Oh Stewardess, I Speak United

It’s hard to speak objectively about an intimate relationship once you’re out of it. And I was in one with United Airlines for about 8 years.  When my supervisor pinned my wings, I don’t think I was more honored to join an organization.

By 2012, two years after the merger with Continental Airlines, the culture changed for both airlines and it was not for the best.   Almost 4 years later, I took “French Leave” and did my best not to bear ill will towards my former employer.  Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time for that toxic culture to become public.

And it did with a vengeance, with the UA Flight 3411 “dragging passenger” incident – It’s important to understand “hurt people, hurt people.” So please don’t be too hard on the employees, blame the culture.  The “United Team” as United CEO Oscar Munoz refers to the employees, in his April 10 memo, is not the “family” it once was.

A family is nurtured and in turn welcomes others into their home.  A team is trained to win at all cost and to play against others, and yes sadly even passengers can become a casualty (those who aren’t high-ranking United MileagePlus members) if it interferes with flight operations.

Keeping that in mind, when the gate agent says a flight is overbooked, as was reported for United Express Flight 3411 operated by Republic Airline, the agent will ask for volunteers to take another flight. This so they will not have to “bump” any passengers involuntarily.  If you’re a high-ranking member of the MileagePlus loyalty program your chance of getting booted off the flight are low.  All else?  Well, NRSA (non-revenue space available) employees and their family, buddies (stand-by) get bumped first, employees with discounted tickets are next on the list.

The airlines, United Airlines, in this case can deny boarding for any reason.

United officials stated they needed four seats for employees.  Those employees are traveling Positive Space – the airline is paying for their seats (yes, I’ve known some employees to take advantage of that and get the miles for the ticket.) But I digress.  This means the airline needs these employees somewhere and fast.

I’ve been in that situation as a crew member and United’s operation had to dead-head a flight crew (flight deck and cabin crew) to a station, so that we could fly passengers to their final destination.  It wasn’t leisurely travel – we were going to ‘rescue’ a plane load of passengers who would’ve otherwise had to spend a night in an airport.

Again, United execs, and the company culture can be arrogant and thoughtful at the same time.  It’s a mixed bag.   Their external communication skills need help; although PRWeek doesn’t think so.

If you’re a road-warrior, a seasonal, or leisure traveler, always refer to the airlines’ contract of carriage to be prepared for the unexpected.  Also consult the U.S. Department of Transportation Fly-Rights information.

By the way, I still fly United.  I trust the employees; especially those on the front lines. The flight attendants, pilots, mechanics, ground crew, gate agents, et al really do care about doing a great job.

Fly safe out there.  Although it may be counter-intuitive, sign up for one those loyalty airline programs.  You’re going to fly anyway might as well make it count.  And if for some reason you’re bumped from your flight, take the highest compensation and ask the Customer Service Rep to throw in some extra miles too!


Take 2 for CEO apology. (My daughter says United hired “Olivia Pope” )