Sunday, June 26, 2016

A New United Brand.

The new spirit of United is upon us, and with it, I believe that United may release a new Brand Identity.  I know there are a lot of nay sayers out there, so let's start with the "Why?".

Why change now?
Right after the merger (and really ever since) there have been two camps; "Bring Back The Tulip!" and "Continental Was Better!".  The United brand got a strong face lift as the new website and app came around, but people still equate the current brand with Jeff Smisek and the "terrible" merger.  The current logo and livery reflect two distinct brands being crammed together without care about the parities associated with each brand.

Let's look at two different mergers. American Airlines rebranded hours before their merger announcement with US Airways.  The rebranding allowed for a whole new airline, that almost lost its new tail.  On the flip side is the Alaska Airlines / Virgin America merger where we all expect the two different brands to remain.

Oscar Munoz is too late to do either of those preemptive moves, and now needs to separate the New Spirit of United from Jeff's United.

The New Spirit of United is bringing with it the updated United Clubs, a rebranding of United BusinessFirst to United Polaris First, updated (sort of) Crew Uniforms, and new (short term) ways for MileagePlus members to earn miles and status.  What's missing?  United.com has already seen a number of updates, as well as the apps and most MileagePlus print materials.  Hemispheres has a new, cleaner look.  Terminals are getting updated.  But the planes are still living in the early 1990s.

Oscar can bring United into the 21st century and put a face to the New Spirit of United with one, not-so-easy, move.

But, Mike...
I know that a lot you have your guns loaded and are ready to make comments.  So let's talk about them.  The first thing I expect to hear is that United has invested too much in the current brand.  I totally agree, but I don't expect things like type face to change.  Further down I'll talk about what it will look like.

Next you will most likely come up with "But it's too expensive".  Yes.  This would be quite the investment.  But so is changing out the BusinessFirst seats, redoing the United Clubs, serving food and wifi on regional aircraft, and retrofitting the domestic United First cabins.  Oscar is spending money to make United Flyer Friendly again.  The livery has been a point of a lot of contention.  I know a lot of Global Services and Premier 1Ks who have left United because of the way Jeff ran things, and Oscar needs to do everything he can to set himself apart.

It's important to note that United is currently hiring brand designers as well.  (Click here to see the full ad.)

What would it look like?
I'm not a super designer, but I feel like there are a few key things that the brand needs as well as some hints that are slowly being dropped.  A key thing, in my mind, is that the Globe has to change.  Because of its design we often see the globe shoved into a square.  It lacks the ability to be use in special ways.  Take the new American logo.  It can be manipulated in a number of graphic elements.

The color scheme will also need to change.  United has stuck to a clear set of colors within their mobile and web platforms.  Those were picked much sooner after the merger.  They are bright and vivid.  However, we're seeing a much more cold set of colors arrive in the new architecture of the terminals, clubs, and cabins.  Either way, none of them match the 25 year-old livery that the fleet currently wears.  One of the key colors I expect to see go is the gold.  The gold has transitioned into a yellow that is found in some key places, Global Services, the walls at Ohare, and legal information.  It is a strong accent color that the gold can't hold up with.  Even the gold trim in the escalator areas of the Terminalink (or whatever it is called now) at Houston was repainted black a while ago.  I fully expect a strong set of blues that help United stand out in a world of bright liveries.

I know that many of you will have strong opinions on this matter, and I don't want this to turn into some wild "bring back the tulip" party, because I don't see that happening.  Remember, these are just my thoughts.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Oh, and I'll just leave this here:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Flight Review: United Airlines SFO to OGG on a B737-800SFP

I've been traveling to Hawaii for many years, but recently I took my very first flight to the islands on a United Airlines sCO (a former Continental plane using Continental crew) Boeing 737-800SFP (Short Field Performance).

Our plane taking off from SFO.  View more of my photos on my Instagram.
The flight used N76514 -- equipped with split scimitar winglets.  The flight time was 4 hours and 50 minutes.  It was a windy day in San Francisco and we took off with a high angle of attack to get over the clouds quickly.  That departure provided a really awesome view on our way out of the city.  And it wasn't long before we said aloha of the main land.

United's Upgraded Meals
One of my favorite parts of the flight was experiencing United's new approach to food.  In years past when I would be on a 757 from DEN to LIH, we would get the equivalent of a gas station burrito.  But now we got to experience an amazing three course meal.  Let's start with the salad:

Now, I'm not a true foodie, but I love food, so here it goes... The salad was a Kale base with some noodles.  The flavors were very rich, and I didn't even use the salad dressing.  One of the things I loved about the salad was its presentation.  The little details go a long way.  Also, note the AMAZING pretzel roll.

Next was the main course:

If you notice the chuck missing, I got too excited to eat this before taking the picture.  The flavor of this roast was so vivid in my mouth.  The dirty rice rivaled that of my favorite restaurant (Jazmo'z Bourbon Street Cafe).  And the veggies weren't a frozen, watered-down mess.  This was the kind of meal I would expect in New York City.

Dessert was the best part:

I Love the Ice-Cream Sundae cart on long flights, but this sorbet was to die for!  The bitterness of the lemon-lime was a wonderful pairing with the sweetness of the roast.

The one negative thing
One of the big cons to the trip was being on a sCO aircraft that has Thales InFlyt product (formally LiveTV owned by JetBlue).  This service currently only works over the contiguous 48 states, so there's no DirectTV or wifi on the five-hour flight.  I know that United is working on getting that corrected for the wifi (eventually DirectTV will be replaced with Personal Device Entertainment on all UA fleet).  I would have preferred to be connected to the interwebs the whole flight, but it allowed me to get caught up on some movies on my iPad (if you fly a 737 to the Islands, be sure to bring your own entertainment).

United's Flyer Friendly Service
The crew was amazing. The Flight Service Coordinator, Dan, went above and beyond to make sure the flight was everything I wanted it to be.  As Oscar talks about the new spirit of United, I believe that spirit has been there in a lot of people for a long time.  The spirit was just being squished from the top.

Overall, this was a wonderful trip and there's nothing better than seeing this:

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why United Airlines should hub Orlando - Untapped Potential

United Airlines Route Map
United's Route Map - February 2016
I hate the word potential. The way I see it, it’s defined as, “hey, you could do this… but you you’re not good enough.” I believe that Orlando’s MCO airport has a lot of untapped potential. The airport is about to add an entire new South Terminal. One that makes more sense, with bigger halls, taller ceilings, and, I’m sure, just as much Mickey. The airport is opening up to new International routes, and expanding its broad spectrum of airlines. People love Orlando. (To be clear, I have no idea why. It’s hot, the traffic is bad, I hate I-4 and International Drive, and I did live there, so I can say that.)

I hate the word potential. But I love the word opportunity. Opportunity implies that I have the ability, I just have to seize the moment. United has opportunity. Look at route structures of the Big 4 (UA, AA, DL, WN), three of the four have great coverage of the southeast. United has Houston. But don’t forget, AA and WN also have a large presence in Texas as well.

I travel to Florida far too often. Once I’m here I’m stuck on the beautifully quiet (snark) SAAB 340B+. Now, I don’t mind the 340, nor do I mind Silver Airways. But picture this; you’re in Jacksonville. You want a weekend away on the beautiful island of Key West (it’s an island, right?). You hop on an E175 operated by Mesa Airlines. It’s a 20 minute hop to MCO. You enjoy a quick snack at the new Orlando airport, and then hop on another E175. You enjoy your first class flight with wifi all the way to Paradise.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Just wait, it gets better. Your boss calls you on Saturday and tells you that he needs you to help close the big deal in London on Monday. You’ve got dress clothes, and with a quick call to United, you’ve got a flight from Key West to Orlando on Sunday night and a second leg from Orlando to LHR on a 787. Pretty sweet gig, isn’t it?

The reality is that United’s route structure is great with the exception of the southeast (one could argue that the northwest struggles as well with the removal of the base at SEA, but that’s for a later post). I believe that a big part of the reason that UA and CO didn’t care about the southeast was US Airways. Codeshare flights out of CLT covered a lot of the southeast. And since the merger, there’s been no hope for the region.

The second issue came when Silver stopped being a United Express carrier and is now its own cute little airline (one with a lot of big dreams, but looks more and more like Spirit every day… I mean, have you seen their Twitter feed?).

Silver isn't a bad airline, in fact, I enjoy flying them, but I lost benefits like TSA Precheck, free bags, and the ability to earn PQS and PQM (United passengers who book on United with a valid 016 ticket can still earn PDQ).

An MCO hub would also help strengthen the relationship with Azul as Azul continues to bring more flights to Florida.

All in all, I believe that United should really consider a hub in Orlando.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

TPG Growth purchases Taco Bueno from Palladium Equity Partners

Taco Bueno has was purchased by TPG Growth, a division of TPG.  TPG Growth has investments in a large number of sectors, which includes ownership in David's Bridal, Burger King, Petco, Airbnb, XOJET, Azul, and formally with Continental.  As you can see from the last two, TPG Growth has a close connection with United Airlines, so it's just another reason to be excited about this change.

I will miss the leadership from Palladium Equity, but I am excited to see what TPG Growth brings to the table.  With experience in the QSR sector, and the knowledge of a variety of markets, I hope to see nationwide growth from this investment.

Details about the purchase were not disclosed.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why I'm Excited About United p.s. Service in Newark.


I have heard a number of comments about United's recent decision to move p.s. service from New York's JFK airport to Newark Liberty International Airport.  A lot of transcon junkies are not happy about the move.  I am thrilled about it.

I've flown p.s. flights twice.  Each time was an overnight from LAX to JFK.  Each time I needed to connect onward.  With those connections I had to fly from JFK to IAD (on a CRJ200) and then on to my final destination.  I had often wondered why United had not yet moved p.s. service to EWR.

To me, bringing service to Newark only makes sense.  The Newark hub serves over 100 destinations domestically and around the world.  How many more people can then fly the p.s. routes because they can connect?  For me, this is a no brainer.  Secondly, JFK is, in my humble opinion, the most annoying of the New York City airports to get to.  That said, LGA is a lot more difficult to get to.  But Newark can quickly get you into the heart of Manhattan, assuming NJ Transit is running okay (or Amtrak, if you're so inclined).

Image provided by United Air Lines
I do understand the downfall of EWR in the wintertime.  But the New York airspace as a whole is messed up, which is why the FAA is trying so hard to fix it.  But EWR has a certain set of limitations, and it is completely landlocked.  Short of purchasing a third of Elizabeth, NJ and demolishing it, there's no way to build extra runways or fix congestion problems.  But what of the three major New York airports really can grow?  JFK has the best bet, but is one of my least favorite airports.

For a commuter, the idea of International service throughout the U.S. is so great, and to be able to connect easily to other destinations is even better.  Thank you, United, for making this decision.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?
Also, for those of you who want to "correct" me, I know I have a 757-300 as the picture, and I know that the p.s. flights are served by 757-200 aircraft, I just like the picture.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"United Airlines has the worst customer service."

This photo was taken in Denver on January 25, 2013.
"But my plane is right there."
Author's Note: I would suggest you read this article in its entirety before you make a decision about what I have to say.

We've all been there.  Our plane arrives late to O'hare.  We run half a mile from gate B21 to F12A, only to watch the jet bridge pull back from the plane.  And then starts the dreaded dance.  We run up to the gate agent and demand to know why we can't get on the plane.  The agent explains that the door is shut and the plane is set to leave.  We scream back, "But my plane is right there!"  We spout things back and forth and the agent leaves.

So we march over the the customer service area and begin demanding things like first class on the next flight.  We scream things like, "Does it not mean anything to be 1K any more?"  And we get frustrated and declare, "I will never fly United again!"  We call our secretary and proclaim, "Sarah, book me on American from here on out."

I've heard this story a lot in years since the United and Continental merger.  In fact, the situation in first paragraph happened to me (but I didn't scream, and I don't have a secretary named Sarah, nor did I ever proclaim I won't fly United again).  But there is a mob mentality about United's Customer Service.  It is a belief that United has the worst Customer Service in the airline Industry.

Is it true?  I'm often told that I love United because I'm Global Services.  Go back to my post titled "The Journey."  Read this: On a sunny March day in 2009, I took the train from the Elizabeth Station to EWR.  I wandered down the halls of Terminal A, and found my place on the first of many United flights.  That year I would reach Premier.  As I sat down in my seat for the first time, I called my dad and I said, “I remember why we always wanted to fly United.”  I was in Heaven.

To be clear, Heaven was seat 32F on an Airbus 320.

I have always loved United.  When I became a Premier member (pre-merger) I thought I had scored the golden ticket!  But I was happy with United without any premier status.  My love for United isn't dependent on Global Services.  Truth be told, I had estimated that I was going to lose my GS status in 2015, and I was great with being a 1K again.

I've heard of a lot of people who feel like they deserve to be 1K or GS.  The airlines set goals; all of them set goals.  And if you don't meet those goals, you don't earn the status.  There's been a saying in my house over the last several years, "You don't get <insert status I'm trying to get to that year> by not flying."  Up until GS I had earned all of my statuses by flying segments, not miles.  So to earn 1K, I had to fly 120 segments in a year, a majority of which were on EMB145s.  I earned the status, but I never felt like I deserved anything.

After the merger there was a lot of position jockeying.  At United it was a seniority nightmare.  That battle began to create a lot of tension for the employees.  As the employees were frustrated, people began to feel that the service quality went down.  At the same time there was a mash up between the OnePass and Mileage Plus programs, creating a DYKWIA nightmare.

These two mashups filled people with a lot of emotion.  Fast forward three years with no resolve and add in that United wanted to outsource.  Lay off a few thousand employees and throw fear and anger into that volatile bag of emotions.

It was the perfect storm.

In the last year I have watched a lot of people turn their backs on United.  They call themselves "displaced" and "refugees" as if there was a natural disaster or a war.  The biggest complaint is that "customer service is gone."

But what did that mean?  At my work we talk about the fine line between customer service and letting customers take advantage of us.  I began to ask these "refugees" what it was that drove them away.

One of the most common complaints was that these frequent flyers couldn't get upgrades any more.  They were Silver or Gold members and often were at the bottom of a long list of potential upgrades.  So a guy books a flight from ORD to DEN and pays $210 plus taxes.  I book the same flight at $650, and he gets mad because I get the upgrade.  Which is an easy transition into the next issue.  MileagePlus has changed.

People got really upset with United when the miles were devalued and when they switched to a spend-based mileage accrual.  Previously it was an easy system to work.  Book a flight to China on the cheapest ticket you can, use a GPU to upgrade, and earn 10,000 miles.  When it changes to spend, it's not near as easy to game.

Wait, none of these things are customer service?  Sure, they're customer retention, but where does customer service come in?  United passengers began to feel like they were not the priority any more.  They looked to Jeff Smisek, saying that he cares more about profit than he does about customers.  And they took that belief system with them to gates and counters.  The lowest-paid United employees then had the privilege of getting the beating of a lifetime because of issues they didn't create.

And then they "couldn't help."  When the United passengers were mad because they couldn't "score the upgrade," they would take it out on the agents who "couldn't do anything for them."  This is a vicious cycle.  I believe X and I'm going to take Y action believing that X will happen.  When I took Y action, X did happen, I bet it will happen again, so I'll try.  But, by rule, Y can't lead to anything but X.  So it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophesy that just continues to harden the belief system.

Then you take that belief system to the world.  Social Media is instant gratification for most people—I have a complaint and I want the world to know it.  "@united sucks.  They can't do anything any more."  1 like.  10 likes.  250 likes.  "@angrypax I know, right?  I was thinking things weren't good, then I saw your tweet! #unitedsux."  Social Media allows these belief systems to fester and brew.  Before you know it, there's an entire group of people out there who are just regurgitating the same set of "facts" over and over to help them cement their beliefs.

Human nature dictates that we look for evidence that supports what we believe.  This is easy to see when I look at my search statistics for this blog.  Google "united sucks."  What you find is what a lot of people are looking for.  With one exception... mine.

I wrote a response to a blog titled "15 Reasons Why Flying United Airlines Sucks."  My response has been in the top 10 search results for the keyword "united sucks" ever since.  In fact, I get more visits to my blog from that Google search than from any other source.

Why is that?  Because people want to back their belief systems.  Sandler Sales Training talks about a BAT Triangle.  BAT stands for Behaviors, Attitudes (belief systems), and Techniques.  What BAT teaches us is that Attitudes drive Behaviors ,which creates results that help reinforce Attitudes.  I would encourage you to visit Sandler's site, or visit my friends at Market Sense in Austin to learn more.

Sandler teaches that we have to change our behaviors to see different results so that we can change our belief systems.

One of the major problems with this comes to the amount of money that United puts into its social media.  Although United has made a huge change in the last two years with their social team, there are not enough resources to combat the constant negative press on Social Media.  As customers try to reinforce their beliefs, United can't provide the behaviors to help customers change.

Remember, people say that I love United because I am Global Services.  The truth is that I love United because I love United.  Heaven was seat 32F on an Airbus 320, and that hasn't changed.  Okay, yes, I might never sit back there any more, but it's because of my beliefs that allow me to do so.

I greatly value all of the employees at United.  I have forged a lot of friendships at OKC.  My belief system states that these employees are the ones who are going to get me where I need to be, and my safety is their top priority, and so I treat them like the most important people in my life (you know, because they'll keep me from dying on a flight).

A few weeks ago I was flying from OKC to IAH.  There were two flights departing at the same time because of delays.  I was supposed to be on a EMB145, but it broke.  So the agents began moving everyone over the the E175 that was about to leave.  When I got my new seating assignment I was in 23C.  First class was mostly full.  My biggest issue is that I really want to sit next to a window (so I can take #mikeshot photos).  I went over to one of my friends who is an agent and asked him if there was any better seat I could get.  I explained that I really wanted a window.  Within moments I had a first class ticket.  It's not what I was asking for, but it's what I got.  And I get this kind of service every where.

You get that kind of service because you're Global Services.  Nope.  I remember the day I became Premier.  My 30th segment was from LAX to DEN.  I walked up to the agent at DEN and explained my story.  I said, "I know I probably won't get the upgrade, I just really want to see my name on the list because I think it would be cool."  What did she do?  She handed me the first class seat.  I sure wasn't GS then, and I'm pretty sure I only spent like 80 bucks on that fare.

I wrote this card and posted it to Instagram
when the most recent set of layoffs was announced.
About a year ago I decided I wanted to make an impact on United employees, and so I designed thank you cards, and I had 500 of them printed.  I've been writing them to employees all along the way.

Often I write them to people I didn't really even meet.  My favorite story came from Denver.  I knew I was headed to baggage claim and so I wrote a card to "A Flyer Friendly Baggage Handler."  I walked up to a random employee and handed him the card and said thank you.  I immediately walked away.

The gentleman hunted me down a few minutes later and said, "Sir, this isn't for me."  I assured him it was for him.  "No, sir, I'm an a** hole, this can't be for me."  I laughed.

"I know this card was for you.  I wrote it for you because you have helped me today, and I wanted to say thank you."  He told me he hadn't helped me at all.  "Sure, maybe you haven't helped me directly, but you work for United, so you have helped me."  He looked at me for a minute and said, "Maybe you guys do value us."

United doesn't have bad customer service.  People just have a lot of twisted belief systems about United.  I have a lot of respect for Jeff Smisek, and I know I'm a lone wolf because of that.  But no matter what he and the executive team do at United, here's the fact: every day United employees help me get where I'm going and they do it in the safest way possible.  That's customer service.

If you've left United for another airline, I hope to see you back in the friendly skies some day.  If you're thinking about leaving, I would encourage you to just change your behaviors and see if it changes the way you feel about United.  And if you love United, Thank You.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?