Five years after United Airlines and Continental merged, the company’s new CEO declared in a public letter that the combined company has failed to live up to the expectations of both fliers and United’s employees.
Just three weeks into the job, CEO Oscar Munoz acknowledged in full-page newspaper ads that “the journey hasn’t always been smooth.”
Since the merger, United has been plagued with chronic delays, computer outages and dissatisfied workers, who have a reputation for taking out their frustrations on fliers. The problems overshadowed the tenure of former CEO Jeff Smisek, who took over the combined airline when the merger closed on Oct. 1, 2009.
On Sept. 8, Chicago-based United Continental Holdings said Smisek was ousted following an internal investigation into the airline’s dealing with the public agency that operates its hub airport in Newark, New Jersey. That agency, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is part of a federal investigation into abuse of power. Munoz, a railroad executive and head of United’s audit committee, was named president and CEO.
In his letter, which ran in national newspapers, Munoz didn’t offer any hints as to how he will actually fix United’s many problems except that he will listen to fliers and employees.
“We are committed to re-earning your trust,” he wrote.
The company set up a website, UnitedAirtime.com, for people to ask questions and provide feedback to the airline. The airline posted a few questions and answers in advance of the site’s launch that focus on delayed luggage delivery, aging airplanes that lack Wi-Fi or working TVs and the poor quality of first-class meals.
“Let’s be honest, the implementation of the United and Continental merger has been rocky for customers and employees,” Munoz says on a video greeting on the site. “While it’s been improving recently, we still haven’t lived up to our promise or our potential.”