United’s CEO Is Such A Micromanager He Just Personally Approved Catering Ice On Planes

Scott McCartney interviewed United CEO Scott Kirby in the Wall Street Journal and four things stood out for me.

  1. Five passengers have been temporarily banned from the airline for refusing to wear masks. The ban lasts as long as masks are required, and that’s expected to be until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. (China is effectively in a stage 3 trial for an attenuated virus vaccine now, since they’re vaccinating their military.)

  2. United will keep older planes flying longer to avoid capital spending while paying down debt

  3. For inflight product investments “it will be more like the postrecession years of the past—you take the small improvements where you can.”

  4. Kirby “approved putting ice back on airplanes and starting coffee and tea service” on Monday.

There are two real takeaways here, I think.

  • As Kirby has said many times – debt gets paid down first before the airline makes other new investments. And this month they’ve been in the mode of taking on more debt, they aren’t anywhere close to paying it back.

  • United’s CEO is personally approving ice, coffee and tea. That’s Scott Kirby the micro-manager, in contrast American’s CEO wasn’t involved in the decision to eliminate meals from first class on most of their domestic flights.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Much better than letting competent people do their jobs and make such decisions. If the people aren’t actually competent, replace them with people who are. This is pretty much the ABC’s of management so if Kirby hasn’t figured that out by now, he’s the one who needs to go.

  2. I’m not sure exactly what the story is here…this is exactly how management is supposed to work. The teams perform the analysis and bring the recommendation and supporting fact base to the leader, who then reviews, pressure tests as needed, and makes a decision. I’m not a fan (or hater, for that matter) of Kirby but this seems like nitpicking or a really slow news day.

  3. @CW – good management delegates decisions to the lowest level, and empowers subordinates – the exact opposite of what Kirby has done. It is not like a decision to declare Chapter 11; it is serving cups of ice.

  4. Parker isn’t AA’s problem, Kirby was. I see AA climbing out of a whole while UA is falling into one.

  5. @Jeff – read the wording again. The ice reference is cherry-picking for clicks and pageviews. The quote, taken in its entirety, is saying that he approved the restart of non-packaged drink service. Given that this is a non-trivial element of the customer experience and that there has been such scrutiny on service as a possible infection vector, I find it completely appropriate that this decision (probably a 5-minute discussion and approval) be confirmed at the top. Do you believe that the CEO should not be involved in any operational elements of running the company?

  6. I haven’t had a bag of ice on my plane in over 3 months! I have begged and pleaded with no success! Ice on a plane is not just for drinks, but another tool some FA use for other purposes…..minor injuries and passenger comfort.

  7. Recently was on a United flight. Ice was Not available. The water was Hot and so were the Juice drinks. Ice is essential on a flight in order to serve Cold drinks. If your not going to serve snacks besides pretezels, then they should have Ice on board.

  8. Can someone pass some of what sunviking is smoking? That individual has got to be baked out of their mind with observations like that.

  9. Well thank you Scott Kirby. It’s been very unpleasant these past few months with no ice and no coffee. I’m glad they’re coming back. Does that means cups will be returning, too?

  10. Damn, I forgot to mention to the team that we’ll be changing the color of the commode water to green. We want to be different.

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