Best Practices: From First To Worst – Continental In A Post United World, Lessons In Next Gen Customer Experience

Published on March 2, 2012 by R "Ray" Wang

Multiple Respected Research Survey Results Confirm Frequent Flyer Observations

It’s official. In multiple respected customer experience research reports that cover the airline industry, the results are in.  Despite the numerous attempts by CEO Jeff Smisek to gloss over the issue with increasingly slicked up, feel good, on board welcome ads, Continental’s customer satisfaction numbers have reached the abyss of United’s.  While United Holdings may tout their most admired status in the airline industry by Fortune, the award is measured by corporate executives, airline executives, boards of directors and industry analysts – basically not the customers and passengers who fly United Holdings.  On multiple flights this year, I’ve personally heard Continental flyers groan and boo out loud every time they see the welcome aboard video where Jeff Smisek touts how he’s out to help customers, tells them why they are going to like this merger, and brags about how many planes he’s painted in the new livery.  Flight attendants and pilots roll their eyes as well.

What was pure emotional speculation and conjecture can now be quantified.   A quick glance at the latest Temkin Group: Temkin Experience Ratings shows Continental scores as bad as United – basically smack in the poor category (see Figure 1.)Travel Industry benchmark, Atmosphere Research’s US Airline sentiment shows United at the bottom with US Airways.  Even legacy analyst firm, Forrester’s 2012 Customer Experience Index shows a 5% drop for United and a 11% drop for Continental (you’ll need to pay for a subscription to read the results.)  Asked about Continental and United’s customer experience performance, CX Transformist & Managing Partner, Bruce Temkin (@btemkin) pointed out that, “The overall industry actually had a modest improvement between 2011 and 2012 and only two carriers had significant drops: American and Continental. As these economically challenged big airlines focus on wringing out costs, they also squeeze the soul out of their brand, their employees, and the experiences they provide to customers.

Figure 1.Temkin Experience Ratings Shows Continental Falling to United Levels of Poor Customer Experience

Source: Temkin Group

Many Continental employees agree. In a conversation with a Houston senior Flight Attendant who chose to withhold her name for fear of retribution, she stated, “It’s all ‘Jeff’ed’ up! All the goodness of Continental is going away.  Since Jeff took over, they no longer care what we think and sadly, we think they no longer care what customers think.”  A conversation with a few Newark Red Coats in January revealed similar sentiment as they mustered up, “It’s the worst since Lorenzo. The management team is disconnected with the staff. We’re reverting back to pre-Gordon as Jeff destroys our morale.”  One of then pulled me aside and said, “We’re still Continental at heart and I’ll do the best I can while we can. Please stay with us!”

Figure 2. Atmosphere Research’s U.S. Airline Sentiment Scores From August-December 2011 Show United Near Bottom

Source: Atmosphere Research

Gordon’s Magic Fades Away With Smisek’s Ascent

In 1994, Continental was the most hated airline in the industry.  The airline was in the pits after one of the worst airline managers, Frank Lorenzo had destroyed the airline and left it for dead. Amidst the ashes, former Boeing executive, Gordon Bethume took over the reigns and created a new culture. In fact, his bold leadership launched a new era that would create a 15 year run of loyal and satisfied customers. It started with the simple programs from reducing employee absenteeism with Ford Explorer giveaways for perfect attendance, to suing Delta at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport for limiting carry on sizes with the X-Ray machine grates after Continental worked to put in bigger bins. Continental emerged as a favorite among loyal travelers for its service and was seen as the customer’s airline.  With a deluge customer satisfaction awards, Gordon had moved the airline from “Worst to First”.

Gordon’s successor, Larry Kellner, continued the tradition with the introduction of DirecTV, lie flat seats, and even improved service qualities amidst 9/11 and the economic downturn. When he stepped down, it wasn’t clear why, other than that Continental was considering a merger with United. Inside sources later revealed that Larry opposed the merger and Jeff was ready for the opportunity to be CEO at the world’s “largest airline”.

Since the merger, customers have sensed that the customer goodness of Continental has been taken away.  To be fair, loyal Global Services United customers also feel disgruntled but their numbers do not show as much change as the Continental flyers. Why? Well, most folks who flew Continental either went out of the way to fly them or truly felt the difference from great customer service. The consensus among most travelers, United was already at its bottom. “You couldn’t get any lower” said May L. a Global Services flyer out of San Francisco.

Cumulative Reduction In Service Levels Start To Take Its Toll

In fact, many loyal customers find the upgrade percentage dropping, new boarding process to be hideous, baggage handling performance down from the first bag out by 11 and last by 22 minutes policy, and small items in international and domestic first continue to be whittled away. Prior to the merger, Continental proudly declared pillows and blankets on all domestic flights as an affront to the airlines that didn’t care about customer service. Dave L, a fellow million miler from New Jersey puts it this way, “In Business First, Gordon Bethume always believed that a business person should have a great breakfast while on the flight. It could be their only meal of the day! So, you’d always get a fresh juice, yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs, mushrooms, half a baked tomato, a slice of canadian ham, a slice of turkey sausage, and some potato au gratin contraption (See Figure 3). Then the best part came with the hot breads which included a croissant, biscuit, or those awesome cinnamon rolls.

Figure 3. Gordon’s Breakfast Circa 2011 (note the salt and pepper shakers)

Now I get on a flight and they’ve gotten rid of the salt and pepper shakers – we get those cheap United paper packets. They took away one meat and we lost the mushrooms and tomatoes. Sometimes we get yogurt, but most times we don’t. In another case, they didn’t have enough meals for everyone and a few people got stuck with the cheerios and bananas. Even the basic coffee has been atrocious. We should have gotten the Starbucks stuff from United! Come on’ it’s business first, not cattle class”

On my recent trip back from India, my fellow seat mate in Business First, Deepak Sukh, Managing Director of Luminent, Inc, a leadership coaching firm that brings Indian and US companies together noted, “Even Air India is better and cheaper than this. If I had known it’d be this bad, I’d have taken Jet Airways back. Everything is wrong with this flight. From the food choices and variety, loss of hot appetizers, the entertainment is limited, what do you do on 16 hours? I’m so disappointed with this flight. This is not the typical Continental experience. I’m worried if this is what’s happening post-merger. I’ve been a Continental frequent flyer for ages. I won’t be taking this flight again.”

United Management Frankly Fails To Listen To Its Employees

In fairness to the crew on my recent journey to and from India, they were awesome.  They did their best with the utmost experience and professionalism. However, it was obvious the airline had taken away the tools to empower employees to deliver an awesome customer experience.  Comparing service levels from 2010 to 2012, here’s a list of items passengers noted and I have personally confirmed on the February 29th, 2012 flight from BOM to EWR (CO 49):

  • Not enough food for folks in coach
  • Loss of cheese cart in first
  • No more hot appetizers on selected night flights
  • 1/3 the movies of a normal flight (37 vs 80+)
  • Deferred maintenance – taped up floor in the galley (see Figure 4.)
  • Low quality of meals
  • A dirtier plane than normal
  • Priority bags put out last on the arrival belt in EWR

Figure 4.  United Quality Maintenance Now On Continental Planes

Customers Willing To Help But Is United Willing To Listen And Take Action?

And here’s more, over the past 3 months, in interviews with over 50 Platinum Elites, the results show the same level of unhappiness from the most loyal flyers.  Sadly, even the tools of communication have also been taken away or ignored.  In fact, the in flight comment cards were taken away by Jeff Smisek’s management. So how does a customer respond?  Email they say. Well, insiders note that Smisek likes to say he personally responds to every email.  Many million milers have written several times and not gotten a response until they escalated through back channels. In the past, the CEO would personally call or email back to frequent flyers. As one of Continental’s top flyers, I was a CO-Star, and I could attest that both former CEO’s Larry Kellner and Gordon Bethume always responded.  In fact, this will be a case study in my upcoming book on the New Laws of Business.

Social Media Exacerbates Transparency

Unfortunately, what’s made the situation worse, the advent of social media. A quick scan on Twitter for #united lands a slew of complaints, mostly unanswered (see Figure 5). What kind of customer experience do you create when you fail to respond to legitimate customer complaints and allow the public to so publicly express their outrage. What kind of customer service on twitter is 9 to 5? You’d think the experience from David Caroll’s “United Breaks Guitars” video would have taught them a lesson. Sadly, it hasn’t. In fact, insiders tell me that the management team believes that their lock on the routes and command of corporate accounts gives them the leeway to treat customers poorly. Others tell me that since the customer backlash from United customers on the potential removal of Economy+, they’ve been afraid to engage in social.

Figure 5. The Twitterverse Lashes Out And Not A Single United Response

Industry Analysts Speak Out On Continental United

Asked about what an airline can do to improve customer experience in a down market, I turned to leading travel analyst, Henry Harteveldt (@hharteveldt), co-founder of travel industry research firm Atmosphere Research Group — and a former Continental marketing executive.  “The United teams need to be careful — this merger is an exciting opportunity that had best not be squandered through arrogance or failing to correctly judge the market.

Though the airline will be the largest after its merger, within the US it will be only the third largest, after Delta and Southwest. Our research shows just three in 10 travelers view themselves as brand loyal — so even though there are more than 70 million members in the Mileage Plus program, United can’t take their loyalty or business for granted. United lags American, Delta, and Virgin America in offering amenities like in-flight Wi-Fi and in-seat power that business travelers, its bread-and-butter, value. Though United is adding Economy Plus to the former Continental fleet, they won’t have it on the entire Continental fleet for a while – another missed opportunity. Worse, Delta is adding a similar product to its domestic fleet (it has premium economy on its international aircraft) and, on March 1, American announced that it too would add premium economy seating. These moves weaken United’s lead.

United has announced plans to improve its long-haul premium cabin meal service, and it’s bringing the Continental in-flight entertainment content to the long-haul United fleet that have in-seat entertainment systems. It’s announced plans to add in-flight Wi-Fi to its entire fleet (only the 757s dedicated to the JFK-LAX/SFO premium service flights now have Wi-Fi ), though only a handful of aircraft will have that by the end of 2012. My advice to travelers: Borrow a page from Cold War geopolitics, and trust but verify that United is living up to its promises and your expectations. Other airlines are keenly watching to see how United handles the final elements of the merger. By all means, if you’re a loyal United or Continental traveler, stick with the airline. But if the new United doesn’t meet your expectations, let your wallet do the talking, and take your business to other airlines. If you’re an “elite” United Mileage Plus member, some other airlines may offer you a one-time match of your United Mileage Plus status in their loyalty program. Check the various airline forums on Milepoint.com and FlyerTalk.com, the two leading online communities for frequent fliers, for more information on this.

For the folks at United, don’t think March 3, “merger day,” is the end. It’s just the beginning. United must beat the basics — that is, offers superior on-time performance, that passegers’ checked bags arrive with them, that front-line staff remain consistently professional and courteous, the planes are clean, and that key consumer-facing technology channels like the website, mobile apps, online check-in, and kiosks all work reliably. As I learned when I worked in the airline business, the measure of a good airline isn’t how it operates when the weather is clear and sunny, it’s how the airline handles things when it’s snowing, you’re overbooked, and half your flights are cancelled. United must now focus to deliver a more consistent customer experience. They’ll have, at best, six months, before travelers lose patience — and before negotiations start with major corporations’ for their 2013 airline contracts. As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression. Let’s hope United lives up to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Temkin noted that customers should, “Choose the carriers that care whenever they can. The more that the economics favor the carriers that do a good job with the CX, the more that others will need to put CX on their executive agenda.  From an airline’s point of view executives should not, “Consider this a problem with customer interactions and recognize that its a fundamental problem in how their organizations operate. Once they understand that, they need to focus on what Temkin Group calls the four customer experience core competencies: Purposeful leadership, compelling brand value, employee engagement, and customer connectedness.

The GodFather of CRM, Paul Greenberg, devoted a post on customer experience calling United out and comparing the difference in service levels with Marriott Hotels.  The airline ignored him and never got back to him.  That utter lack of response pretty much explained how much the airline cared.

Customers “Just Want Their Airline Back”

The general verdict from frequent flyers, employees, and partners of Continental/United- “we want our airline back!” Sadly, the last Continental flight is Saturday March 3rd ( see Figure 6.)

Figure 6.  March 3rd Put An End To the Continental Legacy

 

 

 

 

Basic Customer Experience Principles Lacking At The Management Level Since Jeff Smisek’s Leadership

So what’s the lesson learned here in delivering top-notch customer experience? United and other customer service facing industries can improve with just these 5 strategies.

  1. Revisit listening to your customers. This doesn’t mean you respond to every complaint or comment. It means you understand what the root cause of the problem is and seek to address that cause.
  2. Understand that everything is public. In an age of social media it’s all public. You have to engage your customers. This means taking your understanding and involving them in the process. Show customers you are addressing the issue and also helping them understand your side of the story
  3. Stop resting on your laurels. Even the most loyal customers will bolt. Taking a customer for granted can be costly in not only money, time, but also publicity
  4. Listen to your employees. In 8 out of 10 cases, the employees know what’s going on and can provide the best feedback. In United and Continental’s case here, the failure to listen to employees is breaking the culture of the airline.
  5. Build an active community. An active and engaged community can provide United with the force multipliers to not only improve customer service, but also reduce costs. Giff Gaff in the UK has shown this with the mobile phone business. It’s a great example of getting the best of both worlds in Social Business.

Your POV

Do you want your airline back?  Have you learned from this case study?  Are you a customer facing organization looking to win by improving customer experience?  Add your comments to the blog or send us a comment at R (at) SoftwareInsider (dot) org or R (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com

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  • 20 yr veteran flight attendant here, all with legacy United. when I was hired we were the cream of the crop, caviar, Dom Perignon, chateau Briton, the list goes on and on. While 9/11 contributed greatly to the demise of a world class airline, we fought back the hurdles, and survived, to add to the need for survival, we partnered with continental, and with that we took on co management. What a mistake that is…it’s been bonehead decision after even bonerhead decision. It’s like they have no idea how to run an airline. Taking the profitable ps service from three class to two class continental style configurations, co res system, mud coffee…the list goes on and on. We have lost very lucrative global service contracts to delta, and afa is now making three class configs to take over the premium transcon routes as well as united customers defacing to the other big two. Isn’t it proof from all the responders named employee, or cal employee….everyone is too afraid to write their names to these comments as tons have been fired for criticizing smiseks jeffed up decisions. We need to fire Jeff, he is almost as bad as Glenn tilton! Fear, low morale, embarrassment, is what the new united employees feel! And Jeff still flaunts himself on the safety videos as if he is the messiah! He is ruining this airline, and if this keeps up, you’ll see the list of defunct legendary airlines of the world…pan am, twa, eastern…..United!

  • From what I hear around the system, the CAL computer system was 10 years behind United. Also, the new top managment was from CAL and this has even CAL employees unhappy. Luckily, I got to work the late 50’s and 60’s when we had the tools to provide good service and we did it.
    Today, the public in their flipflops and tee-shirts just want to be mad and complain. Face it folks, the airlines are all cattlecars and you are the cattle. Get on, shut up or take the bus!

  • Ray… Just an update.

    Our operation had become a total disaster. I agree whole-heartedly with SFO agent “united Employee nr 3 or 4″. (Post from May 22). I actually got choked up reading his/her post. I don’t think the customers have any idea how stressed we really are. Broken airplanes, broken front line hardware, and INADEQUATE STAFFING, sub-par catering. In our station, we are being run ragged. I am a CSR/SD, and I don’t remember things being this bad, even when CAL was at it’s worst. It has gotten to the point, where I can work my whole shift with out a break. Even to relieve myself. Really Jeff? Is this how we are to give good customer service? Be being run in to the ground? I am getting to the point of not caring. I just don’t have the time to care anymore. And it’s not just me. All of us at our station are up against the same brick wall. Manangement (and not local, they are doing the best they can too) says that they don’t staff for “irregular operations”. I have news for you in Willis Tower… (how fitting… Management in a tower} EVERY DAY IS IRREGULAR OPERATIONS! For those of you on the “s-UA” side, I don’t know what kind of management this is, but it ain’t CAL management. So get that thought out of your heads. We, “Ex-Cons” dispise them too.

    This is for our customers… When your plane arrives at the gate, and you are held prisoner for 5 or more minutes, please don’t think that it’s because we are lazy, or don’t give a crap that you have arrived.

    It’s because there isn’t anyone to meet your plane. The three of us are too busy rebooking the four flights that have just cancelled… I am truly sorry. I really am.

    I am heart broken. This summers operation has driven away customers in droves. I am certain of that.

    Thank you, M&A attorney. Enjoy your 14mil.

  • Stephen

    it’s sad they couldn’t convert MP accounts to the new system. i found it ridiculous. as for the site, i like this one better than the old united one b/c i can choose the class of air fare i need. it helps especially when gaming upgrades. you could never do that on the UA site nor get a phone rep to figure it out. yes it’s ugly but it has it’s purpose. my upgrade percentage is in the high 90’s =)

    R

  • I want to echo Tony’s comment about the website. I was shocked, then horrified, by the circa 1999 site I found a month ago when I went to book a flight.

    United’s former site was a pleasure to use. The way it allowed you to see lists of outbound and return flights, compare prices, surface best deals, was actually fun. Although I could tell where the business had the designers make promotions prominent (buy this upgrade is a button, where “No, thanks” was a small text link), the site was intuitive.

    Now it’s a mess, designed by committee, with a random, incoherent set of promotions on the home page and the most bare-bones design elements of any US airline out there. I was forced to change my Mileage Plus number (which I had memorized years ago) – and CAL didn’t even send the new account number to my email on file.

    The ONLY reason I just booked a flight with United is because I have 8,000 miles (not a big amount, but more than I have anywhere else) that I don’t want to lose.

    How’s that for customer loyalty ;-)

    I’ll report back after the flight to NYC later this month.

    Thanks for putting this blog out there. Hearing the employee side of the story is amazing. As a customer, I totally empathize with them!

  • Tony

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. PMUA customers mostly agree that the merger has not been good. PMCO customers also think it’s gone down hill. It’s the one thing everyone agrees with =)

    R

  • United was a really decent airline for me prior to the merger with Continental which was nothing like a merger.

    The web site went back in time twenty years in usability and technology. A simple example of this is the fact that from the new “United” web site, when you add a booked flight to the calendar, it imports as a single calendar event, that blocks out your calendar from the time your first flight leaves, to the time your return flight home comes back. It is a useless joke!!

    The coffee suddenly went from Starbucks “so-so” to downright nasty and inedible.

    Bags now take 20-25 minutes to appear after landing. Seriously…sometimes they take even longer.

    Upgrades? Forget it..it is June and still have many misses where I am not even properly on the upgrade list. Status means nothing, and United does not care.

    The United Club room, you can no longer renew a membership with mileage. They want cold hard cash since they are telling you your miles are worthless.

    The internet in the club rooms is overloaded, unreliable and spotty at best.

    The club rooms have been redecorated with harsh fluorescent lighting and individual cubes have been “opened” up into a shared workspace where you cannot really work since everyone talking on phones is right next to you and they can even lean over and read right off your laptop screen. Infuriating!

    Jeff Smisek is a greasy, slimeball lawyer who I would not even let watch my children.

  • Ex-Con

    Agreed. I think everyone realizes that SMI/J is not Continental cloth nor should he misrepresent this. He’s just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    R

  • R “Ray” Wang…

    No. This is NOT the Continental management that brought our company up from the bottom. The lawyer likes to paint a picture of peace and harmony, but actions speak louder than words. He talks a big, promising game, but has yet to prove it. For the employees, and the customers. Paint jobs on and airplane, do not an airline make. And they should have come up with a totally new look for the company. No “tulip”, no “globe”. THAT would have been a unifying gesture. But as with everything else, we are seeing EVERYTHING done on the cheap. We see it on the CO side, and it is obvious to the UA employees, on their side too. Again, the misery is being spread equally…

    EX.

  • Ex-Con21

    Thanks for your comments. I think the PMUA side didn’t know that this isn’t the PMCO management. The customers all know it. We even have some folks now skipping the lawyer’s video and going straight to the demo as everyone’s upset at SMI/J. Thanks for sharing this!

    R

  • Twenty one years with CAL. We have come full circle. When I first came to CAL, the company was post merger NY Air, Frontier, PE, TI. What a mess. All handled by Frank Lorenzo. The similarities here, are frightening.

    I understand the frustration and anger of the “s-UA” employees, after being steam-rolled by Glenn Tilton. I am certain, that even under his tyranny, that the UAL employees still tried their best to promote their company. Your tenacity kept your company going. It certainly wasn’t Tilton’s doing. I think when the merger was first announced, many UAL employees were happy that they would have the chance to enter into a better company culture. We hoped the same for you. Unfortunately, none of us got what we hoped for. I think we are all feeling that Jeff’s boot is standing on our necks.

    While those of you on the UAL side, see a huge degradation in your service, policies, and systems, don’t think it any differnt on our side. The misery has been spread equally around.

    It is not the pilots’ fault, or the F/A’s fault, or the agent’s fault. The problem is coming from the top. We, at CAL, were very used to working with management. They truly worked with every front line employee. They really did listen to us. Since the lawyer took over, every avenue of communication has been cut off. For the employees, AND customers. So, don’t think that since the “Continental Management” took over, it’s been a party for us on the “s-CO” side. The current management is a shadow of what it’s former self.

    I think the lawyer, has managed to kill the spirit of both companies. Instead of bringing the “best of both” together, he’s managed to jettison the best of both, and turn us into bus company.

    As far as SHARES goes, it’s what we have to work with. Yes, it will take time to learn it. Yes, it does require you to think. Not really a bad thing. But there are many aspects of this merger that we have no control over.

    Most of us, on both sides, most likely didn’t want or ask for this. But here we are. WE are the “New United”. WE have to make it work. It’s obvious, that the current regime couldn’t care less if it does or not. I have a feeling the lawyer has his eye on the door already. WE will be the ones left to deal with the aftermath. Maybe Gordon will come to his senses, and come back to truly create the world’s greatest airline.

    I would really love to see this work. WE really have a chance here. WE could be the greatest airline worldwide. But unless we stop snapping at each others’ ankles, it never will. That would be tragic…

    We all work for the same company now. The sooner every one figures that out, the better off we will be, and our customers will love us for it…

  • we are trying to address all these issues for globals, and upgrades, etc.
    SHARES doesnt “get ” the upgrade issues, the 747’s, the through-flights with same flight number like 837 sfo-nrt-tpe..assigning or changing seats is the ultimate nightmare….because they HAVE to show available ALL THE WAY to tpe. I work UA express so i deal with a diff. monster….the weight restrictions…causes me zillions mini headaches,,,and through-flight issues,but i did work international for 19 years too, so i know both sides.
    mergers don’t go smooth, and we have been handed a tough deal, and UA agents stress, but i’m sure so do CO with us.
    Established situations sooner or later will get addressed; the needs of UA agents will start to resurface; the management is trying hard to listen to us. Wherever they can offer fixes LOCALLY they do. I point out items and my sup. DOES make notations. Mostly we have to wait for directives from headquarters, but this is where we WANT you to write in and express your complaint, need, observation and suggestion. We are a customer-driven operation, and we value your loyalty. i know i do. But at the same time i value if you have the patience with us. Some lucky GS and 1K and other golds report being happy… i engage them in conversation and they’re just low-key non-excitable. I value that too.If you approach me nicely i’m so much more less defensive and willing to see how i can assist you in a pleasant manner, and will listen to you and voice your concerns. I need for you to also voice your concerns and express your need to see your airport agents more trained to assist faster. Our Continen tal support agents will soon be leaving us, and we need themto leave us with infused knowledge. Thank you.

  • our input is it sounds the passenger knows better than the employee..I’ve come to accept that…sad, though.

    I’m not that technologically savvy, though used to be customer being savvy(for 20 years)..now i feel like it takes me longer, but i do try, and if i cant hel you , i call support…I dont know, and maybe it’s attitude, but i usually achieve the help i need. i think “good things come to those who wait”, and in sticking with us you may eventually get the expected reward, but i do understand if you are instant-gratification driven….We all are to some extent. I’m sure if you go away and once we’re more self-assured we will win you back.
    Sorry for the hassles for the bags…

  • hi maxwell

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I think if a few more folks chime in we may have a comprehensive and more objective point of view. The issue w/ CO management taking over isn’t the fact they are CO or not. It really comes to the fact that while SMI/J is really from CO the management team left does not reflect the original values of Gordon and Larry. In fact, the management team should re-read from Worst to First.

    As for some of your points, here’s a few counter points to consider:

    Catering: UA First catering and Business catering were sub-standard in general. The new standards raise UA’s to Continental’s Business First levels which were the best in domestic and better than most First, especially United’s

    Catering: Champagne glasses in Int’l are still the same. Domestic service has been cut to some extent.

    Catering: Coffee issue was actually not a CO thing. The coffee replaced vs PMUA and PMCO was definitely not the same one in PMCO. Everyone can agree that was bad all around.

    Equipment: Continental had the newer fleet. While narrow body, the 737’s mostly were equipped w/ Power outlets up and until the exit row with DirectTV access. While IFE went from free to paid in this model, the choices and quality of programming improved.

    Amenities: PMCO had blankets and pillow for everyone on the plane. Jeff Smisek killed that idea the year before he took over. Int’l Business First blankets were applied on domestic routes

    Amenities: UA’s layout for lie flat tried to squeeze seats in a 2-3-2 configuration on 777 when CO has 2-2-2. On 747, UA has 2-4-2 where CO has 2-3-2.

    IT: SHARES is slower b/c it never was designed to take the complete STAR alliance itineraries. Prior to merger SHARES was a more powerful system and power users could do things such as create one Baggage Claim for interlining across multiple separate PNR’s. you couldn’t do that in PMUA

    Ticketing: UA’s old tickets had less information than CO”s. Agreed Seat Number is Priority one in UX. That should be as large as the Gate INfo.

    Branding: UA’s livery was ugly, dated, and represented a Legacy Carrier. PMUA planes had up to 3 different logos including the ugly TED planes. Continental’s Times New York font looked good on the planes. The branding was clean and fresh and consistent across the board. The United Logo on a Continental Livery is just awkward.

    Aircraft: At least Continental had newer planes, better maintained air craft, full amenities including working ovens in all planes. PMCO had the foresight to order many 787’s which New Co will benefit from.

    Crew Contracts: CO has the better bidding process for routes. PMCO didn’t have to pay for meals. Now in the new config they do. That’s a Smisek issue not a CO issue

    Summary: It’s all Jeff’ed up. The new CO management isn’t the one that brought CO from worst to first. It would have been better for UA to have gone bankrupt. Start from scratch and bid out the routes to avoid duplication. I know it sounds tough, but if bankruptcy happened, CO or any other carrier could have restructured the debt, remake the airline and improve competitiveness. Right now, PMCO and PMUA carry the worst of the two instead of the best.

    Thanks for your input. Would love to hear yours and other thoughts.

    R

  • Points to consider:

    Top Management: Pete MacDonald is the only remaining United (UA) executive.

    Operations: New UA now runs on the Continental (CO) operating certificate, meaning all operational policies and procedures.

    Training: New UA now uses static simulator training (less comprehensive/cheaper) per CO standards. Previously deemed not safe enough by old UA. Pilots have voiced concern.

    Security: Current UA aircraft have key pad and gated doors preventing unauthorized cockpit entry. CO aircraft do not. UA aircraft are being downgraded back to lower CO standard.

    Catering: CO management ended old UA contract with Starbucks in favor of CO’s Houston-based vendor. Resulted in many complaints.

    Catering: UA used champagne glasses in premium cabins. CO management has removed champagne glasses from all UA aircraft. Now, wine and champagne served from same glass.

    Amenities: UA has had life-flat, award-winning business class suites years prior to CO started to roll them out. UA fleet has more lie-flat seating than CO aircraft do.

    Amenities: Old UA First class received two premium blankets and two pillows. Not the case with CO. Also, CO has no First class.

    IT: New UA acquired CO’s SHARES. An older, slower reservations system. But, more features.

    Ticketing: UA’s paper ticket displayed seat number in large, bold font. Now, uses CO’s tickets with small seat number and large, bold font for gate. This ticket is generally issued at the gate.

    Branding: UA’s marketing and livery was debuted in the 21st century. CO’s was introduced over two decades ago.

    Boarding: Harmonized to CO’s process. After wide-spread complaint. Changed back to UA’s process. Mainly impacted upgrades to E+ flyers.

    Mileage program: Adopted UA’s name. Used CO’s mileage accrual formula. After wide-spread complaint, changed to UA’s more generous mileage accrual formula.

    Aircraft: CO favors single-aisle aircraft for long-haul service to maximize revenue. UA uses wide-body aircraft on most long-haul routes. For example, UA’s Hong Kong to Singapore & Saigon flights featured a B747 or B777. Now, it will use a CO B737 brought over from Guam. Same scenario for LA to Honolulu.

    Crew contracts: CO crews have less-generous layover periods but more generous hour accrual provisions. UA crews have more-generous layover periods but less generous hour accruals. Both tend to favor their work rules.

    Etc. . .

    Summary: This article is clearly extremely bias and, therefore, should be appreciated for the value that it adds but also be considered with its leanings in mind. Upon merger completion, CO management took over the new, combined company. Since then, the vast majority of CO policies and procedures on a corporate and front-line level have replaced those of UA. The author does point out that this critique is more pointed at CO management and their handling of the merger. However, it also very strongly implies that CO’s policies and business model were far superior to that of UA. If you look deeper into the nuanced aspects of this merger, I think you will see that most of what has happened is the result of UA customers being exposed to CO policies, procedures and product offerings. If anything can be gleaned from this situation, it is that perception is king. I would be so bold as to say that United has not destroyed Continental. But rather, Continental management has done a horrific job of integrating valued components of both airlines to form “the world’s leading airline”, as they claim to be accomplishing.

  • Hi United Employee 3 or 4,

    Thanks. Here’s the issue – Southwest and Virgin America all try. They don’t guarantee success and warn you on the cut-offs so you may get there but your bag may not. The night time airport operations Supervisor was really rude about it. He could have done it but chose not to. That’s why the anger. The GA wanted to. This is what’s wrong w/ the picture. You have an employee who wanted to help being beaten down by their management not to. =(

    R

  • Ray, this is so unfortunate..When we were old-ua we wouldve done the same..call the gate, etc. Maybe not at domestic, but at intl we used to go as far as call the gate, check you in, AND escort you to the gate. Not so now, as we have gotten new cutoff times. I believe everyth. should be case by case driven, but unfortunately even local mgmt. is driven by upper mgmt. and we old ua feel our hands are more tied. With bags you are limited now to 45 min. and without to 30. And even that depends on where you travel from. I didn’t know you were GS, and I’m sorry if you felt you were not treated adequately. I’m sorry for many things, and I truly hope we’ll get back to better servicing you in the future.Believe me we want to.

  • Hi United Employee

    The issue isn’t you. The issue is the management team is failing. Just this Saturday I had your night time Airport Operations Supervisor turn me away from a 12;30 am flight at 11;50 pm. Every other airline that matters – Virgin America, Jet Blue, Southwest would have let me on w/ the understanding my bag might not make it. This guy spent his whole time running the clock instead of trying to approve an exception for a GS member. He was so bent on following the rules, he just infuriated me as a customer. Instead of making a judgment call, he chose the latter. At Continental, they would have called the gate, who would have approved this. I know I’m not special, but when the next flight is 5:30 am and you make a customer sleep in the airport to catch that flight b/c they are stranded when you could have helped them, that’s unacceptable.

    R

  • i am a customer service agent in SFO…I am original UA. I am among some others of us who do realize our bread and butter is being disserviced, and i dont mean just gold and silver members. To me all customers are equal, and a lot of us believe that. As we are learning more tools of the trade, we believe we are able to serve you better. We WANT to serve you better. Those of us trying hard to navigate the new system are also trying hard to re-obtain some of the tools we lost before. A lot of us have believed in superior customer service since the day we hired on. I have 20 years now, and feel somewhat “incapacitaded’ to help you out, but doesnt mean im not trying to help you. I am trying to find “tricks” in the system, using our old verbiage, to transmit to my legacy united co-workers what i learn from my new co-coworkers. i hope in 10 years from today to smile back and say it all was peanuts, but i’m concerned to lose you, i’m imploring for your patience;i ASSURE you quite a few of us believe in providing good customer service, and i appreciate your understanding. I appreciate when you come to me and offer me a coffee, a chocolate, a smile, a word of encouragement, an acknowledgement that you see im trying not to fail you and try to serve you. I tell you I will let you on standby now and figure out later how to fix your ticket but will do it. Just go on your flight and relax and enjoy your trip home or to work, because i DO care about your multi-billion contract, your wedding being the best man to your friend, your funeral, your court appearance, your business meeting, your reunion with your fiancee, your visit to your dying relative in the hospital or hospice, your child’s graduation, your kindergartner’s first play, your child’s birth, your kid’s first soccer game, your LIFE dependent on travel. I’m all ears. I WANT you to go. MANY OF US do know all about this. Airline agents are so vilified… yet a LOT of us are not. And at UNited new or old lots of us have feelings and hearts and i can speak for most of my co-workers at SFO. I apologize if we are brusque or short….we are STRESSED but we dont hate you…and we just ask your support. Your bad seat will only be for a few hours of your life. It only will be once, twice, maybe three times. I’m truly sorry. We will keep learnig how to fix it. I have witnessed employees in tears because they couldn’t help customers like they did before. We care. Please give us a chance. Thank you.

  • Stewardone!

    I won’t disagree with you about Continental’s folks taking over in management. However, I think if you ask the Continental folks if this management team represents what Larry Kellner and Gordon Bethune stood for, you’d find out that the Continental folks are just as angry about the merger. Why? Because this post merger Continental Management team does not represent the values that passengers, employees, and suppliers thought of the pre-merger continental (PMCO). PMCO worked with their employees to come up with ideas. PMCO listened to their customers for advice and implemented their suggestions. PMCO believed in being the best.

    From what I’ve heard, Larry Kellner never wanted the merger but the board got Jeff to do it. Jeff is looking for a payout. His actions show he doesn’t care how he gets there. The merger has been bad for customers – higher ticket prices, employees – more concessions, and suppliers – bizarre hodgepodge of polices. This is the stuff the FAA, and DOJ should look into to see if post merger results meet what was said upon testimony.

    I do wish you the best as you go through the brunt of this. As a passenger, it’s just disheartening that a few rotten apples really spoil it for everyone else.

    R

  • ok i can feel my blood pressure rising as i read this article… from united employee perspective… lets be clear, the ‘new united’ has been overrun in the management level by continental people, you should check that out, united management has silently disappeared, its all continental ideas, and continental managment…
    united employees are flabbergasted when co’s employees say they had the best customer service ratings… ummm if so that might be because customers think that when the co agents are spending so much time talking to them, that they are so interested in them… NOT! its because, the shares system is so slow and cumbersom, that each transaction takes upwards of 15 to 20 min. our old united customers, are freaked out by the time it takes them to get checked in now.. they cant stand it, they have places to go, things to do, and we move at a snails pace.. in san francisco, we live in the seat of technology, and as a employees that could check in 10 people in my old united application, compared to, this archaic shares, its mental abuse.
    now lets talk about the absolute devestation of our elite customer program, wow, just ask out 1k’s and global service, who had the better elite program… the new united, has screwed them royaly..
    as for united conglomerate forcing employees to tow the line, WHAT? united employees ARE UNION…. we have protection, we dont get pushed around by the company, we agree on the rules, SINCE CONTINENTAL TOOK OVER, THEY HAVE TRIED TO MAKE US, GO BY THEIR AUSTERE RULES, AND WE HAVE PUT OUR FOOT DOWN ON OUR SIDE, WHY? BECAUSE WE HAVE A UNION…
    …just to be clear here, UNITED NEVER CHARGED FOR BAGS, OR GOT RID OF BLANKETS AND ALL THE OTHER MEAGER WAYS UNTIL UNITED LOOKED TO MERGE WITH CONTINENTAL, THAN WE STARTED ALIGNING WITH CO’S POLICYS, TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO CO…
    well on the side of reality, it will work itself out in the long run, its just very frustrating during this process…

  • TJW – i’m so sorry to hear. He’s been sugarcoating and not working on problem resolution which concerns everyone. The FAA and DOJ should review this merger again.

    R

  • Ray: Thanks for a “GREAT” summary. This hits the nail on the head, and shows Jeff’s desire to move from “First to Worst”.

  • Ex-Con EE,

    Sorry to hear about this. That and the move to chicago can’t be great.

    Ray

  • It has truely been a nightmare for the customers and the employees since this merger began.

    This has torn so many employee families apart!

    Thanks Jeff…. Hope you are happy!!

  • Cal Pilot – sorry to hear. we hope you guys work hard to convince the institutional investors that Smisek has to go. = Ray

  • Ray,

    Thank you for posting your thoughts on the merger and Smisek’s appalling mishandling of it.

    I met Mr. Smisek as a new-hire CAL pilot some years ago. He’d come along with Larry Kellner to address about 30 of us at the company’s training center in Houston. The two of them spoke for about thirty minutes and then fielded questions.

    After their visit, many of us shared our impressions: Mr. Kellner was confident but also very warm and engaging. Mr. Smisek, however, was unanimously considered the most arrogant human being that any of us had ever encountered. Seriously. We were astonished by his obtuseness and alarming tendency toward self-indulgence.

    It should come as no surprise, then, that upon the announcement of Mr. Kellner’s departure and Mr. Smisek’s ascension to the helm, many of us feared for our comapny’s future. Given your commentary and that of your frequent-flying peers, it appears our concerns were warranted.

    I’ll close with this: it appears that one of Gordon Bethune’s secrets of success was surrounding himself with great talent. CAL’s executive suite during his tenure was respected and admired (with one notable exception, but that’s another story.) Now compare that with the new United, where CEO Jeff Smisek thinks he IS the talent. Big difference.

  • Duncan – we feel your pain. most of us now agree that it’s better to fly the other *alliance partner instead of United on International – Ray

  • United used to tell me (7 years ago) I was their only 1M down under. 5 years ago United/Qantas/Air Nz more or less charged the same fare in economy/business/first to the states. Now Qantas/Virgin/American charge about 1500AUD economy, Delta/Air NZ 1300AUD and then theirs United with about or just under 1000AUD return to the States (yes we always pay more from this end). There is no way in most business you can reduce your selling price by a third and reduce your costs to represent the same margin. Thank fully I fly at the pointy end but it’s the same in fare comparission. I rather and do pay 8000AUD business on Qantas than save 2000AUD flying United yeah I could save the money for a much inferior service but I charge clients and it’s tax deductible. I really like the (Dragon Ladies on United, on one flight out of AKL to Melb at 6am it was a very nasty take off as soon as the seat belt sign went of they offered passengers a drink, sure it was early but that’s what the clients wanted) long haul senior staff, they are mind readers. I have tried the NEW United Fisrt and Business JFK-LHR and sorry the product on the competition is so much better. Their strategy might work in economy where you pay for the fare but up front most don’t and will change brands for a smile, coffee and my favourite mind reading abilities. On United economy the still have the big screens for a 15hour flight. United is substantialy cheaper as it’s the only way the can fill their flights. I would never fly United domesticaly but Continental was fine in the States. Now it’s American unless it’s JFK then I use the Qantas connecting flight from LAX it’s a true international flight on your domestic network. Hate your hub system. United down under are program matching with any other airline FF program and give you 3 months. Sad but it seems to be the way of US airlines of late it’s all about costs and not service, it might work in coach but not the pointy end. My 2cents

  • I’m a millio+ mile United flier, and a lifetime United (formerly Red Carpet) Club member as well.

    I’ve accumulated those miles mostly because of where I’ve lived, worked and traveled, especially between San Francisco, DC, Chicago, London, Denver and Los Angeles. If you fly a lot to (or through) those places, you rack up a lot of United miles. My wife is close to 2 million miles with United for the same reason. In any case, our loyalty hasn’t been a matter of affection, but of convenience. We know United is a very big, very average airline. And, if we could get the same perks with better airlines as we do with United, we’d probably rather fly those. But we can’t, so we’re stuck.

    That said, I’ve rarely had a bad experience on a United flight, or with United baggage handling, or with other typical issues. It probably also helps that I know the airline, it’s planes, and their quirks, and that am an easy passenger to please. And that I am now a privileged high-mileage flier with the airline.

    But it concerns me to see so much unhappiness amidst the rank & file.

    Since the merger I have had a number of conversations with United employees, both from the United and the Continental sides of the merger. Some try to put on a happy face, but it doesn’t look good. Mostly it’s consistent with what I’m reading on this thread.

    What blew my mind this morning, and led me to Ray’s post and the comments here, was hearing my wife report that the “new” reservation system — Continental’s old one — is the antique SHARES, which (she was told) actually uses Microsoft’s ancient DOS operating system. (Or so she was told by an unhappy United employee at an airport recently.)

    If that’s actually the case, all I can ask is… why? That makes no sense to me.

    Oh, there is one thing I do like very much about United, and that I miss on other airlines: listening to air traffic chatter on audio channel 9. It’s a cheap and easy grace for the airline (and willing pilots) to provide, and I do appreciate it.

  • Another Employee

    sorry to hear that it’s gotten this bad. i hope more people read this, retweet it and use social media to help make United a better airline. The FAA and FTC should realize these mergers aren’t good for consumers. – Ray

  • As another long-time CAL employee (30+ years)I’m disgusted with what has happened to MY Airline. We were the worst in the industry for a long time and then Gordon came and revived our great spirit. He believed in US and the airline as well as our customers. We became the best in the industry through all of our hard work, dedication and the leadership of a true business giant. He wasn’t a lawyer or bean counter. He had been in the lower ranks and understood most of what truly makes up an airline. He could speak with and to employees and had a firm idea of what was happening out there to make the airline run.

    Larry came after Gordon and while I feel he was a pretty good fellow and had the same beliefs and feelings as Gordon, I don’t think he had the connections or respect from the rest of the industy and government that Gordon had. It cost him in the end when the shady sort of management arrived.

    Jeffy and the BOD have nothing on their minds besides running the largest airline in the world, getting some fame and huge salaries & bonuses. Jeffy and his lawyer mentality along with his troop of bean counters has turned us completely around. Customer service has hit a low point, the planes are showing it too. Morale is in the crapper and will get much worse. They no longer want to hear our ideas or opinions, unlike Gordon’s upper management team.

    Our new and excellent fleet of Boeing 737-800s will be swapped with older UAL Airbus’s which will greatly affect formerly loyal customers on those routes as well as the morale of the Technicians working them.

    We just got new work rules that are very unfriendly toward the workers. Whereas CAL seemed to always be working WITH us the new UAL Management seems to have the “old style” philosophy of “do what you’re told, shut up or get out”. It’s a huge culture shock for us ex-CONs to be treated the way the Legacy United (as they call themselves) management is treating us. Obviously the new United has as little regard for employees as they do for our former loyal customers. Perhaps that’s why the Legacy United was such a crappy airline with such little respect from employees and customers as well as the rest of the industry.

    I just wish they wouldn’t have adopted our old dignified, professional and beautiful paint scheme and would have just let us fade away with dignity, respect and pride rather than being associated with the substandard Legacy United. RIP CONTINENTAL!

  • A few observations about customer-centricity:

    – Customer-centricity is rarely operationally efficient yet very effective. It’s very difficult for bean counters to measure outcomes like effectiveness. Effectiveness is something that builds, so measurements like repeat business takes time to change and it’s hard to find causality. Outcome measurements like satisfaction are interpretive and fuzzy. Outputs and costs are easier to calculate.
    – It often makes no sense to managers that customer-centricity can be a secret sauce. They often look for tricks and fads. The adjustments they make to business operations are not made in a vacuum. These are made in context. So, a change to save money with a reduction in service may have little effect at an airline with lower satisfaction – it may be hardly noticeable. But, clearly noticeable in context where the airline was customer intimate.
    – Culture is hard to change. It’s fascinating how many comments you’ve gotten from airline employees. It’s as if this goal of achieving higher profitability will fail, despite increased ‘efficiencies’ and ‘economies of scale’ through a drop in employee satisfaction.

  • Kyle – that’s it? oh well, better than nothing. let’s see what 3/3 brings.=) – Ray

  • As someone who usually sits in the bulkhead I suppose it’s okay. But, it just shows that 1K now equals “just another elite” .

    Also, pre-merger United used to generously compensate 1Ks for issues such as mechanical delays, customer service problems or technical problems.

    We’d receive “eCerts” of about $200 or above to apply to domestic flights for delays. This was their way of saying We’re sorry.

    Now you hear stories of full fare first class passengers on international flights being compensated $50 (after emailing Continental for weeks and weeks and weeks) for not having any in-flight entertainment on their long haul flight.

    I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because integration is about to begin. But if this is the new norm, I’m headed back to American :)

  • Matt – thanks. good point. I won’t trust myself going forward =) – Ray

  • Kyle – that’s the continental approach. so what happens is pax then try to sit up front so they get meal choice. that’s how they compensate. The GS approach is more fair for meals. As for the incentives, they are gamifiying one time revenue over longer term customer value. It may be b/c it doesn’t matter when you have corporate accounts and lock-in – Ray

  • I’m with you Ray re: the sharp drop in service. I’m a million miler too and I see precious little reason for my continued 1K loyalty. Smaller planes mean fewer upgrades. Older planes mean degraded flying experience. Grumpy staff make time in he air painful. At least I get greated by Smisek and his Cheshire cat grin. Never trust a company that builds its brand around its CEO ( unless of course they were the founder).

  • More from the United side–

    Flight attendants used to take meal order based on status. I am hearing hearing that beginning tomorrow, it will be taken front to back (with special preference only to Global Service members).

    That is, assuming I even get my upgrade-which, even as a top tier elite, has been sparse lately.

    I’m seriously asking myself whether Smisek values loyalty at all. It was a pleasure being a top tier elite on United, on every flight. Since Smisek took over, everything is so complicated and constantly based on how much you are spending NOT overall, but on the *single* flight.

    If ONE person who’s not a 1K books a full Y fare, they will now go above us in upgrade priority for the flight. The new United values that one-time revenue boost vs the consistent loyalty ofa 1K

  • Gold – I hope it all works out. You need to get the stories out to the Chronicle and the New York Times. They need to see the other point of view. The only thing to keep the management team in check is publicity – good and bad. – Ray

  • Chris – I’m glad to have the United point of view. Looks like both sides aren’t happy. this really looks like a merger with the worst of both worlds. curious to any opposing thoughts? – Ray

  • Hi,

    This article is right on. As a long time CAL employee we see the moral of employees crushed and the experience of passengers downgraded.

    The CEO, J Low (Jeff Lorenzo) knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. Industry Consolidation has reduced competitiveness so he thinks that this is fine.

    Gordon was great.

  • Sad Employee – I’m counting on the goodness of the employee base to right the ship in Continental. I hope others can share their point of view. The word needs to get out there and the customers will support you. After speaking with 150 customers, they will back the employees. – Ray

  • Hi CAL Pilot, we the passengers are hoping that the pilots and employees would do something but I think that was what management may have been counting on. Keep passing the word. This is Jeff’s Arab Spring. – Ray

  • employee #2 – yo uare now live. Gordon was different. get the word out. I want to hear more – Ray

  • From a United perspective:

    Since this merger, everything that United lead in has been downgraded or removed because of inferior CO policies that $mi$ek and his cronies foist on us.

    *United flyers lost the complimentary pillows

    *the better quality blankets in F

    * elite benefits have been seriously downgauged

    *Mileage Plus is basically worthless now

    * Due to the use of CO’s inferior SHARES reservation system going forward, IRROPS handling which used to be quick and easy for UA, are now going to hell because SHARES is an inferior, slower, and outdated system compared to Apollo

    *United’s superior and cheaper for customers Pet handling service is being dumped for CO’s PetSafe program which is now costing customers, as well as military who have no choice but to fly on United, upwards of $3000 to ship a pet which now are mandatory to be placed in the cargo hold. There has been a huge uproar about this on UA’s Twitter and FB.

    * United’s superior Starbucks Coffee was replaced with diarrhea

    *United’s superior boarding procedure was initially dumped for CO’s until the customers, thankfully, spoke up and United quickly reverted back to old way.

    *Last but not least, the superior branding and marketing of United, which won AWARDS and was far better known, was dumped for the cheap, half-assed, tacky, not-even-WalMart worthy garbage from Continental and United lost their modern livery as well for CO’s ugly clip art “globe” garbage. Long Live the Tulip.

    United was not the basket case it is portrayed as pre-merger, that’s for sure. I have never had a bad experience on United and any pitfalls that occured were handled well. Many UA employees are saddened that $mi$ek and his cronies don’t recognize any of the good UA has done and the fact that most things from UA were dumped simply because CO didn’t have it.

  • As an employee of CAL (ex-con as we are now calling ourselves) I am ashamed of how far we are falling. Employees can only do so much with so little. Everything has gotten cheaper. My favorite is the switch to the 1970’s looking styrofoam coffee cups. We like to advertise ourselves as a green company yet we switch to the most environmentally unfriendly looking cups. It would be like McDonalds going back to their styrofoam boxes for all their sandwiches.

    This new attitude comes directly from a CEO who’s arrogance immediately put off employees the day he came into power. He justifies all his cost and service cutting by stating that he will be the first to provide long term economic stability to an industry has never achieved that goal. Unfortunately the road is littered with bean counters and in his case lawyers who have thought the way to profitability is through cost cuts. Gone are the days where we boasted about our revenue premium because people chose to fly on us. To quote Gordon Bethune’s philosophy the cheese has been taken off the pizza and now no one wants to buy a slice.

    About a year ago I sent Jeff an email outlining the way I am able to use Twitter to contact Delta Airlines when I have a cancelled flight or even if the airplane I am on is too hot (yes I fly on Delta a lot despite being a CAL Employee). He responded and forwarded my email to the United VP in charge of the social media. It went no where, not even a response. This is because the new UAL team believes the true power of Twitter is in holding stupid little contests and advertising while ignoring all the pleas for help from paying passenger using #United. We used to lead the industry in technology and now what used to be the worst, Delta, is kicking our butt. This management team wouldn’t learn anything from a smashed guitar even if it were smashed over their heads.

    I can honestly say (using a sports coaching analogy) that Jeff has lost his locker room. No matter what happens with the labor contracts in the next year, this team no longer wants to play for Jeff. The only hope we have is that the folks at Chase and on Wall Street who financed this deal figure this out and pressure the Board of Directors at UAL to thank Jeff for all his efforts and replace him with someone like Greg Brenneman. Most of us would love to have Gordon back but he is having way too much fun to take on this mess. Greg would be a close second as he was very closely tied to Gordon’s rise and he earned the respect of the CAL employee group.

    God help us all.

  • THANK YOU for publishing this! We, the employees, have been waiting for a story like this to hit the presses. We’ve watched constantly, and in absolute horror, as ol’ Jeffy boy has made this airline an absolute nightmare, not only for the passengers, but for the employees alike. Make no mistake, the day Smisek took over as CEO is the same day the Continental Airlines spirit died. It has nothing to do with United bringing Continental down, it has to do with an egotistical lawyer and his minions destroying a once proud and well run airline. I have been so beat down by this company that I just quit caring. I go to work, fly my trip, and go home. As pilots, we will always give 110% and do everything in our power to ensure a safe, comfortable, and on time flight, but other than that, you won’t get anything else from me. I am not valued, I am not trusted (despite being in charge of a multi million dollar aircraft), and am viewed as a liability…not an asset. But this will all fall on deaf ears as Jeffrey has surrounded himself with people that tell him everything is great, that the employees and passengers don’t know what they’re talking about, and that “the numbers don’t show a problem.” But hey, thanks for the new napkins and horrendous coffee!

  • How can I repost this so many others can read this article. I agree with 100% of what was stated. I am an employee, and have been to many CEO Exchanges since they started with Gordon Bethune, and has seen the gradual changes from first back to worst. The difference is that Gordon would appear to listen, our current leadership does not. Where Gordon made the employee group feel empowered, our current leadership does not. I feel that this merger has the potential to be phenomenal, but sadly they are missing opportunities by focusing on operating the airline on the smallest operating budget possible, and ignoring their front line employees, thus alienating the employees, who In turn effects the customers. As an employe I have to be carefully of what I say. This article deserves to be read by all.

  • Employee – thanks. appreciate the candor. we are hearing the same thing. the cut-backs are Jeff’s way of achieving his bonus. Would love to hear more from others. – Ray

  • I work for CAL. Or I guess I mean the New United. I spoke to a ramper on the parkinglot shuttle bus yesterday. They are using two employees now on 757 to get the bags out. The employee groups are so so scared they will loose their jobs they are trying to hussle and make it work, which shows management that it is infact is a two man job which it clearly insnt. The empployees cannot keep up at this rat race pace of skeleton crew staffing on every level. Why does it take so long for bags? CUT COSTS. Why are flight crews over worked, understaffed and miserable, CUT COSTS. Why do you wait on hold for customer service for over an hour CUT COSTS. Its dismal. We used to be proud of our airline. Now its a shame. Our moral has been murdered. Our passengers are angry. We understand why. There is nothing a front line employee can do about it.

  • Kyle – very interesting observations from the UA side, we probably should have covered that angle too. in any case, both sides aren’t happy. what do others think? – Ray

  • Phillip – thanks for commenting. We’re seeing a lot of that as well =) March 3rd is D-day. let’s see what happens. – Ray

  • It sounds like things were going downhill at Continental ever since Smisek took over. Since the merger was announced, same with United.

    They are making the upgrade process harder and more revenue focused, which essentially means loyalty is no longer a two way street. At United they always went above and beyond for 1K flyers. Not anymore.

    What’s interesting is although they’ve made first class more “exclusive,” and harder to obtain an upgrade, they’ve cut back benefits such as pillows and blankets domestically, and made flights that used to serve a full lunch and dinner service, serve a cold snack.

    There’s a complete lack of focus on the customer. On the Continental side, you can’t even get a response from customer service as an elite member via email sometimes in months! This isn’t what we’re used to at United, and almost every fellow United flyer sees things going way downhill.

    What’s most degrading is the new website that resembles Continental.com that comes tomorrow, and the slower response times, customer service, hold times on the phone.

    I really hope things improve. Thank you for doing this write up and hopefully it will catch the bean counter’s attention.

  • This applies to Both the Old United and Old Contentinal, Employees.

    I am sick of hearing! When we were seperate airlines. All the problems we were having never would have occurred.

    I want to fly from Portland, OR to Kansas City, MO. On CAL, I would have to fly to Hou, lay over for 2 hours, then fly 2.5 hours to MCI.
    CAL, started treating UAL customer, like dirt.

    My next trip to MCI, I will drive.

    Once again this merger, is a perfect example of a lawyer screwing up a two good companies.

  • Lee – in agreement. I’m a loyal continental fan and have almost 2M miles. Very disappointed. Spread the word. Maybe they’ll do something good. – Ray

  • This is what happens when the management is more interested in their bonuses then running a good airline.

    This company has changed so much and none for the better. The Old Continental strived to be among the very best, the New United simply strives to be the cheapest. They are angering passengers and employees alike.

    The bottom line is that as long as the airline is showing a profit, which it is, the upper management doesn’t give a wit what its employees, both internal and external, think.

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