the other hand David Dao says Oscar Munoz never called him to apologize.
But Munoz, in declaring United to have reached the highest levels of service possible, makes the very real point that US airlines cannot compete for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with subsidies. The culture of customer service, as we’ve seen over the past three months vividly at United, is a real problem.
David Dao Dragged Off a Flight at O’Hare in April
The only way to fix it is competition. Delta, American, and United want to be protected from competition because they’re afraid it will hurt their business. But that’s the point — it will, unless they improve to compete. Acting as a quasi-public utility is a recipe for a continuation of the status quo, and no customer should want that.