In a new episode of Bloomberg Television’s “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations,” United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz explains how the violent dragging of a passenger from an overbooked flight and the death of a dog placed in a plane’s overhead bin by a cabin crew member led to a much needed cultural change at the legacy carrier.
It’s often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but the incident in April of last year in which a 69-year-old physician was dragged from his seat on a United Airlines Express flight in order to make room for employees traveling on company business led to unprecedented public backlash against the airline. Less than a year later, the carrier was again the focus of near universal outrage when it was reported that a puppy died after a United Airlines flight attendant ordered the owner to place the animal in an overhead bin before a cross-country flight.
It wouldn’t be surprising if United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz would rather forget these black marks on his brief tenure at the helm of the airline, but the airline executive told Bloomberg Television’s David Rubenstein that quite the opposite is the case in a recent installment of “Peer-to-Peer Conversations” which aired this week. He says, instead, that keeping those debacles in the forefront of his mind have helped to shape a major cultural change at the airline.
“It’s one of the dark moments,” Munoz told the television host when questioned about the Dr. David Dao incident. “Usually the question is, ‘Are you glad that’s getting behind you?’ and I always say, ‘No, I’m happy to be reminded of it every day,’ and so is our company, because it’s important to know how quickly things can go sideways on us.”
Later in the show (which was taped on June 7), Munoz explained how the April 2018 incident at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and the latest incident in which a passenger’s 10-month-old puppy died as a result of a flight attendant’s apparent indifference, led to a shift in the way the airline operates. He said that safety will always be an employee’s top concern, but that customer care has now taken priority over other operational concerns.
“The rigor and discipline around safety and security and operations doesn’t necessarily apply to the comfort and the quality and the emotional connection as a human on the customer service,” the CEO noted. “So, with our rules and procedures, you can’t put always rules and procedures on how you treat another human.”
Munoz says since the highly publicized customer service failures of the past several months, United employees have been empowered to put a passenger’s well-being above other operational concerns (except where safety is concerned). He said the new focus on caring could very well mean a kinder, gentler United Airlines.
“It could mean a lot of things,” he added. “But it doesn’t mean shutting the door. It doesn’t mean yanking someone off a plane. It doesn’t mean any of those things.”
[Photo: United Airlines]