In a conference call announcing a positive earnings report, United executives yesterday continued in full damage-control mode in the wake of last week’s removal of a passenger from a flight, promising a full review and possible policy changes by April 30.
Calling the episode a “watershed moment,” CEO Oscar Munoz said he’d take the necessary steps to ensure there would be no repeat of the “system failure” that led to the forcible ejection of Dr. David Dao from flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, KY. He also hinted of initiatives to come, which would “elevate the experience our customers have with us from booking to baggage claim.”
The ongoing controversy cast a pall over the strong results turned in by United for the first quarter of 2017, when it posted a profit of $96 million, beating expectations. The carrier also posted gains in performance metrics, with fewer mishandled bags and a better flight completion factor.
United executives said that advance bookings are strong and that they’ve seen no fall-off in bookings in the past week as a result of the episode, though they cautioned it might be too early to tell. “We just don’t have any quantifiable data,” said United president Scott Kirby. He added that the airline had contacted “our most loyal customers, and their response has been very supportive.” He’s seen no push-back in the leisure market either, he said. The carrier’s Basic Economy product, which just launched on flights out of Minneapolis, has been well-received, he claimed. “It is giving our customers more choice,” he said.
Asked whether United might curb the practice of overbooking, executives demurred, saying that that the recent incident and its causes were still under review.
In other news, the airline said it is continuing to make improvements that would pay off in higher customer satisfaction, citing, among others, the launch of a new online portal for travel agency and corporate customers, United Jetstream, which it said will simplify the travel management process and give users an “intuitive suite” of self-service tools.
Other changes include a re-designed and modernized security checkpoint at one of its busiest hubs, Newark Airport, and a new and expanded terminal at Houston.
“At the end of the day we will be a stronger company and have better customer service,” Kirby pledged.