Blaming United’s Problems on Continental (or Vice Versa) is Exactly the Problem

The talk of the US airline industry these days is all about one thing… what’s wrong with United? The airline is underperforming financially and operationally, without question, and has not been able to take advantage of all the benefits that should have come in the merger with Continental. So what is wrong with the airline? Many people think they know, including executives at the airline, but the reality is that it’s a whole lot of things, and it’s not an easy fix. I certainly don’t know all the answers either, but I’d start with the hardest and most important thing to fix: the culture. That’s no quick payoff on that one, but it’ll pay the biggest dividends in the long run.

United's Executive Fix

One favorite pastime for United employees in this merger is to blame Continental. If you listened to many pre-merger United employees, you’d think that United was the greatest airline of all time until Continental came in and ruined it. Talk about seeing the world with rose (er, uh, tulip?)-colored glasses. Let’s be realistic here.

United was a mess for a full decade or, arguably, more leading up to the merger. Awful management, bad labor relations, and a lack of interest in preparing the airline for long term success led United to the bottom of the industry several times. Had things gotten better in the last couple of years before the merger? Sure. But that’s because they couldn’t get any worse. Besides, previous management was so hell-bent on finding a merger partner that they had to improve things so their own shareholders could make money on any combination.

Despite this brief improvement, United was still an airline that had dramatically under-invested in itself. Planes weren’t well-maintained (not unsafe, but they weren’t reliable) and sub-par onboard products ruled the day. Anyone who thinks United was a truly great airline is smoking something. It hadn’t been great since the last century.

Continental, on the other hand, was closer to being a premier airline, but it was a premier regional airline. You had a carrier that was strong only in the eastern half of the country with a good Transatlantic network and a great presence in Mexico. In the rest of the country, South America, and in the Pacific (save for the isolated Micronesia network), Continental was largely an afterthought. This was not a global airline.

But give credit where credit is due. Continental had been left for dead in the early 1990s and its turnaround was nothing short of remarkable. The fact that it maintained that status for so many years after the turnaround is a testament to the people there.

When it comes time for a merger, however, you don’t need people who can maintain a great culture. You need people who can build a new one from the legacies of two existing ones. That still hasn’t happened at United. At this point, what United needs is another turnaround. You might think Continental would be up for another one, but there’s one problem. The people who led Continental through the last turnaround are no longer there. That’s not to say people on this management team haven’t participated in a turnaround. It’s that they haven’t led one. That’s a big difference.

There are several tactical and strategic errors we can point to along the way. A favorite one to point to is the decision to go with the SHARES passenger service system over United’s Apollo system. That has resulted in all kinds of frustrations for passengers and front-line employees alike. But that was just a byproduct of a bigger decision, one to try to pick and choose the best of each airline. That was a big mistake and it only creates a bigger wedge between the two sides. That’s probably one reason why we’ve seen American and US Airways choose a different strategy in their merger.

United and Continental pitched this as a merger of equals, even though the Continental management team was effectively, but not entirely, taking over. They said it would bring the best from both sides. But you know what that does? It gets both sides thinking they’re the best, and then they fight each other to prove they’re right.

This creates deep divisions which don’t disappear once a decision is made. Instead it creates fiefdoms which are hard to penetrate. It’s made even more difficult when physical barriers are put up. In stark contrast to the open layout at Hawaiian’s headquarters, United’s is chopped up across 20+ floors, and you are sometimes require to take connecting elevators to get between them. It’s not conducive to teamwork if even a team wanted to come together.

So what did US Airways/American learn from this? Though US Airways was the acquiring carrier over American from a transactional perspective, US Airways management has quickly come in and said that they would keep the systems that were already in place almost across the board. Once the transition is done, then the team can jointly decide if future changes should be made. This helps to avoid infighting from day one, and it also helps maintain operational integrity.

At American, it’s far too early to say you have one team working together, but at least they’re on the runway. United seems to be sitting in the penalty box, waiting for a departure slot. Of course, building a unified culture is not easy. It takes a big strategy and then a million little pieces of solid execution to get things to start to gel. There is no switch to flip. But it’s the little things can have a big impact.

For example, American just recently announced its new operations center would be named after the legendary and much-admired Bob Baker. Bob oversaw operations at American from 1985 until the turn of the century. American would probably look a lot different today had Bob Baker succeeded Bob Crandall running the airline, but sadly he was taken by cancer. He’s a man who deserves his name on the side of American’s ops center. Legacy American employees can take pride that their tradition is being respected while legacy US Airways employees can be proud to be joining an airline that has such a rich history. (Of course, they need to make sure the US Airways legacy has a place as well.)

At United, you hear a lot of talk but you don’t see this kind of action. The executive team is too busy putting together reasons why the airline is underperforming for Wall Street instead of building a culture. These excuses always seem like a scramble and they don’t often make sense. They blamed the revenue management team a few months ago for revenue underperformance, but the excuses didn’t really seem to add up. On the cost side, United brought in both McKinsey and BCG, two expensive consulting groups with mixed results (that’s being generous) in the airline industry, to create a plan. This is the kind of stuff that’s core to the business. You shouldn’t need a consultant to tell you how to run your airline.

If United really wants to cut its costs, the best thing it could do is to start running a better operation. After all, year-to-date, including regional partners, United has canceled more than 5 percent of its flights. That’s more than American, Delta, Southwest, or US Airways. It also had more than a quarter of its flights delayed with a 72.9 percent on time performance. That barely beat Southwest, an airline with its own real operational issues, and fell far behind industry leaders Delta and US Airways. This isn’t an isolated performance. United hasn’t been a operational leader in recent memory.

Running a bad operation is incredibly expensive, and it creates ill will with your customers. Sure, there are a bunch of technical ways you can look into fixing the operation, but one that impacts it from every angle is the culture. If you have a group of people all working together toward the same goal, things have a way of fixing themselves. Of course, you need to provide those people with the tools to do their jobs to even have a shot at success. See, it’s a lot of little things that add up quickly.

So how do we fix this? I don’t know the full answer. Of course, I don’t work there and I certainly don’t know where the bodies are buried. But the real problem is that management doesn’t seem to know how to fix it either. What I do know is that as long as people are publicly blaming the Continental side or the United side, United is going to struggle.

Working on the culture may not be the top bullet point on the first page of that McKinsey Powerpoint deck, but it’s certainly where I’d start.

[Original engine maintenance photo via Shutterstock]

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241 Comments on "Blaming United’s Problems on Continental (or Vice Versa) is Exactly the Problem"

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Neil S.
Guest
How did Delta handle its merger to get a different result? I know we all love bashing Delta for its frequent flier program, but as someone who flies them almost exclusively due to an unshakable corporate contract, the crews are almost always friendly and fun, the pilots seem happy when they visit us before the flight, and the gate agents also seem to be in a good mood. I know I shouldn’t jinx myself, but until this past weekend, I’d never had a mechanical issue in over three years of flying. (But that’s not a culture thing.) Striking to see… Read more »
Matt
Guest
Neil, I have been a frequent traveller on pre-merger Continental(US-Asia/Europe) and the same on a post-merger United and I think that Brett hit the nail perfectly as Nick has stated, and i have unfortunately witnessed. I have had the opportunity on many a flight to sit next to FA’s from both carriers, and I always a simple question, cannot say it the same each time, but i always ask sort of what is their opinion of the other, have they integrated, what is their perception of United, etc.. from the conversations I have gleaned a few points.. 1. They all… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member
I generally believe the Continental service and product were superior, but I am absolutely shocked that the pmCO crews continue to make announcements like this. If I were in management at the new UA, this kind of behaviour would warrant discipline. As far as I’m concerned, you keep your internal disputes/dirty laundry behind closed doors. All the customer should see is smiles and one big fake-happy family. Of course, the service culture in America is nearly dead anyways, so I’m probably asking for the moon. I’m waiting to see which airline is the first to put a tip jar out… Read more »
bayareascott
Guest

Flight attendants from each side do not work on the other’s sides equipment, since they do not have a combined contract. So whatever comments you might be hearing, they do not have to do with working on the “other” equipment.

Charles
Guest

YES> Thank you for clarifying that. Sub-co planes are newer, and have the touch screens mostly for entertainment.

Matt
Guest
They do not have a combined contract, but that does not mean that FA’s from CO are not flying on UA equipment to get to site, esp on international routes. The comments I hear is that they do not want to work on the “other” equipment” and I do believe that is pretty clear in the statement above… A combined contract is a matter of time, it should have happened already, and that is part of the problem… As a frequent flier and a customer, i totally agree that one should not have to witness dirty baggage and horrible service,… Read more »
Ryan
Guest
While it is true that current United Management is penny wise, pound foolish(started by Kellner)! The biggest problem is that basically everything at legacy United was wong! It was an airline whose last decent decision, was buying Pan Ams Heathrow routes, before that Pan Ams Pacific routes and SFO hub and essentially nothing since! It looks good on paper only. All the aircraft are wrong: from 777’s, and 757’s that have the wrong range and engines! The 747’s are old and of little use to a US based airline’s business model! All the hubs face either low cost competition, legacy… Read more »
Charles
Guest

Sadly I think you are right. The merge was a bad idea all around.

cnovak
Guest

The difference with Delta..is that is wasn’t a merger. It was an acquisition, which changed the rules of compliance where it came to what system to follow, what direction to take the company, etc.

Juan
Guest
They should have just used the United systems. I was burned during the switchover to the new CO based reservation system. I purchased a ticket for relatives using FF miles. The system took the reservation but didn’t issue a ticket number of book the actual flight. I spent 2 hours arguing with them with relatives sitting at the desk at the airport. We battled because CO system required a PIN to purchase tickets with FF miles. You could login with a password but the PIN was needed for FF purchases. United didn’t have a pin system and one was never… Read more »
IO
Member

IMO, a couple of things made the results different for DL

– The DL ceo had been the ceo at NW so he knew the culture and probably had a lot of the group leaders’ buy-in to influence the rest of employees. Also knew the financial, operational, and marketing ways of NW.
– Both DL & NW were bankrupt, so they had the similar experiences and probably expectations.

nicholas.irving
Member

You didn’t hit the nail on the head…but took a sledgehammer to the nail…I lobe this article

John
Guest

I don’t understand why they cannot fire Jeff. How many quarters of terrible results does it take. Plus a reset at the very top by bringing in someone not from CO or Ua would show the employee that management is ready for a change.
Something other than cut backs and devaluations need to happen!

TomF
Guest

Smisek is also chairman of the Board of Directors, and the BOD is mainly lapdogs with little experience in the airline industry, so the chances of a BOD insurrection are very slim until we get another few quarters of laggard performance racked up.

matt weber
Member
I cannot speak to the staffing issues, but I have to assume they have been managed about as well as United equipment purchases in the same period. United has a long history of failing to plan for the future, along with being severely allergic to spending money on capital improvements. In the current narrow bodies, I don’t think United ever bought anywhere near the maximum available Takeoff weight. So while other carriers very successfully deployed the 757 on relatively long thin routes, United’s 757 had neither the engines or the MGTOW available to fly these missions. Both could have been… Read more »
PHLLAX
Guest
Matt, A couple of things you should consider – the UA 777 fleet are some of the oldest frames produced and 22 of the 52 from the sUA side are the 777-200 “A” market airplanes, while the all from the from the sCO side are the 777-200ER. Twins were only being flown trans-Atlantic at that point as well, nobody flew them trans-Pacific. In addition, the Trent was not even launched when they first placed the order. While newer engines are available and they can always increase thrust with a software update and a check, it is difficult and complicated to… Read more »
Muqhtar
Guest
A bunch of UA’s decisions regarding motors stems from the UA232 Sioux City crash in 1987. It was determined that a defective disk in the GE motor shattered into many pieces, severing the DC-10’s hydraulics and causing the crash. This defect was later determined to be a nitrogen bubble that got caught in the part during the foundry process 18 yrs prior. GE subcontracted the manufacture of this particular part to Alcoa. An ultrasound, X-ray or other quality inspection should have found this and caused the part to be scrapped. United sued GE for this. GE then countered that United’s… Read more »
matt weber
Member
Several comments. First the NTSB found dye in the alpha inclusion in the failed disk from UA 232. That means the flaw was visible in at least one maintenance inspection, and quite possibly several. The A320’s as purchased by United are incapable of transcon operation with a commercially viable load. They never bought either enough weight, or enough engine. Even with the full MGTOW and big engines, B6 had to install Aux tanks in their A320’s to give them transcon range, and apparently in very unfavorable wind conditions, they still have trouble. Thats one of the reasons B6 was interest… Read more »
ExUA
Guest
Matt – You are spot on. I worked at UA for 4 years. Worst 4 years of my 25 year aviation career mind you, for all the points that Brett put forth in the article, and some others, but with culture and inept front and center. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Brett too was employed there. But I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But back to aircraft choices. I was part of a team that decided the most recent 737NG purchases. Also in the mix was the A321Neo. In those discussions, not once was any of the… Read more »
haolenate
Guest
When people aren’t happy, they don’t want to come to work. And when they ARE at work, they are doing the bare minimums or not really going above and beyond. Then you get new hires, still wet behind the ears, and they see this and start picking up those people’s bad habits. And that’s when you get – United. :P I believe that culture is everything right now. I’ve been doing a lot of American/USAirways flying, and some of the staff are still in “former” mode – delivering good service, but they aren’t as perky and upbeat as before. Kinda… Read more »
Meghan
Guest

Great post, could you, Brett, or someone here quickly explain the operation issues at Southwest you mentioned? Thanks!

Carl
Member
I think there’s an additional thing going on at United, and I have to believe it starts from the top. I don’t think management listens very well. And I think management hasn’t demonstrated truthfulness and candor – everything is always spin. I don’t think they like to hear what they don’t want to hear, and as a result I don’t think they hear the truth. People aren’t encouraged to give bad news or reality, they are encouraged to tell management what it wants to hear. So management is making decisions based on false premises. It doesn’t feel like they listen… Read more »
jetlag_47
Member

Carl you are absolutely spot on. They didn’t pick the best of both but the cheepest of both.

Realist
Guest

Carl I don’t disagree with anything you say really but want to point out that the horrible coffee taste is likely due to using the aircraft water. AA had the same situation: performed a taste test, picked the best coffee but it tasted horrible when they rolled it out on the flights. After investigating they determined the cause of the horrible taste was the water they were using to brew the coffee.

Carl
Member

United was using Starbucks prior to that, and it was among the best airline coffees out there. The reason United gave for the change was the Starbucks didn’t want to keep supplying. Almost certainly an untruth, or at best United wouldn’t pay the price that Starbucks wanted. Soon afterward Alaska switched to Starbucks while for 2-3 years United’s coffee was an embarrassment. Even now it isn’t as good as it was.

It wasn’t the water. And it certainly wasn’t “taking the best of each airline”.

Jeff
Guest
Carl, I fly here after coming off 5 years military leave and I can unequivocally say you are spot on. Nobody has fun with the passengers; I’ve tried on several occasions to get captains to go back to at least first class and none will..so I do it now! I love talking to the folks, joking about if they are ready to go to Alaska when we’re on a flight to Hawaii, talking with the kiddos (especially UM’s and handing out wings). But, as you say, we have a HUGE management problem as that is all anyone at the top… Read more »
DK Mashino
Guest

Jeff, I know this wasn’t your whole point but I’d like to add, I fly on Delta’s “dark” 757s out of HNL 2-3x monthly — literally, old 757s with barcaloungers in first, drop-down screens, and old oven-style overhead bins (and none with wifi) and I happily fly DL over United.

I guess my point is even in spite of seemingly shabby equipment, the thousands I spend monthly are worth it when I get a smile, a joke now and then, and overall great attitude.

It’s sad though about United. Happy flying!

John
Guest

My God! HEAR HEAR!!

B6
Guest

great post Jeff!

as a regular CO flyer I was shocked to fly first class HNL-LAX on an old UA 757 with the 1980’s style drop-down screens (that barely work) and no wifi. I was laughing when the flight attendant dropped the screen down after takeoff. The article was correct united has done nothing to upgrade their aircraft and now these 757s are being fazed out anyway for 737NGs which is a good thing.

MD
Guest

Another biased Continental fan, hahaha…this site is full of you guys. You say there was nothing being done being done to upgrade United’s aircraft? I was in maintenance at United and I know the aircraft were being upgraded before the merger. This is one of the aircraft that was upgraged with lie flat seats and big video screens in front of you. This is United before it got Con-Taminated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyjKhInVj8Y

B6
Guest

right, so that transcon airplane from 2010? so why did I fly the same POS 1980s era 757 a month ago? LMAO – united needs to ditch these antiquated airplanes TODAY and replace with 737NGs with direcTV

Nick Barnard
Member

Well, except the DirecTV signal probably doesn’t cover the off shore areas.. And if it does, the plane might not be able to get it. (DirecTV requires a special equipment in Hawaii..)

Carl
Member

I couldn’t care less whether an aircraft has DTV

Frankly I find the UA seats have (had) better lumbar support than the CO seats. Not sure yet about the slimline seats.

IFE is not at the top of UA’s issues IMHO

MD
Guest

You sound like a Continental employee more than a customer. The new 737NG is noo goood….get it, ng for nooo goood…It’s got slimline seats with no cushion so uncomfy as hell and extra row so they can pack you like sardines. Currently, those flying the Hawaii routes have no entertainment system and passengers are calling them boring. It’s all documented in the new United Facebook page. Look it up. The new United is cheapened to death thanks to Continental management.

Hey
Member

If, in fact you are United employee, which I seriously doubt, you would know, excepting recently delivered aircraft, Direct-TV is available on all 737-900s – to all destinations, including to/from Hawaii.

However, “Live” aspect of Direct-TV can be interrupted on lengthy over-water flights – yet, the stored content will be available.

MD
Guest

I’m no longer an employee and you are absolutely right. Direct TV is installed on most of the 737s according to United’s website. I was just going by what someone said that they flew on 737-900 and it didn’t have a video screen and no entertainment. One of my relative from Honolulu said the same thing that there was no entertainment on the plane they were on but I don’t know what type of aircraft they flew on. She said the flight was boring. Question for you, do you need wifi to get Direct TV and need your own device?

Carl
Member

There have been many, many 739’s put into service without any IFE or power. I’m not sure they are installing DTV any more.

There are also some 738’s with no DTV.

But this isn’t the main issue facing UA

Needs Work
Guest
Nice article. Not sure where to start there are so many issues with United Airlines. Legacy United had deferred lots of maintenance on its entire fleet. For example, after the airlines were merged, many of theLegacy United 757’s, had to have extensive corrosion control on on them to keep them airworthy. For example, I saw thousands of rivets being replaced on the fuselages some of these old United airplanes. And this was done at the Continental maintenance facility at Houston Intercontinental Airport. Many of the old Legacy united 757’s are now parked in various bone yards. The reason for this… Read more »
Spirit FF
Member

One of the problems merging UA/CO was integrating two massive CRS systems. Fortunately for AA/US, both were on SABRE, so on that end, it will be a lot smoother transition.

Carl
Member

US is on its own version of SHARES and will be shifting over to AA’s system

Nick Barnard
Member

That being said the employees from pre-2005 US Airways used to use SABRE, but ten years is a while to be away from an airline.

Jackmcback
Member

And AA will be soon moving to NextGen SABRE.

John
Guest

AA has not committed to next gen Sabre as of yet. That’s been going back and forth for years now.

David SF eastbay
Member

For one thing, they should have stayed with Apollo. Also just because CO leaders are running the company doesn’t mean they know what they are doing or knew what they were doing in the first place.

Everytime the company I work for has had a new owner, things go down hill from common sense to lack of employee training. It’s all about doing thing for less money to matter how bad it makes things. As long as you can keep customers/accounts/etc believing you know what you are doing that’s all companys care about anymore.

Chuck
Guest
As an employee of the merged airline, I think a lot has to do with management being penny wise and pound foolish. As an example my workgroup just recently got a merged contract after years of negotiations. The UA guys had been working on an expired contract for years. Negotiations didn’t really make progress until the labor relations people were taken out of the process. Having two workgroups created a lot of inefficiency. We are finally now able to work together and ask each other for advice – and this is something that should have taken place before we were… Read more »
IO
Member
I think the problem was and is a lack of integrity, starting with Bethune. Through his charisma he was able to effectuate the perception that was not true in reality. Now Smisek, a Bethune hire, who does not posses his charisma continues to try to effectuate the same perception without the same results. He continued with the tradition of calling employees ‘co-workers’ but then is found within a year trying to fly larger jets between CAL hubs in violation of the existing cotract. Now, it can be argued that this limit should not be but both parties agreed. He also… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I think you’re wrong about Bethune. I don’t have a lot of time to go dig out the From Worst to First book, but it seems that he delivered on what he said. Is that not integrity?

IO
Member

I may be wrong about GB. I remember on one occasion where he denied rumors about his departure only to announce a week later his departure. I rest my case in that cal was not run w integrity in that it did not survive as a stand alone and that a GB hire who he still supports has done this. Look at the annual reports and his book and determine for yourself how much was charismatic spin and how much was truth.

Reality Strikes
Guest
GB took a struggling continental and reenvisioned it with the customer first, their service was great… this is taken from wikipedia “Under his leadership Continental’s stock price rose from $2 to over $50 per share. Fortune named Continental among the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America for six consecutive years. In his final year piloting the airline Fortune magazine ranked Continental 2004’s No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline, a title it earned again in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.” when the merger occured, it was Continental that was the healthier airline, even though it was smaller, it did… Read more »
IO
Member

thank you for responding/providing your thoughts. You are right that CAL was struggling in the early 90s as it came from under Lorenzo and did win various awards while under GB/LK in the mid/late 90s early ’00s. Perhaps i’m too ignorant in expecting that Smisek, who is a GB hire and was part of the turnaround team, is not able to manage the merger.

trackback

[…] A well-informed article on the state of United today http://crankyflier.com/2014/07/10/bl…y-the-problem/ […]

Trent880
Guest

I know the common refrain is to “fire Jeff” but honestly, that won’t fix much of anything, because the rot is so much larger and deeper than just Jeff. In fact you listen to Jeff and things make sense and sound good, but as you go down the ladder the message gets contrived and diluted into complicated, paralyzing, expensive inaction. I don’t know what the answer is but “fire Jeff” won’t work unless it involves laying off half of HQ as well.

Carl
Member

Fish rots from the head

You cannot fix the culture of this company without someone at the top who believes and lives and exemplifies the culture

Chris
Guest

I agree with Carl. If the CEO is not providing the correct vision and leadership, the corporation is heading nowhere fast. He is missing the leadership skills to manage a successful brand.

For example, on every inflight video, Jeff tells us that we have never had it so good. This creates dissonance in the customer’s mind as it does not match the their personal experience. That’s the quickest way to damage a brand.

Trent880
Guest
My point is you don’t need scissors to fix the organizational structure, you need a battle axe and a bulldozer. Best case scenario is UA gets a new leadership team from outside of UA/CO; worst case scenario: internal promotion. Re: expectations I think it’s clear that underpromising and overdelivering was WN’s brand. Cheap and on time, and they’ll be nice to you too. CO was similar with clean/safe/reliable, Nail those and anything on top is a bonus. Now UA has “friendly” which it can never deliver on, never mind the basics like reliability, so it disappoints everyone before it even… Read more »
Spirit FF
Member

Trent…but ‘cheap’ ultimately cost WN millions of dollars in the merger. WN made a big deal not charging for checked bags. Do you know why they don’t charge? Their SABRE system they use is so CHEAP it can’t handle surcharges. They realized all the money they were losing out on after they bought AirTran. That’s one of the reasons the merger took so long – they wanted to reap the bag charges from AirTran as long as they could.

Trent880
Guest

The WN/FL merger is a whole different story, and arguably more of a mess than UA/CO, but WN’s customer service numbers have been at or near the top for decades, because you could count on them to be affordable and on time, regardless of the abacus underpinning the entire IT network. Regardless of the problems now, that strategy has paid HUGE dividends for decades.

Carl
Member
I don’t necessarily think you need a bulldozer nor do I think there’s evidence to condemn the entire organization. Most of the middle management is probably made up of hard-working and well-intentioned people. I don’t think they have been given the right direction and right resources and right culture. Great leadership can get a lot more out of their people. Right now this leadership isn’t honest with itself or its people or its customers and the leadership doesn’t seem to have a vision or strategy. It is time for a change. They’ve had four years. At some point doing the… Read more »
John
Guest

Spot on Trent880.

Greg
Guest

First – Cranky – thanks for the most balanced and well-informed post on this topic to date.

@MattWeber – Fascinating color. Fleet is destiny in this business – didn’t realize it was that hampered on the 777 side.

A
Guest
Mergers are difficult to manage at any scale. I’m not particularly a fan of them because the value added is usually quickly lost or squandered. In my own field I’ve seen a number of firms purchased or merged and the result 5-10 years later was an overall weaker company than the individual companies were prior to the marriage. In the case of United, Cranky hit the nail on the head that they were a weak company pre-merger. I think United (all airlines for that matter) felt they had to merge to compete post Delta-Northwest tie up. It’s great that Delta… Read more »
Spirit FF
Member
A, actually, that’s technically not correct. Alaska has merges! Alaska got it’s start in 1944 as Alaska Star Air Lines (it ultimately goes back to McGee Airways) as a combination of several flying services. However, in recent history, Alaska has had two major mergers – Jet America and Horizon. Both were major steps in the history of the airline. Horizon, in 1985 signed a major code share agreement with UA (not UAX, but it probably would have led to UAX agreement at somepoint). However, AS pulled the rug from under UA and purchased Horizon in 1986. We all know how… Read more »
J. Morse
Guest

Spirit FF: Thanks for refreshing my memory. Alaska’s acquisition of Horizon was strategic and brilliant. The combined Alaska/Horizon appears (at least from the outside) to be a well oiled-finely tuned machine.

Dan
Guest

I find this article timely as I’m currently sitting on a United flight that has already had an equipment change for maintenance reasons. And now the second plane has maintenance issues so we’re just sitting at the gate.

Dabo
Guest

Good luck, Dan. I feel your pain!

Frank
Member
I think Brett nailed it as well, though I do differ in one opinion about the choice between SHARES and APOLLO. My opinion is that choosing between SHARES and APOLLO for a Passenger Service System (PSS) is similar to choosing between a knife and a gun to commit suicide; the methods are different but the results are identical. The real choice UA needed to make was to move to Amadeus PSS, called Altea. Though Altea has its problems it is new technology and a platform that is much more robust than either SHARES or APOLLO. Notwithstanding their choice to dump… Read more »
jaybru
Member
It takes a long time to develop a culture, maybe a little less to lose one. I’m sure readers of this blog have lots of opinions developed over many years of travelling. I, for one, look back on airline mergers/consolidations/take-overs and wonder, how did anyone think these cultures could ever combine well. Thinking of: AA and TWA, DL and NW, UA and CO, and AA and US. Did anyone ever think the cultures of these airline could mesh? If they did, or could, praise be to that management! I think UA and CO could have been the easiest to be… Read more »
Dabo
Guest
You’re spot-on, Jay! Customers are a commodity to the major airlines, to be traded amongst the other major airlines. This is especially true if you live in a major hub city, such as Chicago, Denver, or Houston. UA understands that their hub position creates natural advantage in routes, schedules, etc., and they milk that for all they can. It’s very hard for me to justify flying Delta to New York if I have to connect through Atlanta, when I can get on a direct flight from IAH and save a lot of time. That said, I have been considering it… Read more »
Needs Work
Guest

If the customer comes first then let’s change How they do business.

At United, they’ve had the same theme song, Rhapsody in blue, for 30 years. This song reminds United ‘s customers constantly,of some previous poor experience. Are you kidding me? No company in the world wants a song to continually remind its customers about a previous bad memory. But United continues to do so. They should start with getting rid of this theme song.

jboekhoud
Member

I think the biggest mistake of the UA/CO merger was keeping the United name. I’ve been told it was because United had better name recognition internationally, and while that’s probably true, I’m not sure the association was positive. Al Qaeda and Hitler also have great brand recognition, but I wouldn’t slap either on the side of a plane.

Spirit FF
Member
Funny you say that! I’ve said for years, America West should have kept the name instead of ‘US Airways’. The name was changed from Allegheny Airlines to USAir because too many people used to call it Agony Airlines! In fact, if you pull up flight trackes, US Airways shows at ‘AWE’ and the call sign is still ‘Cactus’ something I hope they will keep even with the AA merger. I get all the ‘international stuff’ but fact is, people think of America, they think of the west! America West! Amazing when you think the surviving carriers are Delta, United, and… Read more »
phllax
Guest

Keeping the old HP call sign was management’s way of throwing the pilot group a bone.

And while many think the name was changed to US from Allegheny because of the reputation, it had more to do with the airline growing out of it’s regulation routes after deregulation ended into parts of the country such as Texas, Arizona and Florida.

Spirit FF
Member

Well, I hope AA at least keeps the ‘Cactus’ call sign. After all, the great flag carriers have (or had) unique call signs: British – Speedbird, China Airlines – Dynasty, Pan Am – Clipper, Canadian/CP Air – Empress, Aer Lingus – Shamrock, are just a few.

Bick Rowen
Member

US Airways is an airline with a heavy east coast presence… America West may have not been the best choice for the post-merged AWA/USA operation.

Do you believe cactus will survive the American call sign? Is there some way we can bet on this?

Denmeister
Guest

It has already been established that ‘American’ is to be the surviving brand/call sign/etc.

Bick Rowen
Member

US Airways is an airline with a heavy east coast presence… America West may have not been the best choice for the post-merged AWA/USA operation.

DesertGhost
Guest

The “Cactus” call sign was used to avoid confusion between “American” and America West.” Obviously, that conflict no longer exists, so I would expect the “new” call sign to be American.”

Spirit FF
Member

DesertGhost,

Actually, in 1983, ‘America West’ was the call sign of the original carrier. However, there was a lot of confusion at airports like PHX, LAX, and others with America West, Southwest, Northwest, SkyWest. Pilots and controllers were getting confused with the ‘west’ in the callsigns. Since AW was the new kid on the block, they forced them to change call signs.

DesertGhost
Guest

Thanks for the clarification.

Carl
Member

The name is the least of United’s problems.

Run a reliable airline, and be good to customers. That will create the reputation. Worked for the old Continental.

As a global airline, the name Continental wasn’t really appropriate. It’s also a large tire company in Europe.

denita mitchell
Guest

They kept the name because United has only filed for bankruptcy once while Continental has reached its max Management wants to file again and void all employee contracts. All employees know this and are just waiting for the axe to fall. Just look at what they are doing. Creating disloyalty among customers and employees. Eastern all over again. Do not buy too many tickets in advance on United. You will be sorry.

Ascot
Member

Do you really believe this. I am no fan of the leadership at the current UA, but this is fairly extreme. Care to weigh in on some other great mysteries, JFK, Area 51, the disappearance of MH370?

bmv07039
Member

I agree with everything JayB said. The customer comes first……not in UA’s case-third or even lower. The product that UA is selling stinks. Whether it be in economy or Business/First. Everyone connected with UA is unaware that the customer pays their salary. They are not doing you a favor letting you fly UA. It’s the other way around!!!!!!

cahilldot
Member

we flew united the day of the computer merger …what a mess .we returned one week later –it was still amess.United workers said the continental system they had to use was never taught to them–HARD TO BELIEVE- no orientation to it.. flew them 2 weeks ago still cranky gate agents and FA’S need much more customer service TRAINING

BR
Guest

Dotti, The UA folks WERE trained. The company brought back retiree’s and paid them on a contractual basis to go to stations to train the UA folks on the system. Time and time again, the UA folks threw their hands up and walked away from the trainers, more or less saying, “this sucks and I refuse to learn it”. I am not sayin ALL were like that, of course, but if they had been more open to recieving good instruction, it would have worked better.

Lizzie
Guest

I’ve been told the training was so poor and the new system, so primitive and complicated, some United agents ended up in the hospital from stress and lack of sufficient training and support during the “change-over”. Even today, the SHARES system keeps changing weekly and the agents find out about the changes when they come to work. No training. No advance notice. Fend for yourself is the new motto.:/

bayareascott
Guest

A retiree is a qualified trainer, and that is good enough for you? Let’s get serious here.

JoEllen
Guest

Are you kidding ?
The “trainers” that came to our station from IAH and EWR just elbowed us out of the way, talked to us like we were 5-year-olds and were about as helpful as NOTHING. Arrogant, selfish and trying to make us look bad. That pre-SHARES “training” we got in January 2012 was FIVE days – yes 5 days – we were supposed to cram in decades of experience. Nothing about new mileage awards, policies for irrops. Oh, and I forgot the continuous use of the word NO !!

Dino
Guest
I work as a contractor for a large Federal agency and I see that throwing up of hands with old-timer Federal employees all the time–they just say ‘well, that’s now things were done for years and we did just fine without this new system’…so the irony is that contractors are often hired to carry the water of the organization because it’s so difficult to fire an underperforming Federal employee. As I write this, I do 5x the work of a Federal worker just a few feet away that spends most of her day IM’ing with her grandkids. Based on the… Read more »
Dabo
Guest
I have been flying United ever since the UA/CO merger. I am one of the perpetrators of “United ruined Continental”. Based on a lot of what I read in the original post and in the comments to follow, there is probably some truth to that statement, but not necessarily whole truth. My chief complaints since the merger are (in no particular order): 1. Lack of a complimentary meal at meal time. CO’s microwave sandwiches, while likely to win NO gourmet awards, were at least a way to stem the hunger tide for a while if you were stuck on a… Read more »
MilesMath
Guest

I agree with your view as an ex-CO flyer. I liked the consistent upgrades as Gold elite, meals in coach and newer Boeing jets. Since the United merger, I’ve seen quality decrease, less pleasant staff and older planes. Meanwhile, JetBlue continues to provide a great flying experience and I’ve recently been impressed by Delta’s performance – better management of delays, friendlier staff (offering comps when delays do happen) and nicer planes.

MilesMath
Guest

I agree with your view as an ex-CO flyer. I liked the consistent upgrades as Gold elite, meals in coach and newer Boeing jets. Since the United merger, I’ve seen quality decrease, less pleasant staff and older planes. Meanwhile, JetBlue continues to provide a great flying experience and I’ve recently been impressed by Delta’s performance – better management of delays, friendlier staff (offering comps when delays do happen) and nicer planes. Recently a colleague of mine opted for a 10 hour drive back home rather than wait around and see if his United flight was actually going to take off.

Jim M
Guest

I’m Premier Platinum and rarely get an upgrade. It was much better on pmCO.

kirkwoodj11
Member

Very well written! They certainly need to clean house, put aside antagonism and move on. It’s been very frustrating from a HVF perspective to see things continually worsen, especially after living through the CO turnaround in the 90s. If they don’t get their act together, there will be no act!

spin
Guest
While I think the cultural issues are a real problem, I think its more important to look at where they came from, and what is putting off passengers. in 2010, the sUA folks were happy as a clam. They thought they were getting new/better management. Many folks on the sCO side wanted to stay independent, but the smarter ones (some FAs/pilots) saw that the industry was changing and that as Cranky correctly puts it, being a “regional” carrier would not allow them to compete for corporate business with DL and a UA/US merger. What needed to be done was to:… Read more »
Realist
Guest

Umm, if Parker has integrated labor groups it’s news to me (and most of the labor groups)

You Missed the Point
Guest

Its sad to see examples in the comments section of THIS article regarding the subject matter of this article. People blaming one side or the other. If you don’t move on you shall never succeed.

MLS in SF
Guest
What’s frustrating with United is that they have the capacity to offer good service. I generally like the Economy Plus offering for example. And on a recent trip to Europe out of Newark, I thought that the Business Class offering (767) was very good. The food in particular was top notch. But there is a problem with consistency. Because they can also offer terrible service too. I recently did IAD to SFO on a badly aging A320 in Business Class. The seats were uncomfortable. No entertainment system. The food was disgusting (next time just serve some McD, at least it’s… Read more »
Don Beyer
Guest
A major problem is United has outsourced so much of the operation. A few facts. In the late 90’s, UA/CO had over 130,000 employees. Today it’s less than 90,000. In 1998 Ohare was 80% United CO mainline, UA Express 20%. Today it’s 30% mainline United, 70% UA Express. Newark was 70% CO/UA mainline, 30% CO Express. Today ir’s about 50-50. Denver was 70% mainline in 1998, today ir’s 30%. Many major city airports are now almost or are 100% United Express when in the late 90s they were 100% Mainline. Cities like Detroit, Atlanta, St; Louis and Kansas City. Call… Read more »
bayareascott
Guest

And the outsourcing continues…

XJT DX
Guest

It is worth noting that many of said outsourced companies used to be wholly owned and part of the airline in the late 90’s (Eagle, Continental Express, etc.), and the employees were all considered internal. When they were spun off, most did not have a choice of staying with the mainline carrier, but had to stay working for the new entity. Smaller aircraft use is more prevalent, but the ‘outsourcing’ has been a result of spin-offs as opposed to the mergers of today.

XJT DX
Guest

It is worth noting that many of said outsourced companies used to be wholly owned and part of the airline in the late 90’s (Eagle, Continental Express, etc.), and the employees were all considered internal. When they were spun off, most did not have a choice of staying with the mainline carrier, but had to stay working for the new entity. Smaller aircraft use is more prevalent, but the ‘outsourcing’ has been a result of spin-offs as opposed to the mergers of today.

Don Beyer
Guest
Just some more thoughts. UA and the others destroyed the Travel Agent. The absurdity of making one pay a fee to buy the service they are selling. The mergers have shut down hubs so now there are dozens of city pairs one could fly in a direct path between that now one has to fly backwards or past the destination to get there. From the moment you call them and througout the trip they have done everything that has been thought of to piss people off. In 1976, One could drive out to KCI, walk up to the TWA or… Read more »
Bick Rowen
Member

Don, thanks for sharing this information on outsourcing. I personally believe UA is hamstrung by it’s over reliance on regional aircraft.

The US monitory policy of inflation (which is akin to clipping gold coins in ancient times) may have more to do with ticket price increases since the Braniff & TWA days.

TomF
Guest
This is probably the best summation of the UA-CO debacle I have seen. You had better believe Doug Parker at AA is watching this tailspin, popcorn in hand, and knows not to repeat the grievous errors of Team Smisek. Besides all the obvious tactical gaffes like SHARES, labor deal foot-dragging, offloading too much lift to unreliable regionals, etc., there is another cultural problem which I don’t think this management is equipped to overcome. Team Smisek used to run an OK but minor airline whose whole value proposition was built around two impregnable fortress hubs and a gaggle of unique or… Read more »
Lizzie
Guest

Well said

morgan
Guest
As a 20,yr flight attendant for legacy United, you are all correct. The culture is horrifying. Management has made coming to work petrifying. They have been doling out high levels of discipline for minor infractions. We are consistantly understaffed by several flight attendants on ALL of our international flights. We are spread so thin and given little tools to make our customers comfortable. We are exhausted and they have involuntarily laid off flight attendants who have up to 7,years of seniority on the legacy side, while hiring on the continental side. As of October, they will he involuntarily surplusing flight… Read more »
Charles
Guest

I am on ‘the other side’. But, I have witnessed in the past and present your supervisors doing this to you guys and we think it sucks! Because this attitude is now bleeding throughout our company. It was not this way pre-merge for us, sorry. It really is infuriating.

Needs Work
Guest
This is pure management by fear and intimidation. This of course is the easiest style of management but the worst style of management. At the old Continental airlines this was the excepted style of management under Lorenzo. Then Gordo came along changed it for the most part but a few pilot managers continued with this style. The old Freddy “Krueger ” Abbott, VP of flight ops, used this style to intimidate his pilots. It eventually got him fired because the pilots got together and sued him for harassment as well as Continental airlines. The great thing about this is that… Read more »
JoEllen
Guest
Wow, I feel for you. I only wish your union issues on parity etc. were moving faster than Summer 2015 ??? We were hung waiting a long time for our IAM contract to be voted on and ratified. Foot dragging was evident because CO dba UA tried everything to discourage the union vote and fought the IAM every inch of the way. Problem for them was WE (UAL employees) way outnumbered CO and voted YES for the IAM – how they (CO) wailed and moaned when they had to join the union. The union is not perfect but certainly saved… Read more »
Ascot
Member
Morgan, If the culture is so horrifying why aren’t people leaving the job? You are making broad generalizations that diminish your argument. Not every flight is short staffed, didn’t your union negotiate a ‘fence clause’ that keeps the pmCO crew on pmCO planes and same for pmUA? Isn’t pmUA overstaffed with thousands of flight attendants on leaves? How can you be petrified to come to work. Overall flight crews are unmanaged. Does your supervisor fly with you every day and are you rated on your performance every day? Most people work in direct contact with their supervisor, you have almost… Read more »
John G
Guest
To the UA flight attendant…I have a simple solution for you. If hate your job so much…quit. Walk away and find something else to do. You quit and there will literally be a thousand people standing in line to take your job. At least. And with all of its problems…plus they would do it for less than you. Stop bitching. This is your job. Do it with a good attitude or take a walk. Because there are a whole lot of people who would love to do it. I have criticism of UA and CO management to be sure. But… Read more »
flyer
Guest

A 767 or 777 with 2 fa’s in economy. Please. Not even legal. Talk about an exaggeration

John K
Guest
United is forcing over a thousand flight attendants to relocate. Most of these flight attendants have over fifteen years with the United. They are forcing subsidiary United flight attendants to swap bases with subsidiary Continental flight attendants to “balance the bases.” They can get away with this because the CO flight attendants and UA flight attendants still do not have a joint contract. They are forcing loyal employees into an impossible and unnecessary situation so that they quit and can be replaced by newer cheaper employees. Most of the flight attendants can’t afford to uproot their families so they will… Read more »
35yearsanfa
Guest
Ok, both sides are being displaced to even out the numbers, I know this because I’m a Flight Attendant for UA. For those of you making comments on here get your fact 100% before posting please. I have read all the comments, there’s lots of value here but there’s also some comments made on untruths. I as much as anyone wanted this merger to go through smoothly at the moment it is a tough place to be. Firstly, we all here want the airline succeed. We see the issues. I work on the front line, I care about my passengers… Read more »
Hey
Member

Can’t say I disagree with anything you wrote. Looking forward to working with you, someday.

Tom
Guest
I am an employee of the merged airline. You hear employee on both side blame the other airline for our problem. However the article seems to put the blame on the sUA side. If you look at the top management team 16 out of the 23 are former sCO. Only 5 are from sUA. So who is flying this airline? Second, two major employee groups are working without a contract and management seems not to care about expediting either. I am not an expert but if an employee is happy at his or her work that translate to a better… Read more »
Realist
Guest

Tom, from what I’ve heard (I have several friends in Houston who used to work for CO pre-merger) most of the lower levels of management were sUA because they kept the HQ in Chicago and many sCO managers didn’t want to relocate. Perhaps there’s a disconnect (cultural and otherwise) between the (mostly sCO) Sr. Mgmt and the (mostly sUA) people tasked with carrying out their strategy/plans.

Lizzie
Guest

They cleaned house in Chicago post merger and booted most valuable and experienced PMUnited managers. They were replaced by CO managers.

Charles
Guest

YOU are correct.

Charles
Guest

I meant to type they cleaned house in IAH too…and most of CAL’s great management is now at Delta.

Daniel
Guest

| Look at Delta, are they buying new planes like United?

Delta has ordered 100 739s (22 have been delivered), 45 A321s, 10 A333s, and still has 10 B788s on order. And I guess we can’t forget the 88 717s that Southwest is paying for.

jboekhoud
Member
@ morgan and John K: I truly do not mean any disrespect, but so what? The rest of the world has been relocating for work for years now. Boeing tells an engineer her job is moving from Washington to a new plant in South Carolina. Citibank needs an executive in London instead of New York. A surgeon moves to North Dakota because there are no local hospitals hiring when he finishes training in San Francisco. Relocation is a constant threat in other fields, particularly now with all that “right-to-work” nonsense happening. Airline employees have been protected from this because airline… Read more »
Bobber
Guest

I think the ket difference is that the engineer from Boeing probably doesn’t get paid utter shit to get abused at work on a daily basis. That’s my guess, anyway.

jboekhoud
Member

As neither an engineer nor a Boeing employee, I wouldn’t know.

What I do know is that the engineer is a highly-skilled professional with at least four years of specialized post-secondary education and often one or more graduate degrees who doesn’t work in a customer service field, so it’s a bit of an apples vs. oranges comparison.

Bobber
Guest
So, perhaps not the best comparison to have made in the first place, then? Someone who ‘is a highly-skilled professional with at least four years of specialized post-secondary education and often one or more graduate degrees’ will probably willingly relocate around the country for their job, as compared with others who merely spend decades of service, for little return. Just saying’ Bottom line, NO US-based carrier is actually very good, at all (sorry Brett, it’s just true); and you know that I’m a UA stalwart. Jeff even probably knows that if you treat people like shit, then they tend to… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member

No, I think the comparison still stands. I’m not sure the fact that she’s more skilled makes the engineer any more enthusiastic about moving.

My point was that the engineer is not paid “utter shit” as you put it because she’s a highly-educated and highly-skilled worker, more so than a flight attendant. The engineer also is not in a customer facing role, so she shouldn’t have to deal with unhappy customers on a daily basis.

Nick Barnard
Member
The two airlines mentality comes from the top, and there is one major artifact of that hanging around: the company name. Its United Continental Holdings. I’m surprised it is still that, I expected a name change a year or two down the line, but we still have it four years later. I’m not sure what Delta did when they merged with Northwest, but American and US Airways did this simply on the first day of the merger: American Air Group. No interim holding company name. (Though for those paying attention, the format of the name is a nod to US… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Its also interesting that AMR Corp came from American’s stock symbol..

Daniel
Guest

| I’m not sure what Delta did when they merged with Northwest

It’s simply Delta Air Lines, Inc.

joe
Guest

Umm …. united was merged into continental then the company name was changed to united.

Nick Barnard
Member

Joe, I was referring to the holding company, which is still United Continental Holdings. The Company profile page on United.com: http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/company/default.aspx goes to http://www.unitedcontinentalholdings.com which is copyright United Continental Holdings, and has this “Stock Ticker
United Continental Holdings, Inc., is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol UAL and began trading on Oct. 1, 2010.” from http://newsroom.unitedcontinentalholdings.com/corporate-fact-sheet

southbay flier
Guest

DL made it very clear to NW employees that this was going to be Delta Air Lines and set the values and expectations of a Delta employee. It might have been a merger on paper and DL did take some ideas from NW, but DL management were very quick to make everything that said NW say DL as quickly as they could.

JoEllen
Guest

This was fairly easy for Delta as, with their merger with NWA, the IAM unionization of CSRs was voted out. How hard could it be if the company calls all the shots and there is little or no negotiation about wages, work rules, overtime, etc. Not putting down DL, I think they’re a good airline and their employees seem happy, but..

southbay flier
Guest

There still could have been a lot of resentment and negativity among the former NW employees and while I’m sure that happened, it wasn’t too apparent to me as a mid-level elite customer of DL at the time.

Also, in the end, I think the merger has turned out fairly well for most employees of the combined company. They are getting decent profit sharing checks quarterly and their customer service reps are treating their customers well.

Realist
Guest
Brett, Parker may have stated publicly that he was going to keep AA’s systems in place for the most part, but that’s not what’s happening in reality. Certainly for the primary systems they are adopting/adapting AA’s system or strategy because it would be completely stupid to do otherwise, but they are analyzing trade-offs for most of the secondary systems. The cost is not just the resources required to perform these analyses but also the divisions you describe so well, and the effects may not surface for a long time. Also, none of the labor groups (except the FAs) are very… Read more »
Eric C
Guest
One of the reasons why Independence Air was so beloved by employees, who were in turn well regarded by their customers, was that they had formerly been United Express and in changing brands they were able to throw off the baggage that comes with working for United. Same people, same job, different culture. Moral of the story: “culture” is something you earn by giving your people the tools they need to do their job well. It’s not an attitude or a motivational poster or a company sponsored barbecue, it’s someone going to work knowing that they can do what they’re… Read more »
trackback

[…] here is Cranky Flier on the mess that is United and how management is looking in all the wrong places for a […]

Christine Pincket
Guest
I am also a legacy United fa and have been at the company for 29 years. Back then our management wasn’t great either and wanted to turn us into a transportation company to include hotels. Remember Vis’ a Vis’? Customers see the blame game but it may be true that Continental had the superior product as I do remember Worst to First, I just know that there is a REASON you will see blame and that is because this management team is from Continental and largely believing it is best to micromanage their workers instead of TRUSTING them to carry… Read more »
Hey
Member
So what? A route I once enjoyed working at Continental, is now being flown by United flight attendants; with some crew members that are perhaps junior than I. A route I once enjoyed working at Continental, is now being flown by United Express flight attendants; with some crew members that are perhaps junior than I. A route I once enjoyed working at Continental, is now being flown by a Star Alliance airline; with some crew members that are perhaps junior than I. If, it be true, you have 29 years seniority at UA, then you should know routes are here… Read more »
charles
Guest
As a sub-CO fa and a former UEX carrier fa…this divide is NOT new. As our little RJ’s served the UA stations were ALWAYS met with hostility by UA ground staff and crew. We were reminded on a DAILY basis, no matter how hard we tried to be on time, no matter how much I cleaned my trashed plane, as the ground staff refused…that we were in fact NOT UA employees and NOT a part of their team. Even their own customers were treated poorly if they so happened to be taking an RJ flight or a (non ua tail… Read more »
Hey
Member
Fearing my previous post would be too long, I omitted mentioning the anger I perceive sub-UA employees spew, as it would have been too long. I too am a sub-Continental flight attendant – with 23 years seniority. “dem some angry folks ober thare,” was my mantra whenever, pre-merger, I was asked how I felt about United and Continental’s pending “merger of equals?” Flight attendants resist change, and Jeff has openly stated individuals not adaptable to the new model, should leave. Perhaps Christine’s statement that “75 percent of United’s flight attendants were hired BEFORE 1990!” reveals one of the major underlying… Read more »
Carl
Member

I’m sorry, but 4 years in, from a customer perspective it’s one company. If you think customers care whether you are former CO or former UA, you are delusional. The company must be fixed but fighting between CO vs. UA serves no useful purpose whatsoever.

Charles
Guest

Yes…they care. We get asked all of the time…..THEY ask US…we don’t shout it out. Trust me. I am there almost EVERY DAY.

Carl
Member
I’ll say again: the sCO-sUA divide serves no useful purpose. It’s beyond time to come together. Your livelihood is dependent on the financial health of the company. Internal bickering hurts the company and the customers. Sure, some customers have their opinions about which side is better and want to validate it. As someone who flies both sides I can tell you that while there certainly are some differences, neither side is uniformly better than the other, and there is far more variability in the experience delivered within either sub than between the subs. I do think the leadership issue needs… Read more »
Spirit FF
Member

Charles,

I’ve traveled several times on UEX, but not mainline. I especially enjoy the DFWLAX service operated by SkyWest even though it’s a 3 hour ride on a CRJ700. I told the crew on multiple occasions they over-represent United. The flight attendants (which are old battalacks on UA), are you vivacious, attractive, happy, and friendly, and will do everything including cleaning the lavs during turns.

I’ll avoid UA Mainline, but I always enjoy SkyWest’s service on the CRJs.

southbay flier
Guest

I really don’t get the whole s-UA and s-CO thing 4 years after the merger happened. By this time, DL/NW pretty much had their act together and their labor divide was much wider than UA/CO with NW being union and DL not being union.

I flew UA last September from SFO – KOA and it was a miserable experience in F. I get treated much better flying Y on DL. UA is going nowhere until some serious changers are made.

Ascot
Member

Christine, Interesting comments. Isn’t this issue of who flies which routes a result of your union adding a fence to their merger contract? United shrank in 2008 when the 737’s were sold. Most people that are laid off aren’t given an option to continue employment with another division at the same company. They are shown the door.
It is an amazing statistic that 75% of pmUA crew were hired before 1990. Speaks to the value employees place in their jobs/careers.

Red
Member

UA and CO both were good alone but for some reason combined they just cant get it right. Ch-9 being an example was on every UA plane now its coming off yet they say they are going to add it on to the rest of the fleet, I know not a lot of people used it but for some it made flying fun and not near North Korea status flying UA is now.

Rabi North
Guest

Continental’s past success falls squarely on the shoulders of one Mr. Gordon Bethune. He knew how to lead and to inspire employees. ‘Sorry I didn’t get to work for him. Mr. Smisek is an attorney, not a leader.

UAL/CAL would be wise to aggressively court Alan Mulally to fix its woes.

CP
Guest

As the classic saying goes: culture eats strategy for lunch.

Great post.

Bundaroo
Guest
They didn’t take the best aspects of each airline to make a better one: They took the CHEAPEST aspects. And they seem to wonder why nobody likes the result. I’m a Subsidiary United employee and I can assure you we are living in a culture of fear and intimidation. What used to be a rather mean and inflexible management structure at United has now become an openly hostile Continental-led one. Actual insults and damage are continuing to increase even now–this very week–as whole groups are being laid off and S-UA flight attendants forced from their bases against their will (S-CO… Read more »
Charles
Guest

Um…we also are having involuntary displacement. Not as many as sub-UA true…but we are. Check your facts please.

Bundaroo
Guest

Charles: I just learned yesterday about the displacement on the Continental side. So I do indeed stand corrected.

DesertGhost
Guest
Based on my limited observation, it seems the best way to develop a new culture in a merged airline is to motivate and incentivize employees to operate a great airline where they can be proud to work. After the America West / US Airways merger, despite all of the “East” versus “West” animosity, the main focus of the management and employees was running a professional, on-time operation where bags arrived safely with the passengers. Even with all of the infighting reported in the media, the employees pulled together and were consummate professionals as they did their jobs. In doing so,… Read more »
JoEllen
Guest

Sooooo glad I retired and took that lucrative buyout (November 2013). Really, I wish CrankyFlier and other airline consultants, writers, bloggers, etc. would just interview UAL customer service employees. They will be hard-pressed to find one (premerger UA) employee who will not agree that moving onto SHARES from FASTAIR was the beginning of a huge mess.

NB
Guest
From the airline’s perspective, it’s culture and from the passenger’s perspective, it’s inconsistency. As a pmUA passenger, I always knew UA’s shortcomings and I worked around them. Yes the planes were somewhat beaten up (as were the FAs) but the seating in E+ was generous and relatively comfortable and the reliability was good. Nowadays, the FAs are just as beaten up, they’ve shrunk the seating, removed the cushioning and killed the reliability. That’s for sure, but they’ve also introduced a level of inconsistency in the service culture. I personally didn’t mind the curt pmUA service (I could put up with… Read more »
Butch
Guest
I have sat here and read ALL the posts of everyone so far, and as a “new United” worker( not saying who I am a “sub” of) I can STILL see the hostility between sub CO and sub UA. After 4 years we are still blaming each other! STOP IT! You are your own person, if you want this to work make it work yourself – spread your GOOD and maybe your good will spread to your co worker. Let;s face it we are not winning passengers over these days but just a simple “Thank You for flying UA” CAN… Read more »
Carl
Member

Great post. Great attitude.

The CEO should be reaching out to you and figure out how to spread your attitude and commitment. Of course from how you describe him, he’s too self-absorbed to consider that.

Greg
Guest

Thanks for exposing all of this. We learned a lot. It’s all on the record here and being widely read. There is now no excuse for changes not to be made as millions will be holding UA to account based on what we’ve read here – especially the employee grievances, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated you more.

Ron Krueger
Guest
I’ve always thought upper management should be treated as though they were pro sports coaches, especially in this type of business where performance is the key and the goal. If you not getting the job done and the team is suffering because the lack of talent at the helm is clearly to blame, then they should be replaced…immediately! They gave it a shot, dropped the ball, and couldn’t recover from their own rediculous decisions, your fired! Next?……i’ve spent 26 years of my precious life with this underachieving airline only to be replaced by a bunch of kids working for a… Read more »
Jim M
Guest
United’s problems are multiple: 1) Too many regional carriers. They can’t help each other out — ever. If an ExpressJunk plane breaks (happens all the time now) and a Skywest plane is available, it doesn’t matter… you’re stick. Basically, UA is trying to juggle seven or so airlines that are operationally independent. 2) Jeff Smisek cares more about Wall Street than those who are paying his bills. He should be forced to sit for 5 hours on one of those exit row seats that were just installed on some A320s. They are absolutely awful. 3) UA went with shares because… Read more »
JoEllen
Guest
Your point #3….Your website use is/was NOT on SHARES. If it was you would truly feel the pain we felt. SHARES is a black DOS screen with no tab stops on fill-ins and the inability to handle irrops as in changing a one segment (cancellation) to a 2-3 segment connection. SHARES was not made to handle that; it can’t be done. SHARES cannot do a through bag tag if a person has two separate reservations on the same day; ie., 1. PHL-ORD and 2. ORD-SFO. We have to call a help desk to cancel one segment, rebook (overbook it on… Read more »
JoEllen
Guest
Addendum: Jeff Smiseck’s recent comments about UAL employees not being trained properly (pre-merger) is what our “leader” is saying. He tried to retract with a statement to employees that his intention was to tell the Wall Street community that United is investing their capital to provide tools and training for employees because “we value and recognize you and that we are becoming competitive and successful” (to that effect). Twisted lawyer psychobabel at it’s best. So we are insulted to the ultimate height (CO CSRs excluded, of course) and everyone wonders why UAL agents have a poor attitude ??? God knows… Read more »
Cary
Guest
I am someone who does not work in the airline industry, but has had a lifelong fascination with airlines and airplanes. I did interview at Alaska 3 days after I came off active duty military and made it to the final interview but alas it wasn’t meant to be. I never tried again, but still follow it as much as I can. As a former Premier Exec and 1K I flew almost exclusively with United through the 90’s and early 00’s and if I didn’t fly UA I flew CO as it fit into most of my travel plans. I… Read more »
Hey
Member
Very well written, yet, I do not believe whether using “Purser or Service Coordinator” is as important as to you think. However, in my opinion, you got it right with “human synergy” component. Since the merger, sub-Continental flight attendants (FA) have had to adapt to changes too – some good, and some very bad. For example, one of the best change was the opening of new in flight – bases, where we co-exist with sub-United. By far, one of the worst is the elimination of one FA from 757-200 and 737-900. Additionally, a recent notice reads, in the near future,… Read more »
Cary
Guest

I used Purser and Service Coordinator as an example because I just the FA’s joking about who was the Service Coordinator and being thankful they didn’t have to say Purser.

In healthcare, our reimbursements are now being tied to patient/family satisfaction….. Wouldn’t it be great if all service industries followed the same model? Not that all passengers are perfect and don’t present any problems….

Hey
Member

At pre-merger Continental front-line employees received a monthly bonus, dependant on on-time performance.

Post-merger, this program expanded to include other customer satisfaction matrixs.

So, in response to your question, it is being done…..

MD
Guest
United employees were rewarded and given bonuses for on time performance way before the merger so it was not just Continental employees that were getting those. In 1994 when the employees of United became employee owners they had free car or cash drawing every six months for those who had perfect attendance for six months until the Employee Ownership Plan expired in 2000. Yes, the long time United employees and retirees of United blame Smisek and the arrogant Continental employees for most of the problems happening at the new United because everything that is being done is the Continental way… Read more »
Hey
Member
You wrote, “Continental employees think ….the United side were not customer friendly, disgruntled, and angry because they were all beaten down by management.” They were, were they not? If not, then I praise sub-United employee, whom, after recent bankruptcy; pay cuts, loss of pension, change(s) in work rules, etc., nevertheless remained, customer friendly, non-disgruntled; happy and at no time did they feel “they were all beaten down by management.” Yet, after struggling through Continental’s bankruptcy during early 1990, I easily empathize. During and immediately after that bankruptcy, not only were various work-groups fighting management – they fought amongst themselves too.… Read more »
MD
Guest
Like I said, you are one stubborn person just like Smisek. I don’t want to blame Continental but they’ve taken over the operation at the new United and there’s no one else to blame for the shitty operation. Just like Cranky, you are biased and a fan of Continental. You and Cranky thought the operation at United was bad and couldn’t get any worse. Well it did, thanks to Continental. Here it is again, SHARES is junk and make the customer agent cranky because they are powerless to correct the problem fast. The same shit that happened here is what’s… Read more »
MD
Guest
Yep, they were beaten up and angry towards the mismanagement of United prior to the merger and that’s why a lot of them were excited to merge and thought Continental was going to be the savior. Even though they were beaten up, they were still very professional and took care of the customers. Today is different, the management of Continental shoved a low tech software system that makes their job harder. United is having all kinds of problems that is causing flight delays and cancellations because the software being used in maintenance and flight management that came from Continental is… Read more »
Hey
Member
MD, First, I’m delighted you acknowledge the state of pre-merger United. Many have commented on it’s “premier” status, and the Continental merger ruined that. Yet, as Cranky’s article reminds us: “Anyone who thinks United was a truly great airline is smoking something. It hadn’t been great since the last century.” Neither was Continental perfect – can any organization make that claim? Seems to me such a claim inevitably leads to decline; quickly overtaken by its competition. I cannot comment fully on SHARES system – a program I am unfamiliar. What I can do, as outside observer, is to ask whether… Read more »
MD
Guest
Yep, You sound like Jeff Smisek, stubborn and full of excuses. Everything that is being done at the new United is cheapening the airline. That’s Jeff’s mentallity, he is trying to provide the cheapest product and thinks the customers will still fly United. As you can see from the customer’s comments here, they are leaving. The only reason SHARES was chosen was because of the cost. Continental owned it while Apollo FastAir cost money to keep and maintained. I guarantee you, United was a much better airline service wise and had better perks and amenities before the merger especially its… Read more »
Hey
Member
MD, You wrote: “United was a much better airline service wise and had better perks and amenities before the merger especially its international flights. Ask any customers who flew United internationally and they will tell you…” Well, I did! I asked Cranky and he replied: “Anyone who thinks United was a truly great airline is smoking something.” But as article’s title suggests, it is the “[b]laming [of] United’s Problems on Continental (or Vice Versa) [which] is Exactly the Problem[,] Get it? As I wrote in last post, perhaps systems are just different? Though you feel strongly otherwise, keep in mind… Read more »
JoEllen
Guest

Retired employee and thoroughly disgusted but at least I’m out of it. After 30+ years it’s hard to fathom that United (once a great airline) has come to this. Smisek, et al and his lawyers need to go back to law practice; they obviously don’t know how (or care) to run an airline.

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