United Express Flight 3411

IMG_20161002_115345.jpg

What happened today on United Express flight 3411 is horrifying and wrong. No one, regardless of their age, race, religion or otherwise should ever have their personal dignity stripped in that manner, much less have to feel unsafe in a public space or be subjected to the type of assault documented in the video on United Express flight 3411. Nothing can justify the experience or treatment that was endured — there is nothing to defend.

Recently, United, together with its employees, recently published its first-ever statement of Shared Purpose and Values. At the very top of the list are "We Fly Right" and "We Fly Friendly." 

We Fly Right: On the ground and in the air, we hold ourselves to the highest standards in safety and reliability. We earn trust by doing things the right way and delivering on our commitments every day.

We Fly Friendly: Warm and welcoming is who we are.

What happened on United Express flight 3411 exemplify neither of those values and is uncharacteristic of the airline I have come to love from the first time I flew when I was five. I am not only deeply disappointed, but appalled that this happened on United. It has weighed heavily on my heart and mind.

From the moment that Oscar Munoz became United's new CEO, there was new hope and promise that United would live up to its full potential. I have been proud of the emphasis, recognition and urgency that Oscar and the rest of the United team has placed in making positive changes at United and for its customers. Despite achieving record on-time performance and improving many areas of the United system, moments of grief and shock like these continue to be too routine for United — that's not okay.

For me, I first became inspired by United after watching one of their internal videos to employees, "We are United":

But, truth be told, while we are proud to be an industry leader in aircraft, flights and services, any airline can buy planes, route flights and reward miles. Our brand is not a collection of equipment, facilities and services, but a collection of faces and names. It is the people who serve our customers who make up what United is... To our customer, our identity will always be tied to his or her experience with these people and every one of our 80,000 employees. 

This same Duty of Care is a message that Oscar Munoz has reiterated since becoming CEO, which can be seen as a foundation to United's new Shared Purpose and Values:

Such are the ripples that a single act of caring can send forth into the world.

At United Airlines, every year we serve more than 140 million passengers around the globe, around the clock, every day. That's 140 million stories — of a young professional whose career depends on making that last flight out today; of friends who need to get to that wedding on time; of a parent who can't miss tucking in their children. Every passenger matters. Each flight counts. That is a profound responsibility that we take seriously.

To be honest, too often in the past, a discourteous comment, a missed connection, or an unhelpful service experience left customers — not to mention many of our own employees — with a negative feeling towards United. My task is to turn that around, and it starts with instilling a culture of caring and trust at every level.

These commitments were the basis of what made United my airline of choice. Yet, these are the same commitments of care that was wholly absent in the video shared today of United Express flight 3411.

Today, if you lost the trust you had in United, I understand. Or, if the worst of what you thought of United was validated, I understand too.

With 54 countries, 4,523 daily departures and the Star Alliance, United has the world's most comprehensive route network. With MileagePlus, United also has the world's most rewarding loyalty program. Yet, none of these strengths that United has will matter if it cannot get one thing right: how it treats its customers. As Oscar said, "every day, [United] helps unite the the world by connecting people the moments that matter most," which is a "profound responsibility." 

Today, United failed at that responsibility on the most basic level.

To Oscar and the United team, air travel is something that is hard to get right. Air travel has also become essential to our globalized world. Air travel has also become a commodity. That does not change United's responsibility to treat customers right, nor does it justify the type of action that was taken today. The last point of United's Shared Purpose and Values statement is to fly above and beyond.

Whether it is an individual being denied soda because of their appeared background, a young girl being denied boarding because of her clothing of choice, or a man being forced off a flight, these things should have never happened. And should never happen again. And if these situations do happen, as no airline is perfect, United should have open and honest conversations, together with its customers, about what happened and how to move forward. From day one, Oscar has been committed to not only building United to be an exceptional airline, but also the world's greatest airline — that means living by those higher standards and treating situations like today's with the seriousness it deserves, not as something that routinely happens at other airlines and in the airline industry.

The trust that United has fought so hard to earn back within the last year will be even harder to win back now. But do not make this the normal. Be better every day and show the world the airline United really is and what United really stands for. That starts today.

UPDATE 4/27/17: United published a detailed review and action report today of the incident that occurred on United Express Flight 3411. Oscar Munoz had promised a report to be released by April 30, 2017. It can be found here:
https://hub.united.com/united-review-action-report-2380196105.html