Can United Fix Itself?

Discussion in 'United Airlines | MileagePlus' started by HiIslands, Aug 14, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. HiIslands
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    HiIslands Silver Member

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  2. Captain Oveur
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    Captain Oveur Gold Member

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    How can they fix itself when they do not recognize the problem?
     
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  3. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    "After a blog post in which I described a few of the remarkable things I saw at United, which was roundly criticized as a puff piece, I decided to ask readers if they thought United could straighten up and fly right. "


    ... And then I then wrote another meaningless puff piece.
     
  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The answer is no. Question #2 is whether Christopher Elliot can fix himself,
    and I suspect the answer is also no. Same with Brancatelli, unless he's
    already dead.
     
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  5. HeathrowGuy
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    HeathrowGuy Gold Member

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    I'm supremely confident that United's managers are aware of the current problems, the causes of the current problems, and the solutions for them. That said, the issues in UCH problem-solving are several:

    1. With respect to operational performance, it will take months to get the sUA fleet healthy enough from a maintenance standpoint to fully restore schedule reliability (and to ensure adequate support for sCO birds as they increasingly spend more of their operating lives flowing through non-sCO maintenance hubs).

    2. Other sourcing issues causing problems behind the scenes will steadily improve in the next few weeks and months as old contracts expire and New United finally moves to single sourcing across the subsidiaries in all aspects of the business.

    3. Trust and turf war issues between and among midlevel and senior managers in the new company. Old United management culture was very territorial and "mysterious", old Continental management culture was very "flat" and transparent. The meshing of these wildly disparate cultures has NOT gone well by any measure.
     
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  6. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    It seems to me that prior to the merger (or even just a year ago) the sUA fleet was reasonably healthy. Sure, the 747s had their issues, but overall it didn't seem to be in melt-down mode. Was this caused by some merger decisions?
     
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  7. Sedosi

    Sedosi Gold Member

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    Yes, but can they fix themselves in time, before investor confidence is shot?

    I think that's the larger question. Eventually one or two of their competitors are going to figure it out, then the sharks will really be in the water.
     
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  8. 8MiHi

    8MiHi Silver Member

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    Like a picture puzzle where the pieces have to be moved around to finally fit together, UCH has to go through a process that isn't pretty at times. I am rooting for them to get there sooner rather than later. While I have had some issues with them since March, they have still gotten me where I (and my family) have wanted to go safely and on time. To me, those are the primary requirements to a successful merger.
     
  9. HeathrowGuy
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    HeathrowGuy Gold Member

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    1. It is misleading to assume that the sUA fleet was reasonably healthy at the close of the merger. The United fleet has been "unhealthy" for years on account of cost-cutting that made the financials look good for a merger.

    If you peel back the layers of the onion on United's supposedly awesome pre-merger operational performance, you'll notice that UA consistently suffered from a far higher rate of delays and cancellations attributable to mechanical issues compared to its peers and especially Continental.

    2. Why did the operational problems manifest in recent months and not, say, in late 2010?

    United managed to "mask" the unhealthy state of its fleet by being inefficient. By inefficient, I mean that United padded the heck out of aircraft operating schedules -- the lower utilization rates helped to keep some of the potential for mx troubles at bay, and provided more time to fix them or find replacement aircraft. United also kept many more spare aircraft in its system than is typical to more readily allow for aircraft substitutions.

    In recent months, New United attempted to optimize the utilization of the sUA fleet by upping usage to levels approaching the sCO side of the house, reducing spares to more typical levels, and redeploying aircraft thoughout the combined network (including to stations and hubs with minimal ability to easily fix some sUA aircraft types). This, of course, caused the true state of much of sUA's fleet to reveal itself. Chronic maintenance deficiencies are neither caused nor cured at the drop of a hat, so it will take months to restore the health of sUA's fleet through the adoption of sCO maintenance practices.
     
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  10. Captain Oveur
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    Captain Oveur Gold Member

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    HeathrowGuy, I don't know whether those assertions are true or not, I take what you say at face value.

    I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Smisek and Company, but it has been about two years of them knowing what was going on at United under Tilton (and I don't dispute for one second that Tilton's UA was being primed for sale).

    Continental's management had plenty of time to look at Glenn Tilton's books before the merger. If they are as half as smart as portrayed, they should have been able to accommodate for the shortcomings you mention. Some of United's shortcomings didn't require looking in the books and signing non-disclosures, and professionals at Continental should have recognized that and acted accordingly. They didn't....and the result is what you're seeing right now.

    Even more tangibly, part of the problem right now is Jeff Smisek's videos. Think about it.....some people are having some frustrating times with United, whether it's PNRs, upgrades, fees, delays, cancellations or whatever. Then, when some people are still stewing, here comes Smisek on a video doing this smug, masturbatory video on how great things are at United.
     
  11. Mike_K

    Mike_K Member

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    Can someone elaborate on the health on the fleet? Are you guys saying the planes are broken, run down, past due on maintenance or just being run past their ideal lifespan to the point where they're down for maintenance semi-regularly?
     
  12. cvsara
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    cvsara Gold Member

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    Ah, and how we use to hate/love the old UA
    And, I would bet the Continental flyers wish they could go back to that very same ol' feeling.
     
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  13. HeathrowGuy
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    HeathrowGuy Gold Member

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    Here's the thing about airline maintenance. It's the part of an airline's existence that's easiest to "game" from a financial standpoint. Even if Continental's managers and lawyers performed the best possible due diligence review, and got a legally compliant numbers on the maintenance spend, it still wouldn't have been good enough to accurately diagnose the health of the fleet.

    Why? Because the story behind the maintenance spend doesn't get decently known until long after merger close. For instance, my airline might spend 20% less than your airline to maintain a 757. That cost differential could be because my airline is more labor-efficient in maintaing a 757 than yours. Or because I use less-expensive but still acceptable quality spare parts. Or because I spent a ton of money 3 years ago to overhaul engines and fuel pumps on my 757 fleet (keeping mx issues due to those items to a minimum). Or because I'm not doing much preventative maintenance, just the minimum FAA says I have to do, and focusing primarily on just fixing stuff when it breaks. Or some combination of all of the above.

    Due diligence review can't fully capture the mx narrative, it takes a comprehensive review of the aircraft mx logs and company mx procedures to get any idea as to what's going on at present -- and to top it all off, maintenance issues may not physically manifest themselves until many months or even years into the future.
     
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  14. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Along the lines of Captain O's questions, wouldn't padded schedules have been rather obvious? That stuff is published and doesn't even require an special access to secret data, it seems.
     
  15. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Padded schedules might just be there to keep on-time numbers better. Or to handle more restrictive crew scheduling requirements. Or many other things. It doesn't solely point to MX issues.
     
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  16. HeathrowGuy
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    Schedule padding is readily detectable, the full set of reasons behind it are part of the mystery that accompanies a merger and doesn't get known until sometime after that deal has closed.
     
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  17. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Well, fine, so UA hid the fact they had shitty maintenance and CO hid the fact that they had a shitty CEO. Combine it and welcome to the new UA, I suppose :)

    Edit: oops, censoring bug?
     
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  18. KenInEscazu

    KenInEscazu Gold Member

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    While I have been a fairly vocal critic of this new airline (it is "new," as it is nothing like either of its original parts), I sincerely hope that they do fix themselves. The number of available destinations alone plays a key role in being advantageous to FFers, and they have an above-average human resources pool.

    I can't help but wonder if Smisek was indeed a good CEO for Continental, but the combination of ego (now CEO of the world's largest airline) and being in over his head (the new giant requires skills the lack of which he could previously conceal) could be the culprits in the disastrous manifestation of the merger. All things considered, I can't see how any reasonable person could find fault anywhere other than the space between his mouse and his chair. He is calling the shots, and he could fix this if he had the ability minus the narcissism to do so. It could be one or the other or both, but who else could possibly be steering the ship so dreadfully far off course?
     
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  19. LETTERBOY
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    LETTERBOY Gold Member

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    I generally don't take anything Christopher Elliot says very seriously.
     
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  20. mrredskin
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    mrredskin Gold Member

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    would it spay or neuter?
     
  21. Sedosi

    Sedosi Gold Member

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    The general feeling among CO customers before the merger was that Smisek was no Gordon Bethune.

    That's not to suggest there wouldn't have been the same merger problems had Bethune been in charge but the guy understood customer service and its importance to a company. There's anecdotal evidence out there that the current regime doesn't have a good grasp on that.

    As I said earlier, I think they'll turn it around because there's still talent at the new airline. I think this is true as well:
     
  22. HeathrowGuy
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    Gordon would be well out of his element in the current industry environment. He was a great operations and people guy, but he was not that great when it came to the numbers side of the equation. In many ways, Gordon's deficiencies in the numbers area were masked by a record booming economy of the late 1990s, the reality that most Continental employees were significantly underpaid compared to industry peers at the time he assumed the CEO role (labor pay rates at Continental remained depressed through the early 2000s), and historically low fuel costs which made certain fleet acquisition decisions during his tenure a nightmare for Kellner and the d.r.S.L. during their reign.

    Gordon did many, many good things for Continental. But it's also a very good thing that someone of Smisek's disposition -- a sharp guy with an eagle-eye on numbers and who was willing to throw sentimentality as a justification for doing something out the window in every aspect of Continental's existence -- came into power at the time he did, to bring about the best possible endgame for Continental (and the best possible endgame for the old United, too).
     
  23. Black Cloud
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    Uhm, have you seen any of the new videos?
    In the latest round he talks about how they're investing in the interiors of the aircraft. He's more or less saying "sorry half of you had to gate-check your bag, we know that sucks, we're working on it."

    In another he talks about the role of customer-friendly technology at the new United. Again, an acknowledgement that the IT side of the house isn't perfect, but they're aware of it and investing in it.

    I'm not sure how any of that is "masturbatory." Unless you have an odd fetish.
     
  24. Captain Oveur
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    Yes, I have seen that video that you're referring to. It's not a single video that is played systemwide, there are a few videos that rotate.

    A lot of my feelings are based on the bar that has been raised by Smisek himself on those safety videos. While I do expect any company, let alone an airline, to have a certain standard, the bar is raised when you regularly re-affirm your commitment to something and regularly do not live up to the standard that is being touted.

    And when personal experiences contradict what he is touting, yes, it is wholly misleading and masturbatory.

    Maybe you haven't seen the video where he talks about how creating a new culture at United is important, treating each other how you would like to be treated. As part of a very forgiving society, I would like to at least hear an acknowledgment that things are turbulent at United, something that tells me he understands things are wrong, and what is being done to fix things. Something that tells me things are being worked on.

    Gate-checking bags is the least of United's problems right now. That practice has been going on since the Tilton days, when baggage fees were introduced. And if it was a top-level problem, a "more or less" means of saying sorry does not directly relate to frustrated customers. At best, that's skirting the issue. That's not the way I would like to be treated, again, the bar set by Jeff Smisek himself.

    United has a means of directly communicating with its customers. And they don't have to do it by airing out its own dirty laundry to the masses in the safety videos. They can communicate through a database of e-mail addresses they have. Via e-mail, I have been told many times that I should upgrade to the Explorer card, to buy this, to buy that. When it comes to spending more money with United, e-mail has never been a problem. Yet, when it comes to basic human communication, United is unwilling to deliver. Heck, I still have the e-mail from Jeff Smisek from October 1, 2010, referring to the promised land that's coming...so they know how to send direct messages to customers.

    However, even a simple acknowledgment has yet to be made. That lack of communication tells me they ARE running the airline from the corner office of the skyscraper (again, something Jeff Smisek mentioned) and blind.

    They need to get off their ass and stop with this "more or less" BS, and directly address their shortcomings. The cover-up being worse than the crime itself rings so true here.
     
  25. Black Cloud
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    First, let me say that I don't think the 30 second CEO message prior to the safety video deserves so much intense thought. I also, for what it's worth, don't see how he's failed to deliver in investing in the IT infrastructure or the interiors of the sUA fleet. Those things are facts. Just because you haven't seen the tangible results yet doesn't mean that they aren't occurring as planned.

    Regarding the whole way to communicate with customers; everyone's different. I send all of my non ticket confirmation emails from United (and everyone else) directly into my SPAM folder. Whether they are attempts to build ancillary revenue (which I don't fault them for) or "merger updates" (which I should actually probably read, but I certainly would take them with a complete grain of salt) it all goes into file 13.

    I fly every week. I fly UA most weeks. I really don't see doom and gloom on the sUA side of the house (where probably 80% of my flights have been this year). Yes, the maintenance of the sUA fleet is troubling, but that will be solved in time (and it's really on worse than AA or the NW issues DL had). And of course I'd like the agents to be a bit more proficient in SHARES, but that's slowly and steadily improving.

    No, not everything is perfect but I respect that UA is a business and they are altering the business model to succeed in a complex industry. Sometimes that's good for me, sometimes it's not. If and when UA fails to deliver on what I need them to or there's a more competitive offer, I'll stop flying them (like I did with US). It hasn't come close to reaching that point and I think, when compared to the DL/NW merger and the US/HP merger, the teething pains could be a heck of a lot worse and I'm only expecting things to get better.

    The reality is if you want to be bothered by every little thing that goes wrong, or that someone post's about on an IBB, then you'll be miserable. Maybe I'm taking an overly zen approach to everything, but you know what, as much as I dislike traveling (for work), it's my survival strategy.
     

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