The Cranky Flier Interview: United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby

Podcast, The Cranky Flier Interview

If you know anything about United CEO Scott Kirby, you know that he is never shy about giving his opinions. Knowing that, I was pretty happy to get 20 minutes with Scott when he was in Long Beach at the APEX Expo on November 30.

Since this was happening right after the Thanksgiving weekend, I had to start with Omicron. We then went on to what he says is how the airline industry is measuring operational performance all wrong. And then we closed with a look at the future of regionals. After the recording stopped, I said to Scott that it sounds like he’s just having a lot of fun right now, and he enthusiastically agreed. It’s quite something to see such an engaged, energized, and directed airline CEO these days.

I have to apologize for not being better at cleaning up recordings. There is a little bit of echo (far better than it was before I did edits), but there is also some background noise from people coming in and out of the room that I just couldn’t easily get rid of. So, sorry about that, but I’m sure you’ll still find this worth your 20 minutes.

Download the episode here or listen below.

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5 comments on “The Cranky Flier Interview: United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby

  1. Very fascinating podcast episode, and there are some great management lessons in here for non-airline businesses. I’d love to understand more about the metrics that United focuses on and why… To Cranky’s point, and to Scott’s point, in general the rank and file employees who deal with the public (whether gate agents at an airport, clerks at the DMV, or customer service people in a call center) want to not be yelled at, by management or customers, and want to be able to help customers and fix their problems in reasonable ways. Anything that management can do to bring the focus back on “doing right for the customers” (in honest ways, not in the sense of looking to upsell or cross sell) is likely to make the front line staff’s lives easier and better.

    Unfortunately, the focus on the customer is often lost, as in many organizations the middle/upper managers appear to be better at managing internal politics and fixing blame (largely to game metrics, which are always at least somewhat imperfect, especially when used out of context) than at focusing on what is really adding/subtracting value for the customer.

    1. Agree, incredibly fascinating. And good interviewing, CF. Scott Kirby is something else.

      Here’s hoping that UA can break the commoditization trap that’s always plagued airlines. DL has gone that way, UA is trying, AA has the potential to mess it up, plus of course NK and F9.

      I am however still curious about UA’s network strategy, is it still making a premium on connecting small communities like pre-pandemic, or has that shifted?

      1. emac – Well, they ran into that whole “no pilots” problem on regionals and have had to cull a great number of small communities. So that piece of the puzzle is still definitely in flux.

    2. Well said Killroy! The only counterpoint I could make is when you the employee are forced to deal with a bunch of Karen’s/ Kevin’s on the job or as customers. That just adds so much more stress to an already stressful workplace.

      Noticing that this was recorded a short while ago, nice to see Scott Kirby being on top of the latest Covid news & not being forced to play catch up on something that changes on a daily basis.

  2. Scott appears to have no idea how badly employees are treated by supervisors and station managers. Employees are told during shift briefings that nothing is more important than safety, but the same supervisors then pressure ramp employees to violate safety rule to get an on time departure….. day after day after day. When an employee respectfully speaks up about this, the employee is accused of being insubordinate and threatened with disciplinary action. West coast Ramp Service station. Very stressful so I took a paid leave of absence and then forced to retire soon.

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