Here’s The Apology Email United’s CEO Just Sent Out To Customers

Filed Under: Media, United

United has had a very bad several weeks, in particular when Dr. Dao was dragged off United 3411 from Chicago to Louisville last week. We can talk all day about whether any regulations need to be changed, whether the airline or Chicago police are more to blame, etc.

However, there’s no denying that United’s PR approach to this situation has changed drastically. When the situation first unfolded, United responded to it horribly in more than one statement. They were completely dismissive of what occurred, and it made a bad situation even worse. Then about 48 hours later they finally issued an apology and took full responsibility for what happened.

United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, even had an interview on Good Morning America, where he seemed to genuinely feel bad about what happened.

Well, in their latest attempt at crisis control, Oscar Munoz has just sent out an email to many frequent flyers apologizing for letting them down, sharing his shame, and asking them to let United re-earn their trust. Here’s the letter:

I’ve heard a lot of understandable anger and disappointment from customers and, as one of our most valued customers, I wanted to be sure you heard directly from me.

The awful event that occurred on Flight 3411 has elicited many responses from our customers: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments. For me personally, I’d add shame. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

In addition to offering my profound apologies to the customer forcibly removed, as well as all the passengers aboard that particular flight, I also offer my sincere apology to you for not living up to the values you expect of us.

Our customers’ satisfaction must be the center of everything we do and your opinion of our service is the measure of our success. We know we did not measure up, and for that we will redouble our efforts to earn your trust.

This situation has provided a humbling learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to make this right so nothing like this ever happens again.

First, United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security. Second, crews traveling on our aircraft must book at least 60 minutes prior to departure. Third, we will fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first. Our values will guide everything we do. We’ll communicate the results of our review and the concrete actions we will take by April 30.

You expect more from us and I promise we can and will be better. I am committed to putting proof behind our promise.

Thank you for granting us the opportunity to re-earn your trust.

I’d like to think Oscar is being sincere here. I genuinely believe he’s a good guy who seems to be trying to change United for the better, especially in comparison to the past several CEOs that United had. I think Oscar miscalculated this situation (as did I at first), and perhaps let himself be influenced a bit too much by the legal department rather than the PR department.

In terms of the concrete actions they’re taking, there’s not much here, really.

It’s good of them to say that they’ll only use law enforcement to remove passengers from plane if it’s a matter of “safety and security.” That should go without saying, but it’s what led to this situation to begin with, so…

The other concrete action here is that they won’t book crews on a flight within 60 minutes of departure, presumably in an attempt to avoid having to bump passengers once they’re on the plane.

Other than that, Oscar says they’ll share their policy updates by April 30, 2017. I’ll be curious to see if we see any substantial or concrete changes then.

What do you make of Oscar’s email?

  1. He did not really say anything new other then giving a deadline to themselves.

    It’s a shame that United finally gets a caring CEO and the guy has a heart attack, a heart transplant and this happen all when he is still new to the role in many ways.

    I think he is a good guy who has been making positive changes and is now dealing with an insane situation which is mostly (though certainly not completely) not his doing.

    I hope this can have an overall positive outcome for all involved as well as the industry in general. Many years ago United was a great airline, I’d love to see Oscar get them there again. The proof is in the pudding as they say.

  2. It’s a good start but one component is missing. Oscar’s’ first email to employees described the victim (passenger) as disruptive, “belligerent.”

    I would have _really_ liked to see Oscar recant that description _and_ increase accountability of gate agents and flight crew so that passenger behavior is described accurately.

  3. All that does is give them a further motive to smear the passengers they remove. “United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security…” Yeah, right. OK.

    I’m not interested in the life story of the victim from the time he fell off the boat from Vietnam in the 70s. The crew did not research this guy and decide not to board him because they thought he was a bad guy. They randomly drew his name after he was already on the plane and then called a police service (that wasn’t trained & wasn’t the real Chicago police) to beat the crap out of him when he objected to being removed. Then, when it became apparent the public was upset even though these guys walked past a lot of white people to drag the Asian guy, United smeared the victim.

    There’s so much Munoz hasn’t addressed here. Like he’s ignored… all the things.

    I’m not happy. A lot of people aren’t happy. The stockholders aren’t happy. If Munoz thinks that statement addressed *anything* people aren’t happy about, he needs to resign because he’s frickin clueless.

  4. There are so many rules had to be followed, specially in the US…if it’s safety and security, sure, follow the rules. Otherwise, the first rule is: to put customers’ needs first and make flying fun again. The reason i loved United was for their unique cockpit audio channel, does it exist these days ?
    I feel sorry for Dr. Dao, hope you recover soon, this airline should carry you and your family by private jet for the rest of your life as a compensation.
    The three big US carriers are making so much money these years, give it back to the customers, improve the service !
    My next flight to the USA will be by an Asian or European carrier and i’m still considering to shred my Mileageminus loyalty card and mail it to them.

  5. @peachfront, very well said, I cannot agree more. To add, I do feel Munoz is in more of damage control mode, than being sincere about improving state of affairs.

    My boycott of United will continue!

  6. I didn’t receive the email and I didn’t even bother to read it here. A. I knew I’d get a recap in the comments. B. United is kinda dead to me. I just am all out of give-a-shit for the company and for Oscar. He needs to find his spine and start firing people or firms or whatever. There’s a lot of talking and minimal doing. Hell, even the talking sounds like bullshit. It’s to the point where the more they apologize the the more I despise the company and just that much quicker. Law of inverse proportions.

  7. As a previously loyal 1K who’s seen my loyalty to United returned with utter disdain and contempt over the last few years, and especially over the last two years (under Munoz’ and Smisek’s charge), I see these as nothing but empty words.
    I’ve been increasing my flights on other airlines and influencing my company to do the same.

    United: too little, too late.

  8. Despite my natural bitter and sour disposition, I’m cautiously optimistic that Mr Muñoz is both honest in his expressed sentiments and now empowered to truly shake things up at United/Continental.

    Fair or unfair, and I think mostly fair, United’s reputation even before this was among the weakest of the large airlines in North America. Personally the majority of my negative experiences on airlines have been primarily on United and Continental despite the fact I’ve flown them the least.

    I hope this isn’t viewed as a labor busting opportunity but as an entré to a fully cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between labor and management to improve the customer experience from top to bottom. I know that no one at United wants to be associated with the events of the past week, nor the failings of the past years. Many of them are looking forward to hearing Rhapsody playing as a point of pride rather than as a dirge of shame of what could have been.

    I know it will take redoubled efforts from that top to bottom, from check-in to baggage claim, including effective airport management to turn that corner. It’s hard work but it is achievable. Practically speaking, it’s a lot and there are precious few models out there to emulate, they’ll have to blaze their own trail.

    I hope that’s what they do and in a few years we’re not scrounging eBay for United/Continental dishes and silverware.

    For better or worse, United has this unique opportunity. They need to rise to the occasion or go into airline history.

  9. The sad part is to change a culture of a company usually takes 10 yrs, but with the resentment that still shows between UA and CO folks, it’s going to take a lot longer than 10 yrs to make any positive changes.

  10. The only thing that Oscar “genuinely feels bad about” is the tanking of UA’s stock price after he showed utter disrespect to, and contempt for, a paying customer. Don’t believe a word of his BS on GMA. If not for the public backlash, he wouldn’t have uttered an apologetic word. I will applaud the day he is fired but unfortunately, it won’t be over this (even though it should be).

  11. This lifetime Gold (Fools’s Gold) hasn’t gotten it as of yet, but now I can read it anyway, thanks to you:

    Sincere concern for your customers is a fine attribute. When you can fake that, you’re on your way to winning the PR war.

  12. @Mark

    “I hope this isn’t viewed as a labor busting opportunity..”

    It’s funny you bring this point up and I think it’s one that’s a bit overlooked in the whole situation. Part of the reason the whole thing got to the point it did was because of internal policy due labor contracts with its employees on “deadhead” crew. Namely things like the kind of seats, fare class of travel etc that they MUST be booked in and are considered the highest priority over a reserved & confirmed seated passenger. Mind you I fully agree with the DOT regs on the number of hours a crewmember is allowed to fly before needing rest, but some of the stuff in those labor contracts has bitten the airlines in the rear I think to the point that most of the American public at least has grown to be completely disgruntled at the very least at the 3 major airlines in the US.

  13. Dear Customer,

    I know I originally told you that the customer is always wrong and I will always side with employees. I heard you loud and clear: you do not like being beaten up as a result of our actions. So, only for a limited set of circumstances, we are updating our internal, unpublished procedures. But don’t be mistaken: we’re not updating our contract of carriage, and you still have no rights. And we’re still convinced that whatever might happen in the future, it’s the customer’s (your) fault, never the employee. Unless, of course, you scream bloody murder again as you did this time. But please don’t. I made $13 million bonus last year by treating you like dirt, and I want to earn more this year.


  14. I personally doubt he’s being sincere because there’s not much to be sincere about. As has emerged since this incident for those who were previously ignorant, it happens all the time in countless countries. The only unique thing about this incident is a combination of a disruptive passenger (the majority of people in this situation begrudgingly comply instead of making a hysterical scene) and a militant security force – neither of which are United’s direct fault. Certainly they aren’t his personal fault.

    It also seems ultimately pointless given, as demonstrated here perfectly, people are acting so hysterically over this I can’t see any way United can realistically restore their reputation anyway.

  15. He does not apologize for his *personal* wrongdoings, like sending out the wrong message at the beginning. There is too much “we” and too little “I”. I think he lost touch with the customers quite a while ago. He put his employees first in a moment where he should have put the customers first. Well, he knows he needs the employees more for his own career than the customers.

  16. The guy got good media training, that’s it.
    He is a good actor for a CEO.
    When he sent the first email to all employees, he was clearly blaming the passenger. He is only acting like this because of the massive UA bashing these past weeks.
    He should be dismissed from his role, period.

  17. @peachfront — Agree completely!
    @AdamR — Agree double completely

    Does it really take a month to figure out what went wrong (it’s on video!) and what to do about it? Legacy or Lethargic?

  18. Based upon the sequence of “apologies”, it’s quite blatantly obvious that this is not a sincere apology at all. He’s trying to compensate for the insensitivity in the first two apologies, and the only reason he’s doing it is because the airline is losing business and because United’s reputation has been destroyed.

    If he were really sincere, he would offer every single frequent flyer a certificate of $100-$200 or something like that to return.

    Oh and this is extremely poor English:

    …as one of our most valued customers, I wanted to be sure you heard directly from me.


  19. @Kate Nor have legacy Million Mile Flyers (aka Lufetime Fool’s Gold) Mrs. Fredd and I.

    @Dan Nainan. Just so. It’s laughably poor English, particularly coming from a major CEO. However, the email oozes of sincere concern for valued customers. When you can fake that, you’re on your way to winning the PR war.

  20. We’ll see a lot of skeptical comments and cynics will dwell on how Munoz initially reacted to the UA3411 incident – a common occurrence. He got caught in what almost invariably happens in such incidents: pronouncements are made before the full story is known. Remember what was said right after Benghazi! and what the real story ended up being? Same thing here, but people never learn to withhold judgement until all or enough facts are in. It is sort of like what happens in this section of travel blogs immediately after a loyalty program announces a change — ad nauseam pontification before taking the time to assess the implications. Munoz, generally a likable guy and straight shooter, got caught doing the same thing.

    I am not concerned about the wording of what Munoz has just committed to doing, for the simple reason that he will make it absolutely clear to crew members that a repeat of the UA3411 incident on any flight will be ground for dismissal. That he had to write such a letter to loyal members makes his determination clear. He is both ashamed that it occurred on his watch and humbled as a CEO, and is not about to let anyone make him feel that way again. More to the point is that I believe Munoz to be a man of substance. What he wrote is what he intends to see through, just like he intends to see through his reinvention of UA and, in the process, the US civil aviation. No one or nothing will stand in the way…

    “I am committed to putting proof behind our promise.” That is a promise he intends to keep and no UA employee who makes a liar out of him will survive because nothing is more important to people of substance than keeping their word.

  21. You have to have a significant minimum number of PQDs to get the email. That’s what they consider a “valued customer”.
    All old news announced a few days ago.

  22. Lucky,
    you said “I genuinely believe he’s a good guy “.
    with all due respect, i don’t think anyone who half jokingly describe the incident of brutal removal as “reaccommodation” can be called a good guy.
    until this piece of low life is removed, no more UA for me.

  23. @steven k:

    I’m of the same thought. Can we please stop with this nonsensical “so-and-so is a [seemingly/genuinely nice guy” hooey? No, CEOs are not. Save for the rare occasion, CEOs are essentially NOT allowed to be nice guys. They have share holders to answer to, unions to deal with, all kinds of external factors. They simply aren’t “nice guys” in the context of the company. He may be a family man when he takes off his United suit, but until then he’s the face of a greedy corporation whose bottom line drives all actions.

    Quit filling articles with sycophantic fluff.

  24. Presumably the crew receive their schedules far enough in advance to book sooner? Flight delays may result in the odd exception, but 60 minutes seems a very low bar.

  25. @stevenk sez: “until this piece of low life is removed, no more UA for me.”

    I consider that good riddance, and I am referring to Munoz, because with such over the top garbage, I have no doubt who is the piece of low life. So what would you do, “this piece of low life is be removed” and UA winds up with another $mi$ek.

    Just get a grip! Munoz has been nearly flawless until what is an ambiguous case of POLICE BRUTALITY tripped him, and suddenly every moron and their dog feel like they can dump on him.

  26. @Lucky: I read in other blogs that this letter was sent ONLY to top frequent flyers and NOT to all their customers. This is BS!!!! It shows who they really care about. How much would cost them to send the email to ALL their frequent flyers? As many said above, he is not a good guy. He is only doing what his Board tells him to do. CEOs are only worried about the stock price.

  27. He needs to quit apologizing – actions speak louder than words. Start offering cash instead of (useless) vouchers and I’m sure there will be plenty of volunteers.

  28. “Good” guy Oscar and Ben are miscalculated the situation at first! I guess this apology again is the corrected calculation!

  29. @peachfront: “I’m not interested in the life story of the victim from the time he fell off the boat from Vietnam in the 70s.” I think you might be just as disrespectful as Munoz in his original comments.

  30. No matter how you slice and dice it, Mr. CEO and United will fall on the sword for all airlines, and in doing so, we will see a major mindset. Instead of referring to paying passengers as SLF (self loading frieght) airlines will realize we are why they even operate in the first place.

    MFFA (make flying fun again)

  31. United gave me Premier Platinum status for life when I reached 1 million miles. Then when they merged with Continental, they downgraded it to Premier Gold. Give something for life. That means for life. When I reached 2 million miles they gave me Premium Platinum for life – something that I actually earned years ago. I knew then this was a no-class operation. Even though I fly out of San Francisco where United is much more convenient, I am so happy that I switched to Delta. A better airline in every way.

  32. Planes now need cameras like cop cars to protect the public from bad cops/stewards who are going all 9-11 on their customers. As a retired Army officer I am ashamed that my government has allowed such bad employees to take over the airlines. They are are an absolute narcissistic disgrace. Put cameras on the planes and let’s see how her tone changes. I am cutting up my Lifetime United Club card (now worthless) and mailing it to Oscar for his pleasure.

  33. Genuine remorse? Nope. It’s all about damage control by the PR operation at UA. Munoz would be lifting his middle finger at customers had not the video emerged and the stock price tanked.

  34. Whatever happened to common sense? United’s business mentally has become very “German”. Sorry, Lucky. I have watched for the past twenty years German companies follow a plan right into the wall and then offer the lame excuse, “The plan did not work but we did follow the plan.”

  35. Ben,
    As I responded in my message during the heated event last week, I surely wish you didn’t jump on the “bandwagon”. You did apologise to your credit and which is a grand gesture these days.
    As I mentioned, even if Dr Dao formerly served prison time, he had his rights. And at that time, he was a “paid passenger already seated”, he surely had his rights to fly. Perhaps it was United’s attempt to smear him to gain public support (which of course we know soon failed). But what did Dr Dao’s or Mr Dao’s past have anything to do with the current event ? Even if he was a known gambler. It did not matter.
    Just please try to be a “standout” in the future, stand for what is right, not what the “madding crowd” does as they gather up the tar, feathers and lasso, accusing before knowing the facts.

  36. United used to be a good airlines. Since they merged with Continental, they’ve hit the dirt. Is a former Continental guy going to change that? Fortunately, I can still use my United miles on real airlines, flying overseas. Let’s see- UA or Lufthansa? UA or Asiana? It’s not even a choice.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *