United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby: I’m Impressed

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby: I’m Impressed

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I never thought I’d say this, but… I think Scott Kirby is doing a phenomenal job as CEO of United Airlines. Let me explain.

Why I was skeptical when Kirby moved to United

In 2016, it was announced that American Airlines President Scott Kirby would move to United Airlines, where he was appointed to the same role. This caught the industry off guard, because Kirby had essentially been the right-hand man of American Airlines CEO Doug Parker for a couple of decades, through two major mergers, dating all the way back to the America West days.

The implications of Kirby moving to United were pretty clear — Kirby was being groomed to become the CEO of United, while he didn’t see a pathway to that at American. Sure enough, in 2020, Kirby was appointed CEO of United.

Many of us were skeptical, and were worried that Kirby would turn United into US Airways circa 2008 (which made Greyhound look like Emirates, by comparison). Kirby was a notorious numbers guy, and was rumored to never come across a cost cutting initiative he didn’t like.

On top of that, he was taking over at United after a rather challenging several years for the airline:

  • In 2015, United CEO Jeff Smisek resigned, given that he was involved in a scandal, and frankly left the company in a pretty toxic place, following the merger with Continental
  • At that point Oscar Munoz was appointed CEO, who was good for employee morale, and perhaps he was what the airline needed at that point, but he wasn’t necessarily the most effective or knowledgable guy in the industry
  • The most significant thing United was known for in the previous five years was the dragging of Dr. Dao off UA3411

Even though Kirby has been in his new role for just over a year and during a pandemic, it has been fun to see a different side of him, which leaves me optimistic about United’s future.

Kirby took over at United at a challenging time

Why Kirby has exceeded my expectations

It has obviously been an incredibly challenging year for the industry, so it’s not exactly the most enviable time to be appointed CEO of an airline. That being said, Kirby has surpassed my expectations in terms of the way United has managed the pandemic, in terms of service, communication, and managing of expectations. On top of that, United is actively looking towards the future, and competing with Delta rather than American. United has become a leader on many fronts, rather than a follower, which wasn’t previously the case.

Looking at the passenger experience:

  • United became the first major airline to permanently eliminate change fees during the pandemic (even if other airlines followed with more generous policies)
  • United became the first of the “big three” carriers to bring back hot meals in first class
  • United is completely overhauling its narrow body fleet, to not only bring it in line with Delta, but arguably make it better than Delta’s
  • United has done the best job managing its operations during the pandemic, and unlike American and Delta, hasn’t had any operational meltdowns
United is introducing swanky new narrow body interiors

When it comes to communicating:

  • From the beginning of the pandemic, Kirby has painted the most accurate and realistic picture of how things were, and I think that’s admirable; while Parker said from the very beginning that everything would be fine and that one round of government aid would be more than enough to get American through this mess, Kirby didn’t say that (because he knew it wasn’t true)
  • Kirby said from early on that he wants to require employees to be vaccinated, and now United is the only one of the “big three” carriers that has committed to requiring that

Beyond that, historically Delta has always been the innovator among the major US airlines, and the one looking towards the future. I find it interesting how United is now the airline looking way ahead, whether it comes in the form of ordering supersonic jetselectric air taxis, or electric regional planes. We’ll see whether any of those concepts come to fruition, but it’s a surprisingly positive look for United, since historically Delta has been the “cool” airline with innovations like this.

While it might never happen, it sure looks cool!

Now, let me say that I don’t think that Kirby will turn United into Qatar Airways, and invest in the passenger experience endlessly. We’ve certainly seen United scale back some aspects of the Polaris experience, for example (even pre-pandemic). However, I do think Kirby will take a thoughtful approach to balancing these things.

In other words, I think he recognizes that people will pay more for a better product, but there’s no ROI beyond a certain point. And I think that’s fair enough.

Did Kirby have a change of heart, or…?

“So the guy who wanted to charge for bottled water in 2008 now suddenly cares about a premium experience, and wants to put TVs on all planes?” It’s a fair question. The way I view it:

  • Kirby was always number two at America West, US Airways, and American Airlines, so it’s anyone’s guess how much power he actually had to make the changes he thought made sense; he was there to execute Parker’s vision, and that can be a confusing thing to do, since he seemingly doesn’t have much of a vision
  • What works for one airline doesn’t necessarily work for another airline, and I think Kirby sees a different kind of potential at United; it’s hard to deny that United has the most impressive global route network (which United VP of International Network, Patrick Quayle, deserves a lot of credit for), and that’s another reason there’s value in United positioning itself as a premium carrier
  • On some level I think Kirby has something to prove, having been in Parker’s shadow for a couple of decades; I think of the “big three” CEOs, he’s the most motivated to leave a mark, and that’s showing

United still has a long way to go

Let me be clear — while I’m impressed by the direction that United is headed, not much will changing overnight. A while back I posed the question of whether United could become a premium airline.

While company executives are saying and doing most of the right things, the airline still has a lot of work ahead:

  • United’s new narrow body interiors look great, but it will be several years until these are available on a vast majority of the fleet; on top of that, United’s Wi-Fi is uncompetitive as of now compared to what American and Delta offer
  • United has a serious employee morale and customer service issue; personally I find United’s frontline employees to be several notches below Delta’s, and on par with American’s, if that
  • United sends the message of wanting to become a premium airline, but also has some policies that send a different message; for example, the airline has the most punitive basic economy fares of any of the “big three” carriers, which doesn’t feel very premium to me

So yeah, as much as I’m impressed by the direction United is heading, I feel like it’s only fair to balance it with this. The biggest issue United needs to tackle at this point is customer service. It’s something that Delta has mastered, and that’s no small accomplishment.

United still has a ways to go

Bottom line

When Scott Kirby moved to United, I was worried that United would race American to the bottom, rather than racing Delta to the top. Suffice to say that I’ve been impressed.

While there’s still a lot of work to be done, it’s exciting to see the direction that United is headed under Kirby’s leadership. He has been an honest and realistic communicator during the pandemic, United has led the way among the major carriers when it comes to many service additions, and United seems to be settings its sights on becoming the new Delta.

How that plays out remains to be seen, but so far Kirby’s time at United has been fun to watch.

How do you feel about the job that Kirby has done at United so far?

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  1. C. Donald

    Quayle, the VP of United’s International Network, came from American after Kirby, so it’s incorrect to credit him for UAL’s international presence.

  2. SEA SFO

    I think Kirby recognizes that United and US Airways (and even AA/DL to a much lesser extent) are two different airlines due to their networks. US Airways was a much more regional airline and had almost all of its hubs in second tier US cities and was largely built on north-south connections in the east and east-west connections in the west with little in the middle or long haul. A network like that can’t command...

    I think Kirby recognizes that United and US Airways (and even AA/DL to a much lesser extent) are two different airlines due to their networks. US Airways was a much more regional airline and had almost all of its hubs in second tier US cities and was largely built on north-south connections in the east and east-west connections in the west with little in the middle or long haul. A network like that can’t command as much of a premium and therefore cost is everything. United on the other hand has its largest hubs in the largest and most internationally-focused US cities which gives them a lot more competition, O&D, and long haul passengers which command a premium. It’s good to see someone at UA headquarters who finally recognizes the potential offered by the network and actually is motivated to realize it.

  3. LS

    “United sends the message of wanting to become a premium airline, but also has some policies that send a different message; for example, the airline has the most punitive basic economy fares of any of the “big three” carriers, which doesn’t feel very premium to me”

    Who expects basic economy fares to be ‘premium?’ Punitive? No. Simply getting what you paid for. Or not.

  4. Always Flying Somewhere

    @Ben

    Frontline employee behavior is such a subjective experience, but the few times that I've had interactions with AA personnel, I've gotten major attitude, indifference, or both. It was always "that's impossible", "I can't do that", or "it's FAA regulations". Perhaps you're treated better due to your elite status. While I've gotten some sass from UA employees, I've also gotten wonderful service more often than not

  5. WahineKai

    United has retired alot of Senior employees many of which are Continental Airline Agents who take with them the knowledge of their SHARES System. Spend the money to upgrade your computer system, train your employees in the classroom instead of web based and give them team building and customer service skill courses. I miss the knowledgeable Senior agents, I dislike the attitudes and of the younger and not so friendly Generation UA.

  6. Michelle

    They just need to rethink the visible tattoos policy. It completely goes against it becoming a premium carrier.

  7. Chris B

    Why are you impressed with someone doing their job? Are standards in business or indeed in the world today so low that we become surprised or impressed when a ‘leader’ does what he is supposed to?
    You have completely misunderstood Kirby’s raison d’etre. He came to United when he was told by Parker that despite plans for Parker to retire and Kirby was the Heir Apparent, Parker decided to remain because he felt he...

    Why are you impressed with someone doing their job? Are standards in business or indeed in the world today so low that we become surprised or impressed when a ‘leader’ does what he is supposed to?
    You have completely misunderstood Kirby’s raison d’etre. He came to United when he was told by Parker that despite plans for Parker to retire and Kirby was the Heir Apparent, Parker decided to remain because he felt he couldn’t leave due to some misgivings.
    Munoz who had made a huge turnaround at United had taken on the job when Smisek was fired and was the only Board member who would step up. Munoz knew he wanted to do this as an interim CEO, so when he saw the Parker-Kirby rift, knew that Kirby’s strengths were in route structure and planning - the backbone of any airline - , he seized the opportunity to get his replacement in place. Kirby brought in Quayle and Ankit Gupta from American to bring discipline to United’s route structures sealing his future.
    I attended a management meeting shortly after Kirby arrived at United. How he spoke, and what he defiantly stated of his contempt for Doug Parker was breathtaking and appalling. He told a 300+ Senior managers that his primary motivation for coming to United was to exact revenge on Parker for being passed over and was intent on crushing American to get the message across! In other words, United was a tool to do this…..there were some uncomfortable moments where nervous clapping by the applauding sycophants were accompanied by guarded grimaces.
    Nobody who has a modicum of decency would find such commentary or veiled threats to secure outright allegiance reassuring.

    Many leaders today are pure opportunists. I do not ascribe to such philosophies. The reasons why Delta and Southwest are the top in the US market is because Ed Bastian and Gary Kelly are true leaders who lead by example of decency, honesty and fairness. They provide a palpable yardstick for their employees and ultimately customers to measure and gain their trust, and in the process winning their confidence and business. Those are reasons for being impresssed by seeing consistent, improved results whilst others flounder looking for quick fixes, but with no vision for a sustainable future.
    We may not like Tim Clark or Al Bakker at Emirates and Qatar, but their customers consistently give them the highest marks for service, efficiency and upholding the image on an industry that has become overrun by some who see short term gains as the path forwards.

  8. Chris

    First, the incident with the passenger being dragged off was on Republic airlines not united. When you perpetuate the big lie you do a great disservice not only to the airline, but to yourself. And FYI the passenger was wrong. Second I find United employees to be far superior to that of delta, which happens to be in my opinion the worst airline flying. Maybe it's because they're non-union and the airline has no problem...

    First, the incident with the passenger being dragged off was on Republic airlines not united. When you perpetuate the big lie you do a great disservice not only to the airline, but to yourself. And FYI the passenger was wrong. Second I find United employees to be far superior to that of delta, which happens to be in my opinion the worst airline flying. Maybe it's because they're non-union and the airline has no problem spewing out anti-labor propaganda to get rid of pro-union employees. I will never step foot on a Delta flight, because I have a sense of ethics and morals. Too bad you don't. Third, I'll take United over American, Delta or any airline any day. Their route network, their service, their on board amenities, their facilities, their employes far outranks those of their competitors. Like it or not, United is the industry leader. American and Delta have a lot of catching up to do.

  9. Syon

    As someone who works in the industry, Kirby doesn’t seem to be the best fit. Yes he might be a great CEO so that the company will expand, but for the employees he doesn’t act in the best interest. We are severely overworked and underpaid, so basically abused by customers and management. It’s pretty sad

  10. david coslett

    I do not agree with you. Under Kirby domestic first class meals are inedible.
    (I bring my own} Saver awards are almost impossible to get and if you find one it has multiple inconvenient connections. Polaris has been gutted. Meals are not good wine selection comprises of $12-$15 wines I can buy at the liquor store. Staffing in Polaris has been cut. Service levels are mediocre at best.
    And at my Gold Level...

    I do not agree with you. Under Kirby domestic first class meals are inedible.
    (I bring my own} Saver awards are almost impossible to get and if you find one it has multiple inconvenient connections. Polaris has been gutted. Meals are not good wine selection comprises of $12-$15 wines I can buy at the liquor store. Staffing in Polaris has been cut. Service levels are mediocre at best.
    And at my Gold Level I have no chance of ever getting an up grade. Not because of ! K and Global Services, but simply because they sell the upgrades on their website long before elite members have a chance at them. They even removed newspapers from United Clubs!

  11. Bill

    Until someone fixes the UA FA attitudes which overwhelming convey to me that the customer is a necessary evil rather than a person to be valued I’ll be on old refurbished DL.

  12. Terry Kozma

    The article is spot on. Kirby is doing a great job and United is improving by the day.
    As a 1K United flyer for 15 years I am most impressed

  13. Jk

    Kirby is nothing more than a puppet doing the bidding of the political scam currently devouring our country. Shame on him for mandating unproven and dangerous vaccines. To bad United doesn’t have the $&?(; to stand up to this tyranny.

  14. sb

    Let's not forget the removal of delay codes for ops people, which will hopefully remove this endless push for D0 above all else. Wonder if time working with Oscar showed him some of the people/service aspects matter more than the numbazz

  15. J doe

    Be impressed if they do firing workers over nonsenses during a pandemic

  16. Mark

    I have been thinking all this as well. He's really starting to make a mark. I've thought about changing from aa (I'm ep) but I live in south florida and work in Pittsburgh and am in NYC a lot ( less now of course) but even now the ewr to pit route is often canceled and I'm stuck. I gave them another chance 4 weeks ago and again got canceled, was able to go to lga and jump on delta. Unfortunately reliability where I fly is still number one.

  17. Chris

    To improve customer service bring your United employees back to your outsourced cities.

  18. Tim Dunn

    Kirby has been fixated on Delta for years but manages to come up short of the goals he set to catch up

    United’s greatest liabilities will be that it will have the lowest market share in its top markets of the big 4 and the weakest balance sheet after its airplane buying binge. United can’t be class leading in customer service with class trailing financial performance

  19. Richard

    I flew UA almost everywhere in the 70s and early 80s. I found their FAs to be unfriendly at best and down right rude to the pax and toward each other. In 1980, SAN-SEA, while serving dinner in Coach, the FAs were having a personal argument in the way each other was doing the service. Repulsive. After not flying UA for 2 decades and flying 1.2 million miles on DL and 750,000 on AA, I...

    I flew UA almost everywhere in the 70s and early 80s. I found their FAs to be unfriendly at best and down right rude to the pax and toward each other. In 1980, SAN-SEA, while serving dinner in Coach, the FAs were having a personal argument in the way each other was doing the service. Repulsive. After not flying UA for 2 decades and flying 1.2 million miles on DL and 750,000 on AA, I was required to fly UA for work. This was shortly after the UA/CO merger. As I stepped on the aircraft I could tell whether the crew was CO or UA just by the way I was greeted, or not. Invariably a polite, enthusiastic greeting meant CO crew and a pleasant flight. No or curt greeting meant less than good service. I now frly DL unless they don't fly where I'm going which unless it's an international destination doesn't happen. Reading the previous post, it tells me that little has changed at UA in 4 decades with FAs at UA. I've found DL ground staff and all flight crew to be top notch. Rarely do they receive anything less than a 5, on a scale 0-5, 5=best.

    1. shoeguy

      I flew UA from EWR to SFO and on to LIH a few years ago and on my EWR-SFO flight, in first, on an A319, a subpar plane for a premier transcon route (and this was after UA consolidated all that to EWR) two flight attendants working the tiny first class cabin were loudly complaining about the airline and the management. Not a good look in front of passengers.

      On another flight, operating FCO-EWR,...

      I flew UA from EWR to SFO and on to LIH a few years ago and on my EWR-SFO flight, in first, on an A319, a subpar plane for a premier transcon route (and this was after UA consolidated all that to EWR) two flight attendants working the tiny first class cabin were loudly complaining about the airline and the management. Not a good look in front of passengers.

      On another flight, operating FCO-EWR, in Polaris, I asked for more water, not mind you alcohol or something special. I was barked at and told to wait until they had finished serving the cabin behind me.

      UA is better managed today, yes, but it is all smoke and mirrors.

      UA flight attendants are far and away the worst among the US3.

  20. Endlos

    Currently a 1K and am not at all impressed by an airline that can't provide a complimentary sandwich/box to a 1K flying in domestic economy even though it's a published benefit. An airline that fails to understand the importance of frequent flyers and simply takes them for granted. An airline that comes up with ever more abstract terms and rules to qualify and drops all forms of accountability as to the value of miles over...

    Currently a 1K and am not at all impressed by an airline that can't provide a complimentary sandwich/box to a 1K flying in domestic economy even though it's a published benefit. An airline that fails to understand the importance of frequent flyers and simply takes them for granted. An airline that comes up with ever more abstract terms and rules to qualify and drops all forms of accountability as to the value of miles over the next 6 months to 1 year (which is a reasonable time for a family to plan their vacation) through dynamic pricing. People used to go out of their way to fly United because of Mileage Plus and the benefits and rewards for driving spending their way. United under Kirby, Smisek, Muńoz, has lost all credibility. This doesn't seem like an accomplishment. I still fly United on occasion but solely based on price as all trust in long term value is lost and there are simply too many other great airlines out there especially on international tickets.

  21. Steve

    I status matched over from AA EXP to UA 1K, and I mostly like the MP benefits at 1k.
    However, the staff I’ve encountered at UA are on average as step below AA. That along with the poor WiFi are making me reconsider staying with UA even though being a *G is better for bouncing around India and China than being a OWE

  22. Ivan X

    Recent developments not mentioned (some were obviously underway or deployed before Kirby but they are still recent):

    Good: United’s the only one offering a Premium Econ cabin for transcons, which often doesn’t cost much more than econ, feels semi private due to being only a few rows, has all aisle access in the middle two seats on a 767, and is nicer and more comfortable IMO than most domestic 1st. Sure, I’d rather fly in...

    Recent developments not mentioned (some were obviously underway or deployed before Kirby but they are still recent):

    Good: United’s the only one offering a Premium Econ cabin for transcons, which often doesn’t cost much more than econ, feels semi private due to being only a few rows, has all aisle access in the middle two seats on a 767, and is nicer and more comfortable IMO than most domestic 1st. Sure, I’d rather fly in the Polaris cabin, but I never mind flying in Premium Plus.

    Good, but what it should have been all along: United, as of the last couple of months, now offers “residual flight credit” so you don’t forfeit the value of a ticket when using it to buy a lower priced one. And all your flight credits and travel certificates are visible in your online account now.

    Bad: Dynamic pricing with no ceiling on award tickets has been brutal (though there are still many more reasonable deals than on Delta).

    Good/Bad: Status earning now based on money spent rather than distance flown disfavors less frequent leisure flyers like me, so I hate it. But business travelers probably like it.

    Bad: United’s website redesign is a model of how not to do it. You might see four different web design eras in a single visit depending on what pages you end up on. Fortunately, I don’t think any significant functionality has gone missing, but I can’t think of any aspect that’s an improvement. Fortunately, the app is excellent.

  23. Tomas Lindstrom

    Hi Scott,
    I can not agree more with all you said in your interview with PBS about United Airlines vaccination requirement.
    I have not had a good experience with United in the past but the vaccination requirement is the right thing to do.
    Now continue to be a leader and start require ALL your passentiers to be fully vaccinated!!!!!!!!!
    Thank you! Tom Lindstrom, M.D.

  24. SMR

    If you work for a United regional.... you would not be happy with Kirby. We are being extremely abused and he destroyed EV for some garbage company. It is real bad in the UA regionals.

    1. Brandon

      @SMR

      In general it’s not the best at regional. I work for a regional under AA and trust it’s not pretty.

  25. DCS

    Let me be clear — while I’m impressed by the direction that United is headed, not much will changing overnight.

    Self-anointed "travel gurus" decided to declare UA to be a subpar airline, just like they decided that Hilton Honors was a subpar loyalty program despite compelling evidence proving the exact opposite, and are now reluctantly beginning to acknowledge what some of us who actually do patronize UA already knew: the purported lackadaisical performance of...

    Let me be clear — while I’m impressed by the direction that United is headed, not much will changing overnight.

    Self-anointed "travel gurus" decided to declare UA to be a subpar airline, just like they decided that Hilton Honors was a subpar loyalty program despite compelling evidence proving the exact opposite, and are now reluctantly beginning to acknowledge what some of us who actually do patronize UA already knew: the purported lackadaisical performance of UA and its FF program, MileagePlus, which I rank tops among US FF programs, was just a figment of their collective imagination.

    You want to see a failing airline and FF program? Look further than the dAArk side, whose deficiencies most of self-anointed "travel gurus" simply overlook, like they overlook the many shortcomings of the Hyatt WoH program, because it is the program that many of them have patronized, and still do...

    1. DCS

      Or should that be "Look NO farther than..."

  26. Cptslag

    Probably not the right section for me, and I don't have united status or anything but just flew RT to maui on the direct from Newark (planned) using Chase based on a lot of the things I've read on this blog. I don't live in a United hub, but I was very excited to try the Polaris seats for the first time (have only ever flown international partners overseas). Seats were nice, but the rest...

    Probably not the right section for me, and I don't have united status or anything but just flew RT to maui on the direct from Newark (planned) using Chase based on a lot of the things I've read on this blog. I don't live in a United hub, but I was very excited to try the Polaris seats for the first time (have only ever flown international partners overseas). Seats were nice, but the rest of the experience was pretty bad. Food was terrible (pineapple fried rice was just white rice), no Hawaiian themed drinks or anything like Hawaiian airlines (they looked at me like I was crazy), and after they delivered the meal they never came around again. Return flight was cancelled and was rerouted through Chicago (still Polaris), but was stuck with a 7 hour layover with no other option and no lounge access in ORD.

  27. shoeguy

    United has made great strides, but two key problems remain that are major drags on all the optimism that Kirby professes and the airline spins through its marketing. Operationally, the airline is still a mess. Delays up and down the system, and while there aren't major meltdowns so far that have attracted the same degree of attention as AA or NK, the reality is the airline doesn't run a clean operation on even the best...

    United has made great strides, but two key problems remain that are major drags on all the optimism that Kirby professes and the airline spins through its marketing. Operationally, the airline is still a mess. Delays up and down the system, and while there aren't major meltdowns so far that have attracted the same degree of attention as AA or NK, the reality is the airline doesn't run a clean operation on even the best of days, notably in EWR and in ORD. Granted, UA operates hubs in some challenging places for sure, and EWR is problematic right now with runway construction. Second, customer service at UA is far from fixed. The customer service staff have a long way to go to show that the company really cares about this sincerely. While UA may not be dragging people off overbooked planes any more, the flight attendants remain a huge problem to fix when it comes to service. Many of them are extremely rude and while the flying public has become odious in some cases, it is still important for cabin crew, as front line employees, to all adhere to a similar ethos and standard and at UA they most certainly do not. The airline's operational and performance issues in this space also hobble its customer service efforts more often than not. UA has improved dramatically, yes, but it is still the network airline of 5+ hour delays and unpleasant and rude cabin crew as it has always been.

  28. David

    I have to say, I am quite surprised, pleasantly, by the direction he has taken UA. But let’s not forget he needs us right now. When travel levels return to pre pandemic levels, that calculus will change and I have every expectation he will revert to extracting every dollar he can from passengers, and all the niceties will vanish.

  29. Radio

    Based on my experience during 2008, I'd fly US Airways before I would have flown American, United, or Delta. I could usually tell when a former America West crew was working because they didn't have the sense of entitlement their US Airways counterparts did.

    1. Santastico

      I have been flying Delta for over 12 years without ever flying UA. In the last 4 months I had no other choice but to fly United due to a change in job. What a nightmare. As a Diamond with Delta I was offered 1K with United. In 16 flights so far had zero upgrades, missed my connection 3 times because the incoming flight was late (even after I received an email from United that...

      I have been flying Delta for over 12 years without ever flying UA. In the last 4 months I had no other choice but to fly United due to a change in job. What a nightmare. As a Diamond with Delta I was offered 1K with United. In 16 flights so far had zero upgrades, missed my connection 3 times because the incoming flight was late (even after I received an email from United that they were holding the plane for me which didn’t happen), when trying to be helpful during airport check-in the agent got angry and told me to not try to do her job (never got that from Delta), wifi is a joke, no entertainment system, …… Miss Delta every day.

    2. DCS

      Miss Delta every day.

      Hmmm... is anyone keeping you from rejoining Skypesos?

      Inquiring minds wanna know!

    3. Ziggy

      The second sentence of the comment reads "In the last 4 months I had no other choice but to fly United due to a change in job" so the answer to your question appears to be "yes".

    4. Santastico

      Hey inquiring mind!!! I have to fly to a small city that only United flies from Denver. Thus, I started flying MSP-DEN and DEN to my final destination all on United. After experiencing United, I changes my flight plans. I now fly MSP-DEN on Delta and buy a separate ticket from DEN to my final destination on United. I get upgraded to first on every Delta flight, get to watch live TV and I am...

      Hey inquiring mind!!! I have to fly to a small city that only United flies from Denver. Thus, I started flying MSP-DEN and DEN to my final destination all on United. After experiencing United, I changes my flight plans. I now fly MSP-DEN on Delta and buy a separate ticket from DEN to my final destination on United. I get upgraded to first on every Delta flight, get to watch live TV and I am treated well. I gave it a try to United but they failed me. Does this answer your question?

    5. DCS

      Fair enough. However, for every story like yours that touts DL and disparages UA, one can find one that touts UA and disparages DL ("Skypesos!"). I have been patronizing UA for 19 years, being 1K for much of the time, and 1MM since 2014. UA has not failed me, especially on my mostly international travel.

      The only time UA "failed" me was when, just before the pandemic, they changed their 1K (re)qualification requirements to...

      Fair enough. However, for every story like yours that touts DL and disparages UA, one can find one that touts UA and disparages DL ("Skypesos!"). I have been patronizing UA for 19 years, being 1K for much of the time, and 1MM since 2014. UA has not failed me, especially on my mostly international travel.

      The only time UA "failed" me was when, just before the pandemic, they changed their 1K (re)qualification requirements to where it would have had to spend $24K+ each year on tickets to retain the 1K status. That was a bridge too far for me, and I was planning to drop UA and get elite status with SQ when the pandemic hit, and my 1K status was automatically extended. Now I will requalify without even trying thanks to the recent offer to accumulate just 3K PQP by November 31 to retain status.

      So, the moral of this story is: YMMV. What works for one person may not work for someone else and vice versa.

      G'day!

    6. Santastico

      Delta has extended my Diamond status from 2019 basically all the way to 2023. The ability to rollover MQMs is fantastic if you know how to play with it. They also extended all my Global certificates so can’t complain. Living in a Delta hub and being treated well gives me no choice but to be loyal to them.

    7. DCS

      Again, YMMV - You can go on and on about what Delta does or has done for you, it proves nothing because there are folks who have a different, more negative, view of DL, and I can tell you ad nauseam of the wonderful things that UA has done for me as a 1K/1MM/lifetime *G.

      G'day.

  30. Stefan

    @ Pete: United has an insane boarding system. By the time 1K is even called they’ve already boarded a gazillion people with “special needs”.

    1. Brutus

      Anyone at 1K with United should automatically be considered "special needs."

    2. Santastico

      Could not agree more. If you sneeze at the gate area you have “special needs” to board.

  31. Mbilz

    United needs to back up the new product with in-depth “premium” customer service training for the flight attendants. There’s zero accountability with that work group and it shows.

  32. Parker

    Completely agree here. I've had enough of Doug Parker. Bring on Vasu!

    1. INS Vikrant

      Vasu has a better vision but imo still lacking the complete skillset on the execution side. Glad to see him rising in ranks but i think he needs just a little something more before becoming top dog.

      Breakdown of JV and eventually partnership with Latam is a good example. Fell under his purview as VP partnerships.

  33. Donna

    Not impressed. Talk and press releases are cheap. Lots of commercials and hype about Polaris but the endless roll out of their Polaris retrofit is horrendous. And the quality of their Polaris soft product seems to be fading.

    And as a former US Airways loyalist, your characterization of them is not fair. I flew them consistently back and forth to Europe on A330 aircraft in business class with reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1...

    Not impressed. Talk and press releases are cheap. Lots of commercials and hype about Polaris but the endless roll out of their Polaris retrofit is horrendous. And the quality of their Polaris soft product seems to be fading.

    And as a former US Airways loyalist, your characterization of them is not fair. I flew them consistently back and forth to Europe on A330 aircraft in business class with reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, which was better then (back in 2009 as I recall now) than many of UAs current fleet of wide body outdated J class interiors still in use today to the EU.

    Once UA completes its Polaris retrofits I might consider them for future travel but as long as there is a chance that I’d end up in one of their old J cabins, they’re still not an option, in spite of the lounges and the hype surrounding the Polaris soft product.

    1. Speedbird

      US Airways was absolute garbage, flying their planes on transcon routes with no IFE AND no power outlets/USB charging was asinine on their part. It wasn't until the merger that they finally made upgrades to their PHL gates, no gate information other than an LED scroller with the time and destination in 2014 was like going back in time in the late 90s. I was hoping that American would do a better job at improving...

      US Airways was absolute garbage, flying their planes on transcon routes with no IFE AND no power outlets/USB charging was asinine on their part. It wasn't until the merger that they finally made upgrades to their PHL gates, no gate information other than an LED scroller with the time and destination in 2014 was like going back in time in the late 90s. I was hoping that American would do a better job at improving their product but looks like USAir management took over American and brought their penny counters with them to continue removing IFE from their planes.

    2. Donna

      I flew transcons and TATL flights out of PHL in the late US Airways era and never had the gate issue you cite. Furthermore, they had IFE on their wide body long haul flights. The lack of outlets on their transcons was annoying but given the choice of sitting five or six across in a crowded J cabin for the same money offered by the competition or the Envoy 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seat ten years...

      I flew transcons and TATL flights out of PHL in the late US Airways era and never had the gate issue you cite. Furthermore, they had IFE on their wide body long haul flights. The lack of outlets on their transcons was annoying but given the choice of sitting five or six across in a crowded J cabin for the same money offered by the competition or the Envoy 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seat ten years ago, I’d gladly sacrifice domestic transcon outlets. Couldn’t care less about IFE and frankly find it highly annoying in economy having someone pounding on your seat back playing some stupid game.

  34. Luke

    United is also still charging $150 one-way for bicycles while American, Delta, and Alaska all only charge the normal baggage fee if within certain weight and dimension limits.

    1. Tia Peacock

      It's only the bag fee on United if it's 50lbs and 62 linear inches

  35. Skygodmj

    United treated pilots like gold and treated front line flight attendants and gate agents like zinc. How much of the trip do we see the pilots.

  36. Kaleb_With_A_K

    United's basic economy restriction is why I will avoid flying with them.

  37. Abey

    Ton of credit fro Kirby to be the first national company (that I’m aware) which doesn’t have a coastal or shall I say mostly liberal leaning employees to require vaccinations. It is easy for a company which most of its employees are vaccinated anyway but this I am sure was much harder. I hope to see others follow

    1. George

      Tyson Foods did it 3 days before United, and it was arguably harder for them- most production facilities and management in Red states, over twice as many employees as United. They also are giving any front line staff $200 if they get vaccinated- a carrot along with the stick

  38. Gary Leff

    "Kirby was always number two at America West, US Airways, and American Airlines, so it’s anyone’s guess how much power he actually had to make the changes he thought made sense; he was there to execute Parker’s vision, and that can be a confusing thing to do, since he seemingly doesn’t have much of a vision"

    I'd make just three points here,

    1. When explaining why US Airways was late to add internet in 2012,...

    "Kirby was always number two at America West, US Airways, and American Airlines, so it’s anyone’s guess how much power he actually had to make the changes he thought made sense; he was there to execute Parker’s vision, and that can be a confusing thing to do, since he seemingly doesn’t have much of a vision"

    I'd make just three points here,

    1. When explaining why US Airways was late to add internet in 2012, he explained that he didn't think they'd make money selling it, and it was only once he saw customers booking away from the airline due to lack of wifi that he realized the need to invest.

    2. He personally drove the devaluations of AAdvantage after US Airways management took over. He was so in the weeds that he overruled the AAdvantage team not just on directly copying MileagePlus and SkyMiles on straight revenue-based accrual, but he made the decision (over AAdvantage objections) that the 75k tier would be named Platinum Pro.

    3. Parker isn't a details guy and wasn't the one driving the Rockwell Collins seat deal or the new standard domestic interior at American (where they didn't even do a cabin mockup but, in the words of current CEO David Seymur, just decided to "tape it up").

    "What works for one airline doesn’t necessarily work for another airline, and I think Kirby sees a different kind of potential at United"

    What worked for US Airways and America West doesn't work for American just as it doesn't work for United - large global airlines big big cost structures and big corporate contracts. He's having his conversion a bit too late after the damage has been done at American ;)

    It isn't really fair to say "this is who Kirby was all along, the frustrated product guy operating under Parker's thumb." He's behaving differently, and that's great, though he was the earlier driver of those Polaris product cuts and service cuts you mentioned in the post.

    We don't really know what the source of the conversion (the extent of which remains to be seen). But it isn't a straight line from the past the way Kirby now tells it https://viewfromthewing.com/united-airlines-ceo-scott-kirbys-nose-is-growing-on-seat-back-televisions/

  39. flying_foxy

    For those of us who have been around for far too long, I think it’s time for you to finally spill the beans about being banned from UA for a number of years… which lead to an absence of UA being mentioned on the blog during that time. We’ve come full circle by the looks of it!
    No shade, just interested!

    1. DCAFlyer

      He has a couple of times. Readers Digest version, if I remember correctly, was him submitting too many of the “my flight wasn’t perfect” forms for every little issue on almost any flight. All in the attempt to accrue MileagePlus miles through complaining. United noted the activity, took some action, and they’ve had a grievance-of-sorts ever since. And it’s been a good handful of years.

  40. EC2

    Confused. You referenced first class. Thought I had heard you previously say only AA had a true first class product?

    1. tipsyinmadras

      He's referring to domestic "First" - not to be confused with actual, international First class - which of the US3, only AA has and only on its 77Ws

    2. Gravelly Point Guy

      Which, out of all honesty, could hardly be a real and true First Class. It’s rather and old , beat up, shabby looking chair and an extra bowl of soup during main fare. That’s it! Beat up chair and a bowl of soup! :(

  41. Terence

    Another part of this could also be the timing/luck. The whole Polaris concept and products had been developed under the previous mgmt. Then there was the perfect timing for narrow-body fleet renewal. We wouldn't know how different the outcomes would've been.

  42. AdamH

    UA also has the most restrictive basic Y policies of any of the Big 3 airlines and also has the hardest top tier elite status to obtain (both 1k and GS). I think they really leaned into segregating the flying experience and it is reaping rewards now as they try to twist extra dollars out of everyone. More importantly though is it sort of all works out in practice. When you have big spenders buying...

    UA also has the most restrictive basic Y policies of any of the Big 3 airlines and also has the hardest top tier elite status to obtain (both 1k and GS). I think they really leaned into segregating the flying experience and it is reaping rewards now as they try to twist extra dollars out of everyone. More importantly though is it sort of all works out in practice. When you have big spenders buying J fares you can invest in a great J experience. When you have basic Y flyers not taking up overhead space, you create a more enjoyable flying experience for the rest of the cabin -- despite still being able to compete with the Spirit's of the world for the most basic budget travellers.

    1. Pete

      I’m glad they have the hardest elite status to attain. So when I finally make 1K, I won’t have to compete with half the plane for an upgrade or wrestle with 20 other people at the gate just to “preboard”.

    2. jetset

      Ha - not to burst your bubble Pete but despite GS and 1K being hardest to earn among the big 3, there are still TONS of GS and 1K in part due to the fact that United has a heavy business traveler set in their loyalty program.
      I’ve been GS for several years and even I don’t get complimentary upgrades that often - even though I’m often #1 on the upgrade list. I usually...

      Ha - not to burst your bubble Pete but despite GS and 1K being hardest to earn among the big 3, there are still TONS of GS and 1K in part due to the fact that United has a heavy business traveler set in their loyalty program.
      I’ve been GS for several years and even I don’t get complimentary upgrades that often - even though I’m often #1 on the upgrade list. I usually just buy first or business if I really need to fly it. 1K international upgrades are also tough to use though likely easier now.

      GS honestly is the first tier at United where I feel I get any perks as I’m able to have agents open up award space, clear into a different upgrade category for international flights, and can force my partner into business class with an upgrade if I’m flying paid business class even if there’s no availability.

      1K is better than lower status but doesn’t actually feel exclusive.

  43. RF

    Nope, I'm definitely not impressed with Kirby. United has done many flashy press releases that don't amount to much for the customer experience. Usually what they promoted does not match what's actually offered. The watering down of the Polaris soft product cannot be forgotten. It is no where near premium.

  44. Greg

    UNITED rising

    Savvy fliers are learning Delta is vapor ware

  45. David

    United broke its promises to and the trust of lifetime United Club members. I have booked away from United to the tune of many thousands of dollars for personal and business domestic and international premium class travel. Kirby would do well to restrore trust and restore the conditions under which those lifetime memberships were sold. By comparison, Delta and AA do honor their lifetime club memberships.

  46. John

    Was the MUGA thing really necessary? I despise Trump and love your blog but don’t think gratuitous references to politics do anything to enhance the reader experience. We had enough of him and have enough toxic politics in the States without needing to remind us of that stuff here when we’re wanting a bit of light reading!

    1. Ben Schlappig

      @ John -- Totally fair, will remove that reference. You're right, it wasn't necessary.

  47. Douglas Frost DeNunzio

    The ok’d way of the airlines to connect I. Three pieces of Atlanta to Georgia as well as fleeces of old ones I. My house is a 2.4 hour flight from Pittsburgh to New York.

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John

Was the MUGA thing really necessary? I despise Trump and love your blog but don’t think gratuitous references to politics do anything to enhance the reader experience. We had enough of him and have enough toxic politics in the States without needing to remind us of that stuff here when we’re wanting a bit of light reading!

Ben Schlappig

@ John -- Totally fair, will remove that reference. You're right, it wasn't necessary.

Santastico

I have been flying Delta for over 12 years without ever flying UA. In the last 4 months I had no other choice but to fly United due to a change in job. What a nightmare. As a Diamond with Delta I was offered 1K with United. In 16 flights so far had zero upgrades, missed my connection 3 times because the incoming flight was late (even after I received an email from United that they were holding the plane for me which didn’t happen), when trying to be helpful during airport check-in the agent got angry and told me to not try to do her job (never got that from Delta), wifi is a joke, no entertainment system, …… Miss Delta every day.

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