retail news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

I've been on the road the past week or so, and when I've been in the air, I've been flying United Airlines. The trip was booked long before all the contretemps about dragging people off airplanes and killing pet animals that have done so much damage to United's reputation, but I probably would've flown them anyway. For one thing, I'm a million-mile flier on United, so I get upgraded from time to time and on long trips, when I put a bag under the plane, it doesn't cost me anything. Plus, flying United gave me the opportunity to see how they were responding to the crisis ... and I knew I could get a FaceTime piece out of that.

The short answer to the question is that I'd give United a passing grade, but just barely. Not that they did anything wrong; in fact, I'd say they were about as personable and customer-oriented as I usually find them to be, but no better.

No better is, to my mind, not good enough. Not by a long shot, not these days.

To be fair, United has been doing some penance. It settled with the doctor who got dragged off the plane for an unspecified amount. It dramatically increased the ceiling on compensation when passengers are bumped from flights. And the CEO, Oscar Munoz, has gone to Congress in sackcloth and ashes, taking all the blame. (Actually, he probably was wearing a pretty nice suit, and I'll bet he flew first class.)

The thing that really bothered me, because it struck me as a major opportunity missed, was when they ran the video that they always show before the plane takes off. You know, the one where they tell us how to fasten our seat belts, because this is technology that is foreign to so many of us.

United's video has in recent years been kind of cutesy, using Olympic athletes and showing flight crews and attendants in various different locales to which the airline flies while delivering their safety message. And when I've been on planes, that's exactly what they've been showing.

As I say, opportunity missed. Because this would've been a perfect moment for Munoz to record a message to passengers in which he demonstrated that he takes the company's problems seriously, and that he puts his customers first. He could've said something like, "We've had a bad couple of weeks, and have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. We know that we have to work hard to earn back your confidence, and here's how we are going to do it..."

I have some ideas about that. I think they ought to offer members of their frequent flier program double miles for any flights taken from now until the end of summer. They could offer free wifi on flights. And they could do whatever they need to do to create a culture in which the people who work there are empowered and invested enough to make good decisions, not bad ones, understanding that they are responsible for the airline's future.

You know, sort of the same way that everyone who works in any retail store needs to be empowered and invested, because they are the ultimate asset, not a cost.

Tell you what else United ought to do. I made a crack before about how CEO Munoz, when he testified before Congress, probably flew to Washington, DC, first class. Well, if he's serious about fixing his airline, Munoz ought to make a commitment to only fly coach on United for the foreseeable future, and to make sure he's always in a middle seat so a paying customer can have the aisle or window. And he ought to tell the entire executive team that they're going to do the same thing ... because they need to know what that experience is like, and customers need to know that they care enough to do so.

From everything I've seen and heard, it strikes me that United is trying to manage its way through this crisis. It'd be nice - in fact, I think it may be necessary, if they'd actually try to lead their way through it.

By the way ... that's what every company in crisis ought to do.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: