Jeff Smisek needs to step down as United Chairman and CEO

This is one of the most controversial and subjective articles I've ever written, but after thorough reasoning, I've concluded that Jeff Smisek needs to abdicate his title as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of United Airlines sometime in 2014. 

And the sooner he does so, the better. 

Nothing personal here, but I think it's time for the UA Board of Directors to hit the "refresh" button and replace Smisek with a much more effective leader who is capable of steering the World's Largest Airline towards a consistent path to deliver on all of its promises before the damages become irreparable. 

"The Fish stinks from the head" (and yes, I said this once already over a year ago)

United merged with Continental in October 2010. Jeff Smisek, who hailed from the Continental side of the equation, was nominated to lead the combined company at the time of the merger closing. It was chalked up to be one of the largest, most complex marriages in the history of the airline industry, but once consummated, the sheer size and scale of the company would deliver immense value for shareholders and consumers worldwide. 

The public wasn't unfamiliar with the concept of airline mergers, particularly in the United States. Delta Air Lines had merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008, and within a two year span, the combined entity was generating healthy, consistent quarterly earnings, streamlining costs and operations, and making continuous improvements to its on-board product offering, which in turn led to high consumer satisfaction scores and pleased Wall Street analysts.  

But something in the blueprint of United's own merger plan was somehow horrifically flawed, because when the two carriers migrated to a single IT platform in March 2012, all hell broke loose. The aftermath included a year's worth of system outages, cancelled reservations, unacceptable on-time performance rates, infuriated customers and poorly-equipped front-line employees to handle recovery efforts. United watched its corporate base plummet as its high-revenue paying customers flocked to competing airlines offering elite status matches and other incentives.  

As time wore on, Wall Street grew more and more exasperated with the tight-lipped explanations from United's C-Level personnel, and it became obvious that the entire saga could be pinned on pure management folly to adequately prepare and execute the merger in a manner consistent with what they had promised to the public. 

A year ago, I wrote an entry on how United needed to put 2012 in its past and focus on making a comeback in 2013. Twelve months later, that opportunity has come and gone and little has changed.

With respect to its leadership personnel, even then I had a hunch that Smisek wasn't cut out for this job.

Over time, that intuition has become a certainty. 

United's disappointing Q3 2013 results served as the initial baseline for my reasoning, and the recent green-light to the American Airlines - US Airways merger by the US Department of Justice certainly augmented my stance even more. 

However, something snap-fired on Tuesday, November 19 during United's Investor Day Conference in New York City that pushed me over the edge.

As a United elite for several years, amid all of the "changes" I've seen occur consistently at the carrier since 2010, ranging from increasingly common flight delays, dilution of its loyalty product, repeated technical outages, underwhelming fiscal performance and corporate back-pedaling, I discovered, listening to a recorded webcast of presentations delivered by Smisek and his Investor Relations team, another flagrant attribute about the way United runs its business. 

Its very own Chairman and CEO simply fails to inspire his employees to strive to make the company a successful business operation. 

And he probably, likely, if not most certainly, will never live up to the basic expectations required of a competent CEO to bring United Airlines to that point as long as he's running the show. 

It went off like a light bulb in my head.

In light of his opening remarks during that presentation in New York, he probably has convinced shareholders, and subsequently the Board of Directors as well, that he is no longer adequate for his position.

And like that, boom. Nail in the coffin. 

Here is why. 

"I think you'll like the changes you see, as we aim to not fall in last place [again]."

One of the biggest things I strive for, not only as a blogger, but also as an airline/aviation business enthusiast, is to avoid thinking and speaking like an "armchair CEO" (a euphemism for someone who pretends to know everything about how businesses function without truly possessing in-depth knowledge or expertise on how to execute sound decisions in a hypothetical scenario).

However, it doesn't take years of working in the field or an Executive MBA to listen to Jeffy speak and realize he has largely failed the company as a capable leader. He continues to repeat the same, frivolous crapola while flagrantly ignoring or barely even addressing the periphery of United's core revenue and costs challenges. 

It would be almost funny if it weren't so frightening and obvious. 

Here are some quips that made me cringe yesterday while listening to the presentation via webcast:

"We do the basics well from point A to point B."

"We're very focused on increasing efficiency and quality to drive significantly improved earnings."

"The only way you can differentiate yourselves is through excellent customer service."

"We have dramatically increased our customer satisfaction scores." 

"We have the best network in the long-haul."

"We do the basics well?" Pray tell me. How would you feel if ANY CEO made that type of comment aloud to investors? You might as well ditch the new advertising campaign, "Fly the friendly skies" (which is actually not new, it's just a slogan United has brought back from past years) and change the slogan to "Fly the mediocre skies!" 

Put simply, none of the above statements show any indication that Jeff Smisek actually cares about his job, the future direction of the company, or even worse - delivering on shareholder returns. I mean, even the most corrupt of CEOs would at least realize that the task on hand is to convince investors that United is committed to this cause and, as a result of that, would parse in jargon to drive that point home on the spot, even if they were lying through their teeth.

Well, SMI/J, at least you haven't hit rock bottom yet by getting on your hands and knees begging for forgiveness.

Then again, I'm not sure whether that's better or worse than ignoring the severity of the situation in which you've put the company.  In his remarks, Smisek doesn't even come close to acknowledging that United has let down shareholders consistently quarter after quarter, and, per usual, throws out the classic, "we're committed to earning a consistent, sustainable profit," and "running a good, clean, safe reliable operation," mumbo jumbo, spewing out robotic buzzwords and mundane statements which yield absolutely nothing of importance. 

It's not just frustrating, saddening and disappointing. Frankly, it's worse than that. It's just plain irresponsible. 

Claiming that your company is committed to delivering "industry-leading unit revenue" does nothing to explain why United has recorded a string of flat unit revenue improvements every three months while virtually EVERY single one of its legacy and low-cost competitors have seen increases over the same periods, including a major one restructuring in bankruptcy. The same goes for yields and profit margins. 

United has had no problem monetizing more and more components of the customer experience, even so far as to gouge away at its small, yet ultra lucrative elite population for perks that they've rightfully paid for through their business. Smisek can say all he wants about wanting to earn an additional $700M in ancillary revenue each year, but he certainly needs to confess that this has been a habitual tactic United has employed for many years, and the public isn't stupid about knowing airlines charge for checked bag fees.

While the business logic behind product unbundling is a rational concept, the fact that United's ancillary revenue earnings aren't padding its bottom lines is not. 

Saying that "anyone can put in Wi-Fi on their planes," and that you think yours will "be the best in the business" does not account for admitting to shareholders that the Wi-Fi installation rollout on United's domestic aircraft has a). experienced YEARS of implementation delays and b). essentially put the airline in dead-last place to nearing a completion date amid all of its competitors. Not to mention, it fails to elaborate on c). WHY [Smisek] thinks United's WiFi will "be the best," as he claims. Will it be faster than other networks? Will it be offered on more international or overseas flights than UA's competitors? Will it be cheaper? Do you think your waning corporate traffic will have higher conversion rates? 

Nope. Nada. Just words that contribute about as much value as a full fare Lufthansa business class ticket from Chicago to Dusseldorf adds towards your Premium Qualifying Dollar accrual to maintain elite status starting January 1, 2014.

Which is nothing, just for the record. You can read more about the devaluation of MileagePlus, United's loyalty program, on its website, effective next year. 

Finally, and perhaps more infuriating than dodging hoops and fabricating stories is Smisek's habitual tendency to scrape at the bottom of the barrel to generate enthusiasm over celebrating mediocrity. 

Case in point: touting "dramatic improvement" in customer satisfaction scores. 

I mean, heaven forbid, I would hope so. United ranked DEAD LAST in 2012 among US carriers for system-wide complaints per 100,000 emplanements, according to calculations by the US Dept of Transportation. 

A good leader is fearless enough to admit when and where the carrier failed, and only THEN does it become more credible and acceptable to speak of improvements that have taken place when you're rising up from the bottom of the stack. 

But to make it seem like United is improving in customer satisfaction rankings without any comparative basis is just disgusting. You're either out of touch with reality, or you've really sunk so low that you've lost all respect for the key facets of your business operation, your employees, and most of all, yourself. 

#FlyerFriendly? More like #LiarFriendly

Truth be told, those examples are just a handful among many, many other structural deficiencies that are looming at United.

I would have really liked to hear Smisek at least admit, even if tangentially, in his opening presentation to investors that United's revenue and cost challenges were problematic in the Q3 2013 results. It would have actually even been acceptable if he had done so and still mentioned "the dog ate the demand forecast" excuse that has been tossed around in earnings calls. United claims that its revenue forecasting system opened up lower-yielding inventory buckets further ahead in the booking curve, stimulating demand, but at lower revenue streams for the carrier. 

At the very minimum, it would have been the accountable and ethical thing to at least touch on this point. We're talking about relevant discussion topics to be assessed at an Investor Conference in New York, not cool new gadgets to be shown-off at a Social Media convention in New Mexico. 

But, alas, Jeff Smisek did not comment on any of these crucial details. 

Smisek instead made some jolly remark along the tunes of, "we've developed a set of very detailed standards that we've borrowed from the hospitality industry" or some  frivolous statement like that. 

What I would love to hear is how those "standards" are going to fix United's revenue woes and curb its cost control issues.

I'm curious to understand how those "standards" justify United's reasons for waging war against its elites by calling them "over-entitled," instituting minimum flying spend requirements on United metal, discouraging them from flying United partner airlines and overall diluting the value of investing in the United/Star Alliance global brand.

I'd love to know how these "standards" are going to explain why United still trails its competitors operationally. The SHARES IT reservations platform United uses continues to be a nightmare for its employees to use. I still am baffled by how long it takes agents to process passenger records at the airport, and how it's led me to distrust United on virtually all fronts when I fly because I feel like there is no guarantee that I'm "always connected" to what is happening with my reservation at any stage in the journey.

When I show up at the gate 5 minutes prior to scheduled boarding time, and I discover they are making final calls for "all rows, all passengers," (which happens pretty much every time my flight isn't delayed or cancelled), I feel violently ill at the mere thought of what would have happened if I had experienced a 5 minute hold up at security, shown up "on-time" at my flight for boarding and had been denied at the gate for being "late" just because United wants to shove off from the gate ASAP and artificially inflate its On-Time Performance rate to overcompensate for when it screws up elsewhere. 

Is that supposed to make me feel like a valued elite? Stressed out and disillusioned because flying United has turned into a giant guessing-game?

#CustomerFriendly my foot, SMI/J. 

I'd also really like to know how these hospitality "standards" show how United's product is really all that special. When I flew transatlantic in EconomyPlus recently on a legacy United 767, all I could think about was how ready I was to get the hell off that plane. The catering, 1st-generation In-Flight Entertainment system and surly crews are nothing for even a Soviet-era carrier to feel proud of. I've even flown domestic and international premium on United a few times and believe me, it's nothing to write home about. 

And finally, I'd really want, most of all, to understand why and how United believes that it is a "great place to work for" and where the "system of trust" is truly manifested, other than "in God we trust, and in trust we hate working among each other," because talk to anyone who works for United, and it's clear as crystal across the board that there is still an "us versus them" mentality pervasive when it comes to pre-merger Continental and pre-merger United employees working in unison.

Be it front line employees or corporate, it's always, "their system" and "their policies" and "their people" that receive the blame when failure occurs. Word on the street is that the aforementioned system forecasting scapegoat excuse for lackluster Q3 revenue performance was traced back to a "pre-merger Continental method we tested out" that led to the fallout. 

Oh, cry me a river. It's one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Again, it doesn't take an MBA to learn the mantra that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

On that end, I've yet to hear a single United employee ever say, "it's OUR problem," which would represent a huge step towards actually taking responsibility and making a commitment to come to a resolution for the betterment of the corporation, its shareholders and its guests.

But, that goes back to my original point: the fish stinks from the head. If your CEO isn't going to make such acknowledgements in front of investors, be assured that the same mentality is going to trickle all the way down to your lower-leveled employees, and everyone in-between who interacts with the customer. 

In closing: keep Rhapsody in Blue, and Fly the Friendly Skies, but give Jeff the boot

My biggest fear is that United under Smisek is heading in the same direction as American Airlines did under former CEO Donald Carty and Gerard Arpey's guidances in the 2000s: perpetually becoming a poorly run business, with jaded employees, waning product investments, alienated elites, sub-optimal operational performances and when the P&L numbers don't stack up to expectations, the quick-fix, unanimous solution is to yell, "cuts, cuts, more cuts!" 

Herein the cliche makes its case: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results every time. Then you trim and slim, churn and burn some more until you self-destruct completely.  

American was on this path until almost two years ago to the date, when it filed for bankruptcy on November 29, 2011, replaced Gerard Arpey with Tom Horton, and started moving and shaking. Although I can't say I am a fan of AA's new logo and rebranding scheme, at least elsewhere, the company is on a stellar path on its way to exit the court relatively quickly.

As such, American's momentum is creating a big predicament for United: when a bankrupt competitor is outperforming you and plans to merge with another major competitor to become an even more powerful combined entity, as an inept CEO, your safest bet is to step out of the way when you've failed to deliver on promises for over 36 months. 

Thanks for all that you've done, Jeff. I'm sure you're a great guy and I would still love to grab drinks with you sometime, but not until I see a new face writing the intro letter in future issues of Hemispheres magazine. 


So true. 

More posts by me on Upgrd: AeRO'space

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m November 20, 2013 at 05:34 pm

You are spot on...

Chris November 20, 2013 at 08:39 pm

Great article. "We do the basics well" is just one word away from Spirit's missing of "We do the basics only" - fine for a joke carrier that makes you debase yourself for money, but not for United Airlines.

One point that I'd add is that perception is reality. I think that the UA flyer community's perception of Smisek is so soured at this point, that even if he starts to do the right things they will be tainted by his "brand."

KR November 20, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Excellent analysis -- I always enjoy your posts, and this one did not disappoint

johnb300m November 21, 2013 at 11:25 am

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAmen! I will not give a dime of my money to this company until it's leadership is flushed. It all comes down to trust and accountability. It's never their fault, and after 9 months of DRAMA, I can no longer trust their systems or people to get me from A to B on time or on the same day sometimes. "We do the basics well?" Are you kidding me? Nevermind it's not even been pleasant to fly them since 2011.

I have a friend who works for United and is a PMUA FA. We were talking about the merger the other day and the two union groups and how they are not merged yet. He told me it's the belief of most of the employees that UA is doing everything to make their lives hell because they want the senior and mid seniority FAs to quit. Its nearly impossible to bid on a bank of flight now without at least 1 or 2 redeyes in the mix and routing bids have gone all but down hill since the merger, with less rest time between flights, more segments, and a mix of day and night flights. New FAs come on with less benefits and cost a fraction of the price as someone who was with the company premerger. So it makes sense from a business perspective. However at the same time, UA is treating their front line workers bad and that is carrying over to their customer service and how they treat the people who keep the airline funded (the passengers). Until UA turns their attitudes around and fix their internal issues you will continue to find yourself flying the Unfriendly skies!

Guest November 21, 2013 at 03:15 pm


David Eugene Newhart November 21, 2013 at 06:49 pm

Yes, this is well written. It's time to hit the refresh key.

M Simons November 21, 2013 at 07:30 pm

So want Smisek to be a combo of Elon Musk, the head of Domino's Pizza, with the former enthusiasm of Balmer ? Heck I'm just tired of the commercials before each flight.

georgev27 November 21, 2013 at 08:34 pm

Would that drink be some McCormick liquor in the famed United Club?

AJP November 21, 2013 at 09:22 pm

Surprisingly, this was posted to a Facebook page of a pmCO fan who believes it's the pmUA side that destroyed his CO. I don't get where he sees that. From the UA side, I have seen no "changes that I'd like" just downgrades to the experience in every facet. IFE is not a big thing for me because I basically ignore it (as I did recently on a business class LH flight EWR-DUS which will get me nothing in PQD next year as my company is German and we have negotiated rates with LH). I used to send people to United and MileagePlus. At this time, I'm telling people to stay away. If you don't listen to your best customers who are your canaries in the coal mine, you are doomed to failure.

Erna626 November 21, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Well its about time someone on the outside noticed what a disaster Smisek is. UAL employees have been screaming about this for 3 years. UAL has been the personal ATM for a string of robber baron CEOs since bankruptcy in 2003. They come in, wreak havoc, and waltz out with millions in golden parachutes. Not one of them gave a rats butt about running an airline. All they wanted was to put lipstick on that pig, find a merger partner, and get their payday. To hell with the employees and customers. Smisek is the worst of the lot, he has no idea what he is doing. Its going to cost a pretty penny to boot his sorry butt out the door.

Hokey Dokie November 22, 2013 at 09:34 am

The tangible proof of what you're saying is more easily proven by the way Smisek has been moved to an increasingly less visible position in the boarding videos. He lacks charisma and is not believable so he's gone from the focus of the videos to a small placement without the suit and with what is probably a CGI smile. He's probably good at lawyering but he's not so good at CEO'ing. Why he sticks around is a mystery since he's already received his merger payouts and all he's doing now is flushing his management credentials down the drain. my two cents, YMMV.

Elenor November 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

Came over from TravelBloggerBuzz. I empathize with y'all. I have never flown Untied till this past June. Biz class, ATL to LAX. Having flown biz class some with Delta (whom everyone jeers at), I was expecting at LEAST as good a ride as Delta. Horrifying! I was thirsty, and looking forward to the bottle of water that is always waiting at my seat when I board on Delta biz class. Nothing -- no attention from the FAs until we were well in flight. I expected a decent/comfortable seat like Delta -- nope, way, WAY old and worn out seat. I expected at LEAST a TV screen in the biz class section, if not in the seat backs: no TV AT ALL! (I had my tablet, so no harm, no foul -- but really? No entertainment AT ALL in biz class!?)

I was very glad I'd bought (with actual $$) the flight back on Delta! Everyone may complain about Delta and Skypesos -- but I must arrange my (granted, infrequent) flights on routes and at times no one else wants, because I have always been about get biz class seats on Delta, and enjoyed their good service and nice gear!

United??! I was beyond-dismayed! I may be able to easily get United flights using UR points -- but why would I WANT to?

slpatterson November 22, 2013 at 11:49 am

As a Premier 1K for the past 2 years and a CO Platinum before that, I couldn't agree more.

The "us vs. them" mentality [UA vs. CO] that I hear/sense on EVERY flight -- after all of this post-merger time -- reminds me of when I, as a People Express employee, was merged into the "new" CO in 1987: We worked for years under a "I'm old TI" and "I'm old CO" divide (I was one of the PE "ugly, red-haired stepchildren" and wasn't even allowed to participate in these discussions) until Gordon Bethune came onboard and inspired a "We" attitude and turned the damned company around.

Smisek was a key part of that "law firm with wings" back in the day and one of the 1990's "golden boys" at CO, but inherited his current position largely because he has nice hair, wears a suit well and apparently impressed the merged board with those skills (and apparently very little else, in retrospect).

When still-bankrupt AA is kicking UA's ass in almost every metric, it's time for a change at the top.

Too bad Gordon is retired.

Rohan November 22, 2013 at 01:35 pm

@slpatterson: thank you for the feedback. you, more than anyone I know personally, would be able to give the most objective, candid opinion based on your experiences. I'm so sorry about what you experienced in the 1980's. It couldn't be more indicative of how the culture still exists today: PMCO style "our way, or the highway" mashed with a poisonous history of embittered pmUA culture. Gordo may have adpoted the "we do it this way" mentality, but at least he was able to get everyone behind him on that.

Smisek hasn't been able to get his employees behind him because he's convinced customers, employees and shareholders that he's an idiot.

So, until that changes, nothing will happen for the better.

jwb5 November 22, 2013 at 01:39 pm

First of all, great articulation of almost everything UAL does poorly. I'll throw a couple more into the mix here. I'm sure you have seen this article - - which indicates MP award travel price increases of 15%-86%. Granted most of those are for premium cabins, but I'm sure economy will follow shortly. We're going to end up with MileagePennies in the near future.

Additionally, they are no longer giving out eCerts when you submit legitimate complaints. After a flight cancellation and subsequent rebooking on a flight over 24 hours later, I called the UA Premier Line to find other options and ended up getting berated by the woman on the phone as if it were my fault the flight was cancelled in the first place. The CSR who responded to my complaint actually said, "I am troubled that you feel offended as compensation was not offered for your disappointment." This in reply to me saying I was disappointed in not being offered compensation for the offensive and insulting treatment during my original phone call. Two very different things.

Needless to say, I'm waiting for the next status match offer from AA in the mail. Time to cut the cord...

Rohan November 22, 2013 at 01:51 pm

@jwb5: I think we have a winner! MileagePennies it is...

"I am troubled that you feel offended as a compensation..." sounds like a response that Jeff would have probably encouraged.

As a Chicago-based flyer, you should head to American.

Chris November 22, 2013 at 05:15 pm

Meditation on all the CO vs UA troubles:

Good merger: pmCO employee/pax: "Our guys are in charge and everything is working great!" pmUA employee/pax: "Our guys are in charge and everything is working great!"

Bad merger: pmCO employee/pax: "UA guys are in charge and they ruined everything!" pmUA employee/pax: "CO guys are in charge and they ruined everything!"

John Smith November 22, 2013 at 05:58 pm

I have worked for United for 37 years. The first 20 were terrific, the last 17, not so much. Employee moral has been steadily declining for a while. Since the merger it is at an all time low. Smisek thinks the answer is to outsource, but does not realize you get what you pay for. He also feels he can turn things around by making employees do twice the work and pay them less. He does not realize that unhappy employees make for a bad business model. When myself and many of my fellow employees found out we were merging with Co, I must say we were relieved and excited because employee/ management relations have been going down hill for a long time at that point. Man, we could not have been more wrong! Just when you thought things could not get any worse, they did, and much worse. Smisek is the type of CEO who perpetuates the us and them mentality and then wonders why we are not enthusiastic and motivated. Just to give you one little example of change, per-merger Ua gave every fleet service employee $57 twice a year for work shoes, now they allocate $55 once a year. What are they making shoes that last twice as long now? Thats just one of many slaps in the face's he has given to his employees. I agree 100% with this article, it is time to go Jeffy!!!!!

Rick November 22, 2013 at 06:15 pm

Merger? I don't think so. Smisek came in and removed pretty much anything that was pre-merger United including senior executives, reservation system, maintenance, training and cockpit proceedures for lower standard Continental proceedures and systems. He made statements like "I'm running a business and not an airline" and frequent flyers are "over entitled." He spoke openly to a group of new flight attendants and told them not to think of their job as a career, "Work for a couple of years and move on." As the husband of a former employee, I can tell you he has created a toxic atmosphere between employees and even retirees. Promises made to long time employees and retirees regarding benefits have suddenly become "privileges" and revoked or modified at his descretion. The man has no respect for employees or customers and seemingly not a clue on how to run a business let alone an airline. Agreed he should go now.

Keith November 22, 2013 at 07:37 pm

"I'm sure you're a great guy and I would still love to grab drinks with you sometime, but not until I see a new face writing the intro letter in future issues of Hemispheres magazine." What you stated about him is the opposite. He wouldn't be bothered talking to a customer, much more an employee. Jeff Smisek = FAIL!!!

Dianna November 22, 2013 at 07:38 pm

Thank God someone besides current and past retired employees sees what is and has been going on. I put in 33 years at United, some good and some bad. I am very sad to see what has happened to a once proud airline. Jeff is slowly stripping those of us who built the airline of promised retired benefits while lining his own pockets. Thank you for your article.

mas68 November 22, 2013 at 07:50 pm

Finally someone who truly gets it! Retired UA employee here, the first group to incur the wrath of Smisek and his 'we'll do it my way' management style. When a new CEO makes it known that you are either with him or you are out, he virtually ensure the silence of every person who disagrees with him or might have a solution to a problem. Hi latest blunder... outsource the job of every employee at 6 stations and hire the competition, in this case AA regional employees, to take their place. Can you see Pepsi entrusting Coca Cola with running even one of their plants? And lets not overlook the offer of a buy out to long time front line employees and their departure just before Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. His ideas keep getting better and better, NOT!!!!

Bubba November 22, 2013 at 08:10 pm

Additionally, under Smisek's so-called leadership, some key flights were dropped. It was really stupid of them to get rid of Moscow, Copenhangen, and Athens. Now United will stop flying to Bangkok, as we found out this week. What are these guys thinking? And what kind of crack are they smoking???

Anonymous November 22, 2013 at 08:29 pm

Cuts cuts and more cuts is what is currently happening. I'm a flight attendant on the United side of the company and yes we are definitely still separated. They are furloughing 2,000 united flight attendants in april. With my job on the line I fully agree with everything you have to say. And p.s. they are hiring flight attendants on the continental side. So put that in a pipe and smoke it!!

Vira November 22, 2013 at 09:23 pm

The greater you rise the mightier you can fall..great article.aside from management problems united also seems to have many technology issues that seems to have not been resolved since the merger..unhappy employees equals an unproductive company - yes the customer is usually right but as a manager you must find a balance between happiness of the company and happiness of the employees to have a successful is unfortunate that such a Great company is having financial problems.changes have to be made starting from the top after all the productivity of a business is a reflection on management..

Bradley Perkins November 22, 2013 at 11:06 pm

United sadly seems to operate like Obama Care. Not to good...

Randi garlenski November 22, 2013 at 11:33 pm

When is the BOD going to wake up???

Joe Carcioni November 23, 2013 at 12:12 am

News flash: UAL is hauling its mechanics into mediation for a new contract. Not inspiring that the folks that maintain their planes are being saddled with inept and inefficient managment, now they want them to lay down and just agree to concessions. Sad Sad Sad

Red905 November 23, 2013 at 12:13 am

I work for the CO side of this merger. To touch on the mentality that is there regarding 'on time or else' - its true, emphatically. And its sad. They clearly have made this their #1 priority, at any cost: passengers, catering, employees. I have seen flights go crazy early and leave people stranded; catering issues are beyond a joke. Now - as a customer, do you want a delay for first class meals? NO - but, 99% of the time, a catering issue is something that can be resolved within minutes, and minutes can be made up easily in flight time - which - by the way, is padded for delays anyway. So while a ten minute delay doesnt get us an ontime bonus if it keeps on happening - it does give us the right tools to do our job in the air (which makes us happy), and then the passengers get the service they paid for (now they are happy) and if they are happy, doesnt that all trickle down/up/over to where the airline is supposed to be? Striving to be #1??? But - what is often happening is what I like to call, the Scarecrow Effect. (Remember the scene where Dorothy sees him for the 1st time, and he doesnt know which way to direct her so he points this way and that and then both ways?). Every work group is blaming the other one. No one wants the blame for fear of being fired because, heaven forbid, a flight went out 1 minute late. We do need Gordon back, but its clear he isn't coming back. I don't have the answers, but I sure as heck would start w eliminating management golden parachutes and bonuses, creating one heck of an early out program, and making sure that no one's pension is ever in jeopardy. I'd also sit 5/10 employees from each group down and ask them what it wrong w the company, how can we fix it, and let all the front line employees know how their dropping the ball has a domino effect that trickles down all the way to the customer. Because let me tell you, right now? The company has no clue how or why thats happening, and from what I have seen, could not care less.

Keith C. November 23, 2013 at 01:30 am

When I was paid by United to leave the company after 28 years as a flight attendant, I knew things were headed downward. The old United left lots of room for improvement but adding Continental to the mix meant going from bad to worse. When I first saw Smisek on the video screen before the safety demo, I winced audibly. A Continental flight attendant seated near me gave me an unpleasant look and said loudly, "WE like him!" God save us all.

Keith C. November 23, 2013 at 01:30 am

When I was paid by United to leave the company after 28 years as a flight attendant, I knew things were headed downward. The old United left lots of room for improvement but adding Continental to the mix meant going from bad to worse. When I first saw Smisek on the video screen before the safety demo, I winced audibly. A Continental flight attendant seated near me gave me an unpleasant look and said loudly, "WE like him!" God save us all.

Mark Roberts November 23, 2013 at 01:36 am

HA. Really? Let's see you try and run an airline that is as complex as this one. In fact, let's just not learn from old United's past of booting each CEO when people didn't like the changes. I guess everyone has the truth in social media these days.

Employee November 23, 2013 at 01:47 am

Most of my fellow employees are yearning to get past the "Us and Them" and embrace the "We". But our C-level "good ole boys" continue to manage with a divisive and finger-pointing style. Blame trickles down hill too, and it's the bottom line that are faulted when things go bad. I'm a "We" person. Jeff's style is a "My way or the Highway" mentality (i.e. Me vs Everyone Else). He's should NEVER have been put in this job to start with.

Retired Continental Employee November 23, 2013 at 03:43 am

This is one of the best and informative post that I have read about United. You are so on the spot. I was ashamed to say I worked for them, so I retired under the sweet name of Continental Airlines. That was when employees were proud to say who they worked for. I saw some of the same things you saw 3 years ago when this mess started. Keep up the good work, with more good informational posts......

Outsourced November 23, 2013 at 07:20 am

Great article.. As an employee who was recently outsourced by United (yet hey gave our jobs to American Eagle) I agree with a lot of the statements in reference to customer service. Let's talk about some of the different type of stations United has and how the mentality is different in these stations when it comes to customer service. There are Hubs, and line stations. United's goal is to get rid of these line stations that feed the Hubs and that are many times the first point of contact for our customers. As I said I was recently outsourced by United which means my station is now being worked by American Eagle. My station along with 5 others were dismissed without care or guidance from our union or United. How does a company outsource to a competitor? How does a Union allow fellow Union employees then go to these stations to guide them? How is this saving money? Check the employee turn around with this company, check the quality of employees. These employees have people's lives in their hands. 1 screw up can affect so many lives. Since the merger we have worked side by side with them and have seen employee after employee come and go, have seen their work quality and ethics. Have seen FAA regs be dismissed. Check the on time performance since Nov 15, at ALB, CVG, ROC,MDT, GRR, TUS. Go visit these stations ask Jeffey how outsourcing will improve our customer service scores check which stations had great scores and were profitable yet were outsourced. Which stations were #1 with scores and improvement. These stations had employees that have been there for 27+ years and we were committe to each other, United, our passengers and our pilots. Talk to some of the Transtates pilots about which stations work. One would think United would of done this. Soon all small stations will not be worked by airline employees and only contractors. Do an article about this. Talk to some employees. As someone that loved my job it's sad to see what is happening to the company sad that so many years of experience have been thrown out. United can be on top again I do believe this. Let the people that actually do he job come up with ways to improve our scores. So frustrating....

PMCO November 23, 2013 at 08:09 am

I'm PMCO, worked under Frank Lorenzo and Gordon Bethune. Jeffy is 100% Frank Lorenzo. His management team from the front line up pits PMCO and PMUA against one another. Most of us are bracing ourselves for another bankruptcy. Smisek is in way over his head.

Employee November 23, 2013 at 08:36 am

He might have a degree from Harvard but that does not make him a leader. He is a arrogant bully that has no clue how to motivate his people.We have many talented people with lots of years of airline experience on the front line. But he puts people in positions of power that are very removed from the groups they are leading .Maybe he should go on under cover boss.. Everyone just does what they are told for fear of being fired when a square peg does not go into a round hole. Your damned if you do and damned if you don't . God for bid that he would every listen to his front line people.Treat your people like you want them to treat the customer.If your not on board with his ideas then your not a team player and risk your job for speaking out to much .They tell you that they want to hear your thoughts but the reality is they don't listen. All of the videos you see about great place to work?? Not any more .. We all need our jobs and careers it's just unfortunate because people are losing there will to go the extra mile. He does NOT connect with the front line people. He talks about flying the friendly skies ...customers are feeling what the employees feel beat up . Take a good look at our product even pay additional for drinks at the united clubs. It's gone way down hill . You get ZERO support from your upper and mid level management. . Many of us thought we were going from the titanic to life boat .???

Intrigued November 23, 2013 at 09:29 am

You would think that all has been said here, surprise..not yet!! NOW, the pretzels will be taking off United flights when the supply "burns off". When the 2 Billion dollar savings plan was announced, we all knew that more trouble was coming down the pike!! I cannot think of much more service things the company can delete, they have brought it down to 1 step above bare minimum. If EVERY airline, including SPIIRIT, made record profits in the 3rd quarter, should it not be clear to the Board that something is f***ed up at the top!! The moral is at an all time low and Jeff has expressed many times how the line employee have no brains or pertinent input, since there are better..smarter people who are paid to do the job. Nice motivational speech from a CEO. who apparently does NOT have the better, smarter people running the company. Too bad it has come to this point, at the beginning the merger had MUCH promise to be something exciting. They squandered that chance by cheapening the product and treating the customers and employees with outrageous contempt!

oneOf6 November 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I was an employee for both carriers before being outsourced Nov 2013 to our competitors AE who are AA....seriously? Beghune was a great CEO he took CO from "worst to first" then he retired and I started working for UA as in my station CO was COEX (best move) I thought! Smisek got rid of small coex in 2005 and placed it up for contract, agts had to choose to follow CO or stay w/contract company xjet. Then uh oh,UA & CO merged... Could be great, no overlapping flights UA has a great system and business, CO has customer service. Nope. Jeff got UA system gone and here comes stoneage DOS, 2 cabin aircarfts, and small ua stations getting contracted out though told profitable but cheaper even after saying under oath no outsoucing due to cost of merger! He is taking a good INDUSTRY oops business and giving s/UA his wrath. Why keep the United name? Because Continental can't file bankruptcy under their name though everything is mirrored from his reign of s/CO, but UA can and deplete the unions.

Loved my CAL years November 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I am the lone CAL wolf in a department of UAL employees. I was a happy, proud employee of a world class airline--that being Continental. After 27 years with CAL, I live in the main problem everyday. In a nutshell; the represented UAL employee groups want the new UA to make up for the sins of the old UA! "They took our ESOP, We have no pension, we only have PBGC, now we have to pay for health insurance, only one pair of goes on and on and on." WAAAAH! Jeff has officially lost control, and was a target from the beginning. There is NO way, he can recover at this point. Until everyone understands each individual company is DEAD, and we are trying to build a new company, this animosity--resulting in a horrible service and product-- will keep spiraling downward. Hey United we kept your name, hey Continental we kept your planes. Shut up and start doing your jobs... or the flying public can (and will) go somewhere else.

Rose November 23, 2013 at 01:06 pm

Your article has accurately (dead on) explained my frustration of the antics of UAL. We ve been extremely loyal o UAL for many years. Consistent 1ks for 10 years combined miles over 7 million of my I meats family of 5. You are right to cll it a diminished product. It has shrunk so badly and the attitude of employees blaming each other for the poor service and accountability of their actions is disgusting. There is little customer service, their system wide mean nothing and manipulation UAL incurs on the passenger is totally unacceptable. There is no loyalty flying on United other than useless.

Moving to the airlines that will match miles and fly my routes will be a good thing.....

Carole November 23, 2013 at 01:14 pm

The only thing left of UAL is the name on the airplane. CO managment is awful, how did UA let all this happen. Wm Patterson must be rolling over in his grave with what has happened to this once great airline. Customer service is non-existant. Worked as a CSR and we would have been shown the door if we trated our customers they way they are treated today. Disgraceful.

Flyforlife November 23, 2013 at 01:51 pm

As an almost 20yr UA (former CO) flight attendant, I must clarify one major discrepancy....most of us on the CO side NEVER wanted Jeff in the CEO position. I worked for an incredibly wonderful company before he took hold of it, and slowly squeezed the life and energy out of a work group inspired by the teachings and commitment of Gordon Bethune. UA seems to have the idea that were and are happy with our current CEO, but that is just not true. So many f us were cringing and praying, when this merger started, because we knew UA had been through enough in recent years, and we all knew on our side,, that things were about to get much worse.

There is segregation among employees on the front lines, extremely low employee Morale, and that won't change until "Big" changes are made with management. The only thing we can do now is hope that passengers won't keep blaming us, and realize that we are all just as disgruntled with the current state of our airline. One of the reasons I always loved flying, was the passengers-I enjoy meeting new people, having frequent flyers, helping people to have the best experience possible on the journey to wherever they are going. This "point A to point B" mentality is ruining us, and making me love my CAREER, less and less. He dares to dictate how I classify what I do for a living? Well, mission accomplished, Mr. have all but turned this into a 'job' for me. The difference is, once he jumps ship, and leaves the destruction from the Tornado he has brought forth, I'll still be here...picking up the pieces of the mess he will inevitibly leave behind.

united employee November 23, 2013 at 03:58 pm

great comment "loved may CAL years"... I too am an active employee for 35 years with Continental and now United.. I take offense to alot of the statements from Rohan in the article.. Don't blame United that you don't arrive at the gate on time. It shows on your boarding pass what time the boarding will start. (it varies due to the type of aircraft and how many passengers) We NEVER board early (F/A contract). 35 minutes before departure on 737's and airbuses.. 45-50 minutes for the larger planes 757,767 787 etc... It is our policy to close the door 10 min before departure, but we normally don't due to passengers arriving late to the gate. It does take time for the load planners to get the final paperwork to the pilot (after the count of all bags and people are on board) and still get an on time departure. It is not that "we want to shove off the gate and artificially inflate our on-time performance rate." So what is it? We have "increasing common flight delays" or "we are trying to "shove off the gate".. you can't complain about both. Most of our delays that I work are due to Air Traffic Control, or weather. Please understand we have to control over either. Don't assume that it isn't a good place to work. I have seen alot of changes in the airline industry in the last 35 years... I loved my job for most of those years... Don't get me wrong, I would love to see a Gordon Bethune back and get back the "working together" mentality that we haven't got back yet.... I for one will say you are right it is "our problem". We need to get over the "them vs us" attitude. If you think the merger of AA and US will be any different, I think you are wrong... they too will go through alot of the same problems.

SonnyLee November 23, 2013 at 04:21 pm

The combine PMCO and PMUA route structure is the envy of the US aviation industry...and yet Mr. JS continues to divide his employee....from what I hear from thePMUA employees...Jeff continues to Continental "we did this better"....My morale would be extremely low if I were PMUA..... You look at Delta/Northwest and that merger...that was textbook....there were some hiccups the 1st two years but they are at a different level now paying down their debts and refurbishing their entire fleet and maximizing revenue. I hate to say it...but their products have continued to improved. AA/US ...the jury is out with them...but they at least have a blueprint of what NOT to do!

Maggie Burgess November 23, 2013 at 04:23 pm

All I can say is it was/is the worst merger ever and Jeff S is a greedy bastard !! Having been proud to represent United as a CSR Supervisor for 9 yrs under an outsourced contract my worst fears came true from day one of the merger, the system failed the passengers suffered and the staff became a number I am now out of the airline industry and although I miss my crews, my passengers and all of my co workers, I do not miss my work I wish them well for the future, but I agree to make it work Jeff has to go !!

Frank November 23, 2013 at 06:51 pm

Very well said, thanks for saying what every single United employee has been saying since the inception of this boondoggle... "it's all Jeff'd up!" This is a CEO who is so insecure about his position, he personally directs firing of employees who speak up about how little support they get from the company. "Ready, Fire, Aim" seems to be the rule of the day when it comes to bringing two airlines together, all overseen by Mr. Jeff. This is a service oriented company, and without the complete support of his employees (both previous CAL and UAL), it will NEVER succeed. And you can't get the employees on-board until you start treating them like valued assets.

It's always amazing when you hear the CEO's of other companies such as Virgin, Southwest, and Costco speak. The very first thing out of their mouth is "we are only successful because of our employees". If you were to ask Mr. Jeff about his employees, I have no doubt he would reply, "Yes, I do believe we have a necessary expense called employees, and we are working hard to fix that....I'm Jeff Smisek, President and CEO of United Airlines"

UAL emp November 23, 2013 at 08:02 pm

I can't control with whom I work. I cannot control the moods of passengers. I cannot control flight schedules, CEOs, ticket costs, food options, food availability or the weather. I can control myself. What do you get when you fly with me? A smile, a hello, a coat hanging, a predaparture beverage,consistent service, conversation if you're amenable to it and as much information about your connecting flight as I can get. It is about recognizing where I can actually make a difference. I'm glad you're on my flight.

Employee November 23, 2013 at 09:52 pm

Well here you go!!!! I am an employee and quite frankly am disgusted by the mere mention of his name...Jeff Smisek is nothing but a disgrace and he is only out for himself. Is there still alot of UA vs CO absolutely, but this is mainly brought about by him. Funny though, for a merger or at least that is what we were told it was it was more like a hostile takeover, CO taking over UA. All that we got to keep was a name. Jeffy boy saying that frequent fliers are "overentitled" well then start giving out upgrade certs like we used to or letting the premier's buy them. No more free upgrades. Maybe if some of these ex-CO passengers that think they are entitled to the world got a reality check, then maybe we all would be a little bit better off..

Airdog November 23, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Fellow employees, The thought that a former "Yoga Instructor" can speak from such an exalted position on what ails "The New United Airlines" and expose the vitriol within and between the two groups is mildly amusing and sad at the same instant. Rohan was correct on one point though. Jeff isn't going to save us and neither are the Unions and certainly not the Federal Government . As always in the the past and in the future it will be the employees that pay the price and the employees that finally make it work. So lets put on the big boy and girl underwear and find the leadership within ourselfs and make it happen. Do you really have a choice ?

         Fellow employee

MakingContrails November 24, 2013 at 12:58 am

Wait, you are telling me EVERY time you have boarded an on time departure, they have finished boarding by the time boarding is supposed to start? Sorry, I gotta raise the BS/exaggeration flag on this statement. I have flown 180 segments year to date, and I have only seen boarding start early once (and it was 2 minutes early). With given logistics of turn times and crew check in times for flights, it's physically impossible to board a flight that early (assuming 30 minutes early, typical boarding process timeline for a narrow body).

As an ex-employee and current 1K, I would agree with the article. Employees have been complaining about the CEOs of UA since Greenwald left the office. Even pins and shirts were made to petition Goodwin out. Most customers just shrugged their shoulders and gave a sympathetic response. But the impact on customers has never been more apparent than now. I know several people who switched carriers, and won't be back because of the changes. The rest of my company flies AA, I have held out, and now the time has come for me to make a decision at the end of the year. Stay with an airline that chips away at the perks of remaining loyal? Or let another carrier show you just how determined they are to win your loyalty.

OldCOinTX November 24, 2013 at 11:15 am

Pre-merger CO: winning in every category Post-merger UA: losing at exactly the same rate as pre-merger UA. Smisek has successfully recreated the conditions under which old UAL sucked so badly and it's still on the downward trajectory. Smisek leaving won't necessarily fix the train-wreck that is the pre-merger UAL mentality and way of doing business that the new UAL has inherited. The award winning, top flight CO system and business structure is gone.

D A November 24, 2013 at 01:10 pm


Thomas P. Maher November 24, 2013 at 01:23 pm

As a retired UAL employee, retired before the merger, I am real SORRY with the merger. I loved working wit United. Now United Airlines is no longer United Airlines. It is Continental Airlines. But United had a much better and known name, so United is in NAME ONLY. And the UAL employees before the merger worked because they wanted to and were treated MUCH better. And the company expected their workers to make some decisions in dealing with and handling problems. Now so many of our promised benefits don't exist because of this "CEO". And I have read that new employees, since the merger, traveling on a pass are boarded BEFORE premerger UAL retirees and any post merger, former UAL are. So this "ceo" has screwed ANY and ALL UAL employees in EVERY WAY!!!It is time to give the BOOT to this guy and NOT give him ANYTHING in the way of pension, severance, any BUY OUT money, etc. The only thing this guy did was tell EVERYONE: pay me BOG money but DON'T expect me to do ANY WORK for it.

Chris Rosoff November 24, 2013 at 04:58 pm

My Husband and I are 32 year Co/PEX now UAL flight attendants although we still think of ourselves as Co since we work under that contract on Co metal. We have both worked in management and in training but have chosen to complete our remaining years as line flight attendants. I can tell you that 99% of the time, we fly with pretty senior Co crews who do their very best to provide great customer service and our customers walk off the ac thanking us for the service we provide. Sadly, I do know that doesn't happen often enough these days. It has become very frustrating to come to work when management blames the employees for poor customer service when, in reality it's the details that we can't control , ie catering, maintenance issues, broken lavs on 15 hr flights, inop ovens on premium f/c cabins, etc.,etc. We can write up these issues over and over but they seldom seem to get resolved nor do we the line employees get responses.
God Forbid a line employee were to make a mistake, we would be fired asap but managment continues to make mistakes such as the issue with fares this past summer resulting in a poor 3rdQtr. and there are no repercussions. Frankly, most line employees can't understand why Jeff's head didn't roll for that one. This past year, management had all f/a's sit through "Customer Service Training". Although, we were asked for input and concerns, not one issue has been resolved nor does management want to nor did we expect any changes. The manner in which management has engaged in the joint contract talks for our flight attendant groups is another indication of the contempt that they hold for our work group. Is the company playing games hiring more Co flight attendants?? Yes absolutley. The Co side of the house is a much more productive work force than the UA side which still has a very much "legacy" contract.

Are we all frustrated and fearful for our jobs, Yes. With the constant changing of A/c on the routes, our schedules/lives are contstantly changing. On the CO side, we are all worried about losing our pensions which UA flight attendants lost in the '05 bankruptcy. I can go on and on about a number of issues that concern both sides of the house. Do we need to stop blaming one another, another absolutely YES. UA employees need to stop blaming CO when it was their own management mismanaging for so many years that forced them into bankruptcy. Those of us on the CO side look at how much money is being spent to upgrade an aging, dirty UAL fleet and we worry about the lack of money spent to keep up our side of the house. There truly are so many issues that need to be addressed but unfortunately, no one in a position to fix them seems to care. Out of personal pride, my husband and I will continue to give 150% until we retire. I do hope that Jeff will be gone long before that day comes and I hope he goes without a Golden Parachute. That money would be more wisely spent by giving front line employees an incentive raise or bonuses.

UA-NYC November 24, 2013 at 05:52 pm

@OldCOinTX - your point just proves the oft-repeated claim (of which I agree) that all things PMCO worked great for a regional carrier in monopolistic hubs, and fails massively on the broader combined scale taking into account the more premium (yet competitive) PMUA route structure.

Rohan November 24, 2013 at 06:36 pm

@airdog01: I appreciate feedback on my blog, both positive and constructive. I welcome rebuttals in order to stimulate healthy dialogue, and that way, everybody walks away with something of value.

However, drawing a connection to my other areas of expertise/industry (read: your yoga instructor comment) does the direct opposite of that and accomplishes nothing, aside from giving you less credibility.

It's irrelevant (and frankly, incorrect, as I am still an active yoga instructor) which I pursue separately as a side hobby, just like blogging, in addition to my full-time corporate job. I fail to see what exactly is "sad" and "amusing" about this, but I'm honestly indifferent to hearing about your justification for posting it.

That said, let's focus on content and aviation, people, not the personal background of the blogger. Many thanks for the otherwise productive feedback that the rest of you have provided.

REtired UA November 24, 2013 at 08:22 pm

Does this little guy remind you of someone?

Mike November 24, 2013 at 08:35 pm

i applaud your article but it cuts the truth a little short.The total mismanagement of the comapny is not just Smisek,it runs alot deeper then just the ceo. In reality, seeing this company from the inside out no one, believe no one has seen the blunders that have occured from the begining of this merger.A realistic restructuring of this companies management would be a understatement at best.

Successful Buy-Out ! November 25, 2013 at 01:06 am

Wow, a lot of ground covered here and all correct....THANKS for the article, Rohan. I am pre-merger UAL employee and will be retiring by year's end with the additional "bonus" of the Early Out/buy-out offer of $60,000 for the customer service representative group.
I whole-heartedly feel sorry for my pre-merger UAL coworkers who could not take the Early Out offer, who still need to work to support their families or themselves. I am equally sorry and in total disbelief for those stations now outsourced (as of November 15th) to American Eagle of which about 200+ United Employees have lost their jobs, though I believe about 50 (?) have transferred within UA to other stations.

United has run off the rails thanks to top-heavy CO's Management "team", of which I will say to my dying day was/is the ruination of a once great airline and I don't mean Continental !! How can you run an airline by lawyers?. Sure UAL had it's low points but this current nonstop debacle is unbelievable. What is so frustrating, so annoying, so disgusting is the PERVASIVE attitude of the majority of ex-CO employees filled with arrogance and indifference - on every level. For a fact (I have spoken to many UA employees traveling through my station), who have confirmed over and over again the same attitude of CO employees. Everything about them is just "off". I will never forgive CO for putting us on SHARES. The five-day training course on how to make a reservation was supposed to cover my decades of experience in everything else from upgrades, ticketing, exchanges to other airlines, baggage problems, company policies and important formats that are used every single day -- NONE of that was taught to us. It was a total dumbing-down of thousands and thousands of UAL agents. They just threw us out to the lions, brought us to our knees and expected us (I guess by osmosis) to know how to do things CO's way. Even the everyday lingo they use is not airline lingo.

It didn't take long (only a few days or weeks after 3/03/12) that high paying regular week-after-week customers were no where to be seen - defected to AA and DL en-mass and I literally could count on the fingers of one hand those that still fly United. I would be hard-pressed to believe that they will ever come back -- read the United thread on - tells the whole ugly story. Now I'm checking in Joe-Schmoe nobody on his $89.00 fare to Houston. At least 95% of what I know now on SHARES I learned on my own by repetitive trial and error or by the kindness of a few "nicer" agents at Continental. Non-rev ticketing - can you believe they did not teach us that ? Few UAL agents know how to issue non-rev ZED or ID90 tickets - they tell us to refer our coworkers and retirees to go on the employee website and fend for themselves. It's very sad and pathetic. They don't even treat their own "coworkers" and "teamplayers" with the "respect" and "dignity" they tout over and over again - empty buzzwords and psychobabel. I'm glad and sad to be getting out and will miss the old United. To my UAL coworkers (longterm UAL employees), I wish you all the very best. If Smisek doesn't get out my guess is UAL will go bankrupt again. You can't keep it flying on cheap tickets, watered down "service" or no service, domestic routes with higher and higher percentages of regional jets "United Express", and masses of fliers going over to AA and DL. And who knows who will take his place ??? Good luck to us all.

One sCO & new UA employee November 25, 2013 at 05:12 am

Thanks Mr. Rohan for your time to analysis our company. Besides comments on #46 that I totally agree with, most of these comments are grieves. Mr. Rohan is good writer but is stirring the pot. Please put yourself into others position. It's easy to criticize than look at ourself into our mirror. I am too happy with what I'm doing. I enjoy every time with my pax when I go to work. I retired from too big company as middle management before I came to work with this industry. sCO/UA is not the first airlines I work with. I heard more compliments from pax than complaints. Those like to complain will complain about every airlines. You think this is worse or worst, when something not in your favor, you will still complain. Better do more yoga to clam down. If you have suggestions, we appreciate. Big organization deals with all kinds of people and employees, one kind is Mr. Rohan's type. Since the merge, I've seen good changes to our employees upon our suggestions that employees have forgotten. Passengers are the same. Someone said someone is greedy. Greed is almost human nature. sCO charged liquor. Today, UA gives away on some routes, some pax chased me down the isle since we were out of free drinks. This never happened before. This is just one example. I travel out if my pocket as well. I observed how other airlines work too. It's a 2 ways street. I can't change other, I change myself. There are so many factors out of our control. I agree UA still have lots to improve but not barking can make a good impact.

Chuck November 25, 2013 at 07:10 am

I have been a UA MP member for almost 25 years, 1 K for about ten and a million Miler. This is my last year.

The continued arrogance of Jeff and his team toward elite flyers is more than I can stomach.

The only two things he talks about in his pre-flight video is 2) new planes and b) network. Not a mention of his loyal customers.

Stuck with them through two bankruptcies. In the past couple of years, a) Continues to increase the fee for United Club while decreasing the offerings an quality. Now the free drinks are swill but you can buy up to a decent drink.

b) Got happy on the selling of upgrades at the day of departure rather than offer them to those of us who have this as a perk. Nothing worse than being on the upgrade lists and then being asked if I want to buy one for an often a low price.

c) Cut the number of upgrade certificates provided to elite members.

d) Now, a new enhancement is to greatly increase the number of miles required to book on a partner. Even the chair of Lufthansa had to take a polite approach to making comments.

e) Changes for upgrades reduced as he puts more narrow bodies on long hauls like IAD-SFO.

f) Lots of hot air about chefs hired to do menus. Maybe for his private dining room. There is no difference in the menu for GlobalFirst and BsinessFirst except GlobalFirst has a soup course. The breakfast menu has not changed in years - only what is in the omelet. The hockey pock turkey sausage is grey and tasteless.

g) Prices on BOB continue to go up, even the booze. Now, the drink chits don't even cover some of the selections.

Jeff still thinks he at CO.

Personality of wallpaper paste. On some flights, he has been booed by those in the First Class cabin. But, he talks about his planes.

Fred November 25, 2013 at 08:04 am

As a 29 year Continental employee, I've seen numerous CEO's come and go. Gordon Bethune and Larry Kellner were the best. Gordon wrote the book Worst to First and Jeff is writing Worst to First Back to Worst. It's sad to see Continental business plans disappear. A passenger asked me once, what the differance between Continental vs United. Under Gordon every Continental we went by: air travel is an unpleasant experience but were going to do everything we can to give you the best experience we can. At United we've turned into the attitude of: it's air travel and it's going to suck so get over it. There's a reason all of us say everything is Jeff'd Up. Until Gordon comes back united will continue its death spiral.

Employee November 25, 2013 at 09:28 am

I’m a 15 year employee from the CO side as a CSA (Ramper).

I’ve worked 11 of those years at one of the largest UAL hubs and am now integrated with long time UAL ramp employees on a daily basis.

For the last 2 years I’ve worked the vacation relief bid line. That means I’ve worked almost every job that a UAL CSA can work and have been stationed almost everywhere at my hub. I’ve seen quite a bit.

Here’s my observations.

Before the merger the CO group wan nonunion, this may play a part in what I’ve witnessed.

Before we were merged, CO had a bagroom located right next to UAL. To unload inbound bags we sometimes had to wait behind a UAL inbound bag runner. Often it would be 1 bag runner unloading 3 or 4 carts of bags by himself while 3 or 4 bag room (loading) employees sat within 10 feet at a table playing cards, watching tv or just talking. 20 minutes (sometimes more) spent waiting while nobody offered to help.

Finally we’d pull up to our carousel and inevitably 1 or 2 of our bag room employees would jump up and help unload any bags we had. It’s nice to have your bags waiting FOR YOU when you get to the baggage claim area, isn’t it?

Is that a union thing? I’m not sure. We at CO didn’t have a union, so I know for sure it was a workplace thing. Guys just pitched in.

Late bags are a common occurrence at every airport. On the CO side we had a policy of attempting to get every late bag out to the plane as long as it was still at the gate. Even when we knew the jet bridge was unhooked we’d still run them out in the chance that the pilot would allow them on after the pushback. We are now integrated in the UAL bagroom. I have personally witnessed some of the most unbelievably incompetent, lazy, complacent and negligent behavior regarding getting late bags to a flight from my new UAL mates. While watching some of my former CO brothers attempt to run late bags out and be reprimanded because “that’s not their job”.

I’ve also witnessed the lies and incompetent supervision after the fact, in the above situations. I wonder what kind of money it costs UAL to deliver those late bags when that problem could be largely minimized by a few simple things. Responsible supervision, personal responsibility and work ethic.

I recently went to IAH for some training. During the course of a month my training group was escorted through every corner of that airport. It was hard to find any trash or FOD anywhere. Particularly striking was the cleanliness of the bagroom. The most striking thing to notice at the hub I’m at better not leave your lunch anywhere a rat can walk off with it (or another employee for that matter) - I witnessed that too.

As much as I’d like Gordon Bethune back, I know he’s not coming back. As far as Jeff Smisek goes, he may be in over his head but he’s so far above my pay grade that I can’t fairly judge that. I can assess my immediate supervisor and his supervisor (somewhat) and the members of any immediate team I’m working with in the current month, week or day. I can and do hold those people responsible for what happens on a daily basis but not before I look in the mirror and assess my own personal responsibility first.

I worked 31 years in another field before I came to CO. I was a low level supervisor in charge of a shift of 4 people and witnessed much of the same behavior I see at my hub. When a problem arose it was addressed at the local level first and moved up the chain of command as necessary. If someone’s issue wasn’t handled satisfactorily it would go to the next level. What I witness at my hub is longtime UAL supervisors protecting favored employees and/or employee groups and pointing the finger elsewhere. You can blame Smisek all you want but it takes time to separate the wheat from the chaff and create an atmosphere of personal responsibility. I see that happening more and more.

Recently there were some supervisors released and employees reprimanded for falsifying OT. The OT policy has now been severely changed. Awhile back the way cash was handled internally was changed and some arrests may have even been made. How long do you think that was going on? Hmmm…forever? You do realize UA was in bankruptcy for years don’t you? Obviously these are just little problems in a huge company but it speaks to a certain behavior that becomes a pattern throughout. “If the bosses can get away with it…why can’t I.”

These are just a few recent examples. I could point out many, many more.

My suggestion. Quit your whining and start looking in the mirror. CO took over because they were fiscally responsible. They kept the UNITED logo because of it’s larger presence worldwide. There isn’t going to be an unmerger. So put on your ‘Big Boy Pants’, hold yourself responsible first and then your direct coworkers next. If you see something wrong, actually wrong, not just something you don’t like. Take it to your supervisor. If you don’t get satisfaction, tell that supervisor you want to go to their supervisor and discuss it with them until it’s resolved. At some point, if it’s a real problem it has to be addressed. Otherwise it’s corruption and it’s rotten from the top. Just take a look at what our political system has evolved to for an example.

Ted November 25, 2013 at 10:20 am

Ask what Good ole Jeff has taken away from the retired employees.He wants us to go away.Look what he takes with him when he does go. They should put this guy in Jail and throw the key away. He can have Glenn Tilton as his cell mate.

Kevin November 25, 2013 at 10:59 am

Well written article that absolutely "hits the nail on the head!" As a Legacy UAL employee, I can sum up all employees' feelings by sharing with you one phrase that is commonly said about "Comrade Jeffrey" - FLIBS. Frank Lorenzo In A Better Suit!


I'm not wild about calling for anyone's head, but i do think you've articulated some key breakdowns in the passenger experience that have kept UA from realizing it's potential. Early in the merger I spent a lot of time talking with the line staff and there was a definite feeling in the air that things were changing. Former UA'ers were telling me tales of how they had been sincerely asked for input and how management seemed more accessible. But as the challenges of technology integration (which were huge, especially moving from Apollo which was robust, but dead-ended, to SHARES which had a growth path but not the functional depth), operational pressures of an aging UA fleet, labor integration, and a much more competitive business climate made themselves known, the emphasis on people development did not seem to be sustained, and we're seeing the result in the examples you've provided. I think the key takeaway for EVERY carrier is that customer service is becoming the only product differentiator and that creating a true customer climate is product of a deliberate, significant, and sustained effort.

Visionary November 25, 2013 at 04:50 pm

Dear Mr. Anand:

I am a London-based Purser for United and must thank you for your excellent op-ed. Your article on Mr. Smisek touches on the collective psyche of both United employees and customers alike. Thank you for being the voice that so adeptly encapsulated our collective frustrations since the merger.

United's three-year stint in Chapter 11 under Glenn Tilton wasn't nearly as bad as things have been at our company since Mr. Smisek's rise to power at United Airlines. I will give Mr. Tilton his due credit: He didn't take his eye off of taking care of United's best customers...all the while keeping creditors at bay and successfully keeping all parts of the United network intact, despite a lengthy restructuring process.

Since Mr. Smisek's reign, it has been a steady watering down of the soft product along with an erosion of mileage perks for our most valued customers. Legacy United spent 15 years cultivating a relationship with Starbucks Coffee, which was served exclusively on United. (Not that customers would choose United just because we served Starbucks, but the elimination of the Starbucks brand serves as just one example of the many relationships that Mr. Smisek has undermined...and the many people he has alienated during his stewardship at United Continental Holdings).

For the record, this is not a pm-UA vs pm-CO issue. There is wide disillusionment across BOTH subsidiaries. As a second generation United Airlines employee and an 18-year veteran of the company, the defection of our best customers to Delta and American is deeply worrying.

I have read every earnings transcript since the SHARES meltdown in 2012 and have become convinced that the executives in the C suite at Willis Tower are completely tone-deaf. United continues to under-perform its network peers because there has been no acknowledgement that our once-loyal Global Service, IK, and Premier customers have flocked to our competitors. Furthermore, there has been no real, meaningful, or concerted effort on the part of Mr. Smisek and his crew to EARN their business back.

Sadly, United has become the JC Penney of the airline industry and I fear things will get worse if the UCH BOD does not take corrective action soon. There was nothing in Mr. Smisek's Investor Day briefing that gave the customer any incentive to want fly United...unless they particularly enjoy being charged more for less. Cutting costs doesn't drive revenue improvement.

Lastly, US Airways, the airline whom Mr. Smisek referred to as the "ugly girl left at the dance" on the day the merger was announced, is out-performing United in just about every metric and will soon be thee global powerhouse. The "ugly girl" is certainly having the last laugh now. For her part, I hope she is carefully observing and learning what NOT to do when she consummates her marriage.

Thank you Mr. Anand, for being the voice for us all. Your article was a great read.



KR November 25, 2013 at 09:03 pm

I am a retired Continental Airlines 767 Captain. I left pre-merger in late 2009. I had the displeasure to have Smisek on my jumpseat as I flew him and his entourage--yes, entourage--to SEA for the rollout of the 787. I swear to you there is not a bigger horse's ass on the planet. He is, at the very least, the most condescending person I've ever met. As bad as his predecessor, Larry Kellner, was, Kellner was an order of magnitude better than Smisek.

Smisek knows he will likely leave UA with a couple hundred mill for his "efforts" so any attempt to make him accountable for anything will fail.

The CO employees universally despised him. Now the UA employees do, too.

I don't fly very often on the airline as a non-rev; I can't stand the sight of airplanes after almost 25 years with CO. The few times I have, have almost always been on legacy UA airplanes with UA crews. The filthiest lav I've ever seen was on a clapped-out looking UA 767. That image still sticks with me. It probably sticks with a few passengers, as well.

Smisek is known among upper management for his temper tantrums (the incompetent usually find others to blame for their own shortcomings) and among everyone else for his inflated sense of entitlement--kind of like that Mexican General in the recent movie "The Alamo".

Smisek should NEVER have been offered the job of CEO.

Has anyone heard from Gordon Bethune lately?

Bitter Ex-United Employee. November 25, 2013 at 10:47 pm

As I told my friends and ex co-workers at United Airlines, I knew United wasn't going to be the same and it was going to get worse once Jeff Smisek and his cronies from Continental took over United. No offense to Continental folks but after talking to some of the Continental management that are in charge, they are no different that Jeff Smisek and don't care what you have to say. My friends were excited because they were getting a fresh start after going through bankruptcy that saw the morale got worse and worse with all kinds of rumors that they were to close this base and that base and so on. There was no stability and people were leaving after finding greener pasture elsewhere. The United employees thought merging with Continental was their savior and thought Continental management was the best out there. They were also getting all kinds of perks unlike the retirees. The first indication and feeling I got that things was not going to be the same at the new United was when he changed our/retiree flight benefits to that of Continental Airline's which was worst. By doing that, it was just going to pit the retirees against active employees and create a big animosity. We went from having the best in the industry to worst and as you know through your experience with all the cutbacks he's done with the mileage plus program, it makes you angry after building up your account. Had you known that was going to be the case in the future, you would not have been as loyal to United. I knew he wasn't a good leader just by looking at him and through his actions. He says one thing but completely does the opposite. It turns out, my gut feeling was right. I've read statements from Continental pilots that he is one arrogant son of a bitch, unlike Gordon Bethune and Larry Kellner, which were a breath of fresh air to the Continental folks. He says he follows Gordon Bethune's philosophy and says, “I’m a big believer in culture, especially in a service business, and what we’re creating is a culture based on what I like to say are the two things my mommy taught me: Treat other people like you’d like to be treated, and never tell a lie,” Smisek told Fortune magazine in a 2011 interview. “You can lecture and train, but unless they really believe in who they work for and are proud of who they work for, and trust each other and trust management, you won’t get that.” Now, I'd like to ask everyone if what he says is what really goes on. I say he is full of it and if everyone can't see that by now then they are blind.

UAL CSR November 26, 2013 at 08:03 am

Good morning Rohan, As a current 26 year PMUA CSR, I believe you hit (mostly) the nail on the proverbial head. I, along with many other PMUA employees were cautiously optimistic with the merger, after many down years and a long bankruptcy. It didn't take long for that to change. Smisek has totally ruined any good feelings that we had towards the merger. The switch over to the 1960's Shares system was only the beginning. I was a long time very proficient gate agent, who loved dealing with customers. I even embraced the challenges such as oversales and delayed/cancelled flights. After the sub-standard Shares training given to PMUA employees, and little to no OJT as well, it became embarassing to me to deal with the public with such an antiquated system. Simple things such as adding a mileage plus number, rebooking to another airline, and changing seats on a downline flight are now sometimes lengthy transactions. After giving it a go, I became sick of having to explain myself and the poor customer service it created. So, after 25 years of being a very good (per my customers and co-workers) public contact agent, I exercised my seniority in my line station and now work strictly outside on the ramp. I do miss my customer service days, and can only hope someday a better system will be purchased. I truly believe that unless Jeffy is ousted, we are headed back to bankruptcy. He hates unions with a passion, and will do ANYTHING to drive a wedge between PMUA and PMCO employees. He has been pissed at PMUA employees ever since we choose to stay union, which incorporated the PMCO employees into our union. Back when we were voting on this issue, he stated to us "just give us a year", then you can go back to union if you don't like the results. Well that year and more has passed, and I can only imagine what it would have been like had we chosen to go non-union and been at will employees. He treats us like dog meat and that's when he has to follow rules. If he didn't have these work rules to follow, we would all be part time and our bennies would have been cut even more. There are many, many, more examples of what has been "all jeffed up". To summarize, he is an arrogant, entitled, s.o.b. and needs to go NOW.

CVG Employee November 26, 2013 at 08:47 am

Would the Green Bay Packers hire the Chicago Bears to run their training camp? Would the United States hire Iraq to staff the Embassy? Would United Airlines hire American Airlines to run their Line Stations? Well, YES they would!!!! Well, United Airlines would. In a cost cutting move, Mr. Smisek has started a process (that will continue) of hiring a competitor's employee's to operate his company at many Line Stations. Some of these "contract employees" actually work for both American Airlines AND United Airlines at the same airport- depending on their work area assignment for that day!!!!!! Can you predict the long term outcome of that business decision? I can. Smisek manages to the next quarterly report to United's shareholders, not what's in the best interest of customer's or employees. His work is a classic example of todays business model and over time it will be an abysmal failure, both for United Airlines and the United States. Greed and power is intoxicating and destructive. I took the buyout and I won't look back on the Death Spiral Smisek has imposed on United customers and employees as well. In the end, I'm sure karma will even things out.

Pre merger CO November 26, 2013 at 11:02 am

While calling for Jeff's head to roll, Mr Smisek leaving will not do anything if the rolling of heads does not trickle down to the middle and lower level managers/supervisors.

Who among the pre merger CO employees here remember Robert Ferguson, and what dealing with lower level managers/supervisors was like then, and the "atmosphere?", its much the same now and how quality suffered when Ferguson conjured up the nightmare scheme of "Continental Lite" back in 1993? (which almost drove CO into a 3rd bankruptcy).

Board of directors boots Ferguson, he is replaced with Gordon Bethune.

Gordon comes in, brings some hand picked people with him (Greg Breneman and others), and cleans house down to the lowest level managers/supervisors, it took about a year or so, but if you look at the atmosphere at Continental in 1993 versus 1995, it was two opposites of one another.

The point again being, Mr Smisek leaving is NOT by itself,going to repair or improve anything unless something like what happened when Gordon replaced Ferguson repeats itself.

If heads roll, it has to be all the way down to the middle/lower levels of management/supervisors who refuse to treat people with that dignity and respect that seems to be talked about and not practised.

PMUA November 26, 2013 at 02:20 pm

As a PmUa employee i can tell you Smisek has completely ruined United, its name and what we stood for. I know the PmCo employees bleed for the globe and their bitterness of taking us over has slowly gone away. The company could be on a better track today if our fearless leaders would have taken time to ask us what we need. If the PmCo employees could have spent 1 week on fastair, they would have begged to keep it! completely paperless, flight leaves, you walk away and work your next one, not sitting at your gate for 5-10min later still filling out paperwork. As soon as UA sheds the lame duck ceo and the bitterness of pmco employees taking over the bigger better carrier is over we'll all get back to work and make this airline soar!

LARSON November 26, 2013 at 04:28 pm

To quote previous...

"Smisek told Fortune magazine in a 2011 interview. “You can lecture and train, but unless they really believe in who they work for and are proud of who they work for, and trust each other and trust management, you won’t get that.” Now, I'd like to ask everyone if what he says is what really goes on. I say he is full of it and if everyone can't see that by now then they are blind."

U.A.L.(Continental) Management has lost any opportunity for trust from it's workers. How can you trust someone that has stabbed you in the back, pissed on you and kicked your family to the curb? Only those that work out of fear of losing their job will disagree.

We are NOT UNITED and don't see it happening for years. Crappy company now days.

Tony Policandriotes November 27, 2013 at 08:49 am

Too bad Rohan isn't on the board, but he's too intelligent for that job. I hope someone is listening and Smisek is sent back where he belongs, sooner than later.

Airdog November 27, 2013 at 02:03 pm

Rohan, It would appear that it's much more enjoyable for you to criticize than to be criticized . That was the point that you missed in my posting and no nothing in your résumé makes you qualified to suggest to any management team how to manage an airline. Your motive is obvious. By the way you might want to review who the V.P. of Operations and V.P of Flight Operations are?

William November 27, 2013 at 04:45 pm

Finally, words that ring so true. Thank you Rohan for putting this in black and white. I am a former UA employee who "didn't make it" in the very early days of the CO take over. I had three job offers before my last day and consider my self extremely lucky to not suffer what is so accurately written by you, and is clearly confirmed in the responses to your article, along with discussions I have with my dwindling number of friends that remain.

To the point(s): 1)The new United needs a new CEO that is not from either sub-UA, or sub-CO. Jeff has employed ethnic cleansing since day one - in essence everyone at sub-UA was flawed and not worthy of the new company. Sadly this continues to this day. If you had a scarlet U on your forehead, it was time to look for a new career. In the past year, more and more sub-CO employees are saying what has been said above - Jeff is not respected, not liked, and rules by fear. Not a good leadership strategy in any business, much less a service business. Bottom line and most important is Jeff does NOT care about people and what they may have to offer. He is the smartest guy in the room and his immediate reports do a great job of ensuring that "the emperor has no cloths syndrome prevails.

2)Jeff's pursuit of everything CO (except the United name)has cost this company dearly. When Keith Halbertson (sub-UA CIO) told Jeff that "he couldn't make the Shares system work and that he recommended staying with Apollo, Jeff in his infinite wisdom told him he had no choice. Keith was (IMO) our best CIO in the nearly 18 years I worked at United. Keith had a choice, he resigned. Great move as the Shares system has been a disaster in that it cannot handle the complexity of the combined network, and most importantly the revenue management system is now in a sub-optimized state. Its been confirmed by some insiders, and outside revenue management experts familiar with UA that it will take two to three years to upgrade Shares to optimally handle the revenue once again. Its good to be Richard Anderson!

3)How to handle a sub-par revenue situation - bring in the McKinsey Consultants and cut your way to profitability! Amazing for a Sr. Management team that prided itself on not relying on consultants. Jeff only has the ability to "adjust" the cost side and is paralyzed for a good period of time on the revenue side.

I for one was excited about the CO merger. We (sub-UA)had our own set of "issues" and were by no means perfect. Just about everything I heard or read about CO seemed so positive and what we at UA needed in a culture going forward. What was most disappointing to me was that I actually believed that this merger would truly create the best airline in the world to both fly and to work for. Its turned out to be exactly the opposite.

James Green November 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Anand is another naysayer who is quick to criticize but short on encouraging words that could actually help the situation. Jeff was doing a decent job at CAL and we were performing nicely. Many UAL folks have been determined to prove that an outsider could not handle running the combined company, so there has been little help from that side of the family. If the UAL members would come down from their high-horses and get with the program... United could be the best airline in the world. It's NOT Jeff... it's them! As an Ex-Con I dreaded the merger and sure enough the other side is not contributing their fair share like I figured they wouldn't... but bitching and moaning. That doesn't work no matter who is at the helm.

rohan November 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm


Since your comments seem to be getting more and more littered with personal jabs, I will refrain from responding to those points, lest the conversation degrade into complete irrelevance.

However, I will say that I have no issue with criticism as long as it’s regarding the topic and not cheap personal attacks. This is a private blog that expresses my own opinions. I have no illusions of grandeur. This was not written as an open letter to United’s Board of Directors. I did not make personal attacks on Jeff Smisek. Every point was based on either facts or my own personal experience as a customer. The views expressed are my personal views and I have not masqueraded them as anything more than that.

I’m sure you know that as a publicly traded company, United Continental Holdings is open to criticism from a variety of sources including its shareholders, its customers, its employees, as well as any other private citizen.

rohan November 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm

@JamesGreen: I am not an apologist, nor a critic. I am a realist and a writer. My thoughts are presented with factual data. As a customer, I have the right to vocalize when I feel that a company I once admired and respected is failing, at the helm of its CEO.

Jeff's history at pmCO, while great (if that were the case) is irrelevant in 2013. Anything that happened prior to 2010 is past tense.

A good leader instills a forward-thinking vision and attitude among his/her employees. If it isn't going to come from the top, do you think that all the embittered workers are going to dig-deep and find it from within given that they're totally uninspired to do so from their leaders?

Very, very wishful thinking.

Successful Buy-Out ! November 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

@JamesGreen....You might want to note the number of pro-CO comments are what only 2 or 3 in this thread of 83 comments - so far.

Straighten Up and Fly Right November 29, 2013 at 12:03 am

Quite the insightful blog, I must say, and from an outsider to boot! Here's another insider perspective:

  1. CO's culture was on the steady decline well before the merger with UA took place and while Smisek was at the helm no less. So if you want to speak of the “darling, JD Power” airline of the past, you’ll need to look back to the Bethune era.

  2. Similarly, PRmUA was the “king” of the industry in yesteryear, and rightfully so, so let’s not lose sight on their prior excellence and dominance, either.

  3. UA’s pre-merger reputation for undesired customer service and surely employees was well-established in the travel community, and that is the cross they bare from their past.

  4. CO has its fare share of surely employees and at all levels, so don’t let anyone fool you into thinking they were the model for premium customer/inflight service.

  5. That said….

    • Does UA and CO possess quality, hard-working, passionate employees both frontline and midlevel management and non alike?
    • Are they frustrated beyond all belief in the marginal support, desperate mentality and questionable directives we’re forced to implement on a daily basis?
    • Do we feel we’re left to our own devices with so little resources to rely on? (read: do more with less and less.)
    • For management, are they investing unbelievably long work days or even feel that their superiors respect all of their efforts and sacrifices to keep the “ship” flying straight and level?
    • Is there an overall Corporate retaliation mentality for not “drinking the Kool Aid?”
    • Are there frontline Leaders who have no business being Leaders?
    • Are there frontline employees who have no business being in customer, inflight, flight ops or ramp services?
    • To these questions, I’m compelled to share an undeniable “Yes!”
  6. So it doesn’t serve anyone’s benefit to pit one subsidiary against the other. I've defined a systemically broken Corporate culture, companywide frustrated employee base, and consistently unreliable operational/technological infrastructure.

  7. UA’s narrow-minded and ill-fated merger/integration decision are now producing the frustrated results that are stressing the masses, and that includes selecting CO/UA executives that were either not qualified nor possessed the passion that was required to drive this massive merger.

  8. Are things going to get better? Not in the near-term.

  9. Expect more corporate sound bites/marketing talking points extolling the “improvements” and “progress?” You can count on it…they’re desperate…and the higher echelon is doing all possible to protect Smisek from a forcible exit from the stage door, which he enjoys lamenting why “God made them” in the first place. (A true Smisek-ism from his biannually staged “CEO Exchanges.”) Arrogance at its apex.

  10. Here’s a prognostication: Expect Leadership and employees from all levels to voluntarily exit in record numbers (and involuntarily). The levels of frustration are beyond words…it simply isn’t worth the headaches and sacrifices to our families and own personal welfare.

  11. Do I believe UA has a positive future that will regain the hearts of the flying public, exceed Wall Street’s expectations and earn the respect of all employees? Yes, sure do, it's their destiny.

  12. Will a senior leadership change be required? Yes, forgone conclusion.

  13. Do I care if they hail from CO or UA or other background? Don’t care, just give us leaders (read: exit Smisek and McDonald) who know how to do their job with humility, professionalism and proven/successful airline resume.

So you see, again, this doesn’t need to be about UA v CO, as it is about a “merger of equals.” There is equal fault from both subsidiaries and now serious, company-saving decisions need to be made by the Board to calm the storming, unsettling seas. The welfare of the employees are at stake, and if you lose them (on the cusp and at all levels, I might add), then you’ll lose the customers (and that is well underway.)


Dan December 1, 2013 at 02:37 pm

Smisek is given credit for running a good airline at Continental, and to listen to Jeff, you would think he had built a fabulous airline instead of inheriting one. But the fact is, like in the NFL, a mediocre coach can still win when he is hired to run an already-great team--at least for a season or two. Bethune had built CO into an airline with great pride and employee spirit which translated to a caring customer service product, and then left it virtually running on auto-pilot. Kellner unfortunately had to burn up the goodwill of the employees by asking for significant concessions during the 2004-05 financial downturn and was unable to get the employees back on track. When Smisek ascended, there seemed to be a belief that the problem at CO wasn't the product, it was the sub-executive management, and so decisions began to be made for the 'best business case' instead of what was right for the employees and customers. A new coat of paint doesn't cover up rust; you have to get down on your knees and oil every part to make it work right. Smisek just wanted to paint everything and do it with the cheapest paint possible. Flash forward to the 'merger' with United and you have a CEO who isn't really making improvements at a small airline now trying to make improvements at a much bigger airline with much bigger problems.
To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen. . .Jeff, I know Gordon well, and you sir, are no Gordon Bethune.

Beaten Down Ex UAL Front Line Worker December 3, 2013 at 11:16 am

James Green post # 81: Jeff, is that you????

Employee December 4, 2013 at 03:52 pm

Dan's post# #86 Dead On.... Jeff is at best a special team coach maybe but far short of a head coach who can take his team to the SUPER BOWL. s-Cal was not doing great under Jeff more middle of the road. Delta is beating out in all areas. It has a lot of the old Cal Exc who Gordon brought in. They saw the writing on the wall.We were at the brink just not over it yet. Don't blame the merger with united. The reality is Jeff bit off more then he can chew and placed the wrong people in leadership roles. His comments to congress on C span just prior to the merger was "we don't need labor on board to get this merger done" Well that should of been the first clue of what was to come. You do need employee's labor on board. They are the company. It's the PEOPLE with any GREAT company that keeps customers coming back.. He is now Nickel and Diming the customers making policy's that are driving customers to look at other carriers and pushing the Employee's in the corner when it comes to enforcing bad policy making. Our product is going south.. Very few Employee's yes there are some, who today will say that they feel valued or feel great about coming to work for the NEW United. We just need our jobs and careers and are afraid to speak honestly. So we do what we have to do to keep our customers happy and hope they will keep coming back.Maybe it will get better ?? Don't get it twisted! It certainly will not be with Jeff at the helm. His arrogance and attitude doesn't warrant it. He's by far not a LEADER.

Mike Albertin December 4, 2013 at 05:01 pm

Great article and posts. I was really hoping the Smisek would have brought UAL leadership that people could get behind and rally. Really sad to see customers, employees and retirees getting nickel and dimed to death now too.:-(

NewYorker December 5, 2013 at 10:34 pm

hi, i was wondering if anyone can recommend switching to Delta or American from United? i have been Gold or Platinum on Continental/United since about 2006, and i was immensely pleased with Continental as an airline, but am continually disappointed by "the new United". the aircraft are terrible, the service is terrible, and the price goes up as the perks go down.

i'm not a big important corporate flyer, i'm just a self-employed artist who flies a fair amount in economy (enough to maintain Gold status).

can anyone recommend whether i should choose Delta or American to switch to, as a NYC-based flyer?

i recently took some Delta flights & was shocked at how much their product has improved, but they were Atlanta-based flights/crews. i haven't flown American since i was a child.


Successful Buy-Out ! December 8, 2013 at 12:58 am


You might want to consider Delta given the AA/USAir merger now solidified, meaning AA/USAir will surely have merger pains (though I would hope not the horror we have gone through at United). Delta is pretty extensive at JFK and now LGA so they can probably meet every need in the way of routes, fares and equipment. Good Luck.

Completely agree with your article, Sir! Going into 2013, I was a longtime United customer -- very close to million-miler status and five years of 1K travel. The year is almost over and I'm still a few thousand miles away from million-miler status and I've spent most of my money with American Airlines. I'm not happy with most of Smisek's "changes you'll like," because many of the changes suck. The watering down of MileagePlus benefits and Million-Miler benefits was just awful. Killing popular products and routes was head-scratching. Certainly Smisek has created a leaner United that has made many shareholders happy, but he's also lost and continuing to lose longtime customers that will no longer buy United flights.

SickoftheBS December 12, 2013 at 11:12 pm

I'm so tired of the BS coming out of Smisek's mouth, I always turn my headset on, after boarding.

He needs to GO!

Disgusted December 14, 2013 at 01:07 am

I'm a UAL flight attendant - 30 years. Mr. Rohan - your article is spot on. It's such a sad situation. I've felt so sorry for our passengers for years. I didn't think things could get worse. Then Satan arrived. I don't tell people where I work anymore - it's too embarrassing. I look forward to reading your next article.

Following is a definition of a sociopath as defined by the CDC and APA:

"Antisocial personality disorder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) as “...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” People with antisocial personality disorder may disregard social norms and laws, repeatedly lie, place others at risk for their own benefit, and demonstrate a profound lack of remorse. It is sometimes referred to as sociopathic personality disorder, or sociopathy."

Mike December 14, 2013 at 01:16 am

Any truth to the rumour that Dave Barger, former President ( as of Dec 13, 2013) and present CEO of Jet Blue is considering the CEO position at United?

Once a proud UAL employee. December 14, 2013 at 03:58 pm

Worst CEO, should be Numero Uno. No Bueno for UA.

I gave up on UA about 2 years ago and lost my elite status this year, having been Premier Exec for 10+ years (which isn't bad for an EU resident), and best part of the way toward million miler. Now I see the "changes I'll love" coming down the pipe, I'm glad I didn't invest any more time in getting toward mm.

Why did I let it go? Because the "new" United was everything but united in style and approach. Vast differences in service, pm-CO crews seemingly "in denial" that they were part of United, the botched migration from Apollo - which was one of the best things about pm-UA, it made it so easy for CSRs to look after the passengers' interests, especially in IRROPS, and the "summer of discontent" which went with it.

I flew both pm-UA and pm-CO.

CO knew they had a good, solid consistent inflight product, IMHO, and the crews were still fairly high on the feel-good factor from Bethune's leadership.

At pm-UA (especially Ch. 11 UA) they knew they had an inconsistent and sometimes sketchy hard product, but they made up for it by treating their elites well, by and large the pm-UA staff knew their jobs well and always made me feel welcomed and appreciated, especially on long haul where they worked hard to make up for the fact theirs was far from the flashiest seat and service in the sky.

Now we've got inconsistent hard product depending which aircraft type and sub-fleet you're on, the pm-CO people are hacked off, the pm-UA people feel downtrodden even more than before, the IT platform the company depends on to service it's customers still seems slow and arcane, and now UA decides to start kicking it's Elites harder than ever before as a thanks for their patience.

I believe that Smisek lacked the maturity to lead this merger in a successful way, and seems to have demonstrated that by taking a frat-boyish partisanal stance to the constituent parts of the merged company.

Given the histories of the organisations involved an outsider who could only ever wear the colours of the merged entity could have made a massive difference in how things have gone. Whoever follows Smisek will have to be someone who can maturely reconcile the differences, doing whats right for all stakeholders, and a big believer in what it quite literally says on the tin - being United.

They've got their work cut out.

Turbulent Skies December 18, 2013 at 11:09 am
  1. No leadership from the top.
  2. No product to believe in.
  3. How many times did Jeff Smisek fly on the pre merged United to be making decisions on what stays and what goes?
Michaline Nasuta December 19, 2013 at 09:41 pm

I vote for you as United's CEO!!!! You someone who appears to be totally doing everything in your power to bring back the wonderful Airline that United used to be....I am a tortured 20 retiree who lost all of my valued benefits....and I am not alone...all of us retiree's suffered under Smiseks command...I could go on and on about my thoughts, but you said it all in your article and even though I would love to get back my benefits as a retiree that Smisek whittled away at, I am more concerned in United returning to the great Airline it used to be...keep up the good work and Thank You for your great articles.

slappy December 20, 2013 at 01:19 pm

United has some of the most unhappy people working for it of any US airline. The trickle down effect from management.., clearly.. That and the UNIONS are untouchable.

Barbara Weintraub December 20, 2013 at 11:12 pm

This is my experience this am and it seems to relate to the article above. I sent this to UA "Customer Care' where it will likely end up in a 40-ft dumpster known as UA "Circular File"...

I lost my seat this am DEC 20, 2013 at LAX because for some reason UA would not allow me to check in yesterday and get my Boarding Pass ONLINE. Because of your curious UA policy that prevents travelers to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico from checking in and getting boarding passes ONLINE AHEAD OF TIME you punished travelers like me that plan ahead. I arrived well ahead of time to check the bag (that I also could have arranged quickly ONLINE). Yes, even on a holiday weekend and even with 1 bag to check, there was no line and I could have kept my seat. I even volunteered my seat online (funny how one can do THAT online, but can't get a BOARDING PASS to Cabo).

But instead, I was directed to the WRONG LINE ("OUTSIDE 45 MINUTES") by a UA representative. I needed to be in a regular "Check In/Check bag" counter. So, although I arrived 2 hours before a 2hr "international" flight time to Cabo, the less-than helpful "ticket" or other "agent" kept me for so long IN THE WRONG LINE just in time to say, "Oops, it's now too late to make your flight" and gave my seat away denying me boarding, so I could come back tomorrow for a lovely 8 hour series of flights starting at 5am from LAX to Cabo via "Egypt" (no offense intended to Coptic Egyptians. It's just FAR). And of course there is only one flight daily on UA from LAX and other airports' UA flights were oversold for today. THAT IS WHY I BOOKED AND PAID FOR THIS FLIGHT 12 MONTHS AGO! I was NOT ON A FREE TICKET! I was NOT WHINING TO BE UPGRADED! I am VERY DISGUSTED WITH UA!!! This is why even my husband, a multi-million-mile frequent flier in UA's MileagePlus Program took those millions of miles to American Airlines years ago. The customer service of UA is AWFUL, even towards those passengers UA should cherish.

How is it that I flew to Cabo on Alaska Airlines in October 2013 and to Cabo on American Airlines at Thanksgiving (I think that is a somewhat busy holiday international travel period, isn't it?) AND I was able to check in ONLINE, GET MY BAG RECOGNIZED AS BEING CHECKED ONLINE, and GET BOARDING PASSES ONLINE AHEAD OF TIME? I was not denied boarding under the same circumstances by Alaska or American. In fact, I got to the airport 1 hour prior to the Thanksgiving flight and checked 1 bag! I guess AMERICAN AIRLINES AND ALASKA AIRLINES are small, insignificant regional carriers that are so much LESS EFFICIENT than UA. Yet they, as well as US AIRWAYS, AIRTRAN, and SPIRIT can somehow manage to allow passengers going to the "wilds of International Destination" "southern Southern California" Cabo San Lucas to get a Boarding Pass online. Travelers like me try to AVOID THE INSANITY of major holiday travel by getting tickets far in advance and getting boarding passes ONLINE so we can go right to the Gate and not be as accepting as less experienced travelers standing in lines due to your very poor customer service.

UA must be so great of an airline and confident of its service that it feels it doesn't have to compete with the plethora of other travel carriers who are trying to actually treat the traveling public with care and concern. In this economy, Good Luck with That.

Barbara Weintraub, D.V.M., J.D

Retired CAL pilot December 21, 2013 at 02:33 pm

When I was working at CAL during the Lorenzo days, Gordon Bethune was the COO. Things had gotten so bad (like much of what is being said here) that the board of directors went to Lorenzo and told him he had to step down. Which he did. Gordon was promoted to CEO and President. He did a lot of memorable things to change the company and moral of the workers. I will only mention a few, for the list is very, very long. On one day, he had an employee meeting in the parking lot near the corporate offices in Houston. An empty 50 gallon oil drum was in front of all attending. He showed up with the corporate Employees Policies and Procedures Manual. He threw it into the oil drum, had gasoline poured on it and set it on fire. He then said "You don't need this book in order to do your job, just go do it". Meeting adjourned. Most of the people at corporate headquarters held titles not because they knew what they were doing, but because they made everyone toe the company line. At that time, an article in Forbes Magazine indicated that most big companies had four levels of employees, from the lowest grunt to the CEO. CAL had 14. Directors, VP's, Exec VP's, managers, etc. gordon went through the offices asking each person to give him their job description. If they couldn't tell him what it was they did, why they did it and what their background was, he fired them. The first time I met Gordon, he was in Term C at KIAH on Thanksgiving eve, walking from gate to gate introducing himself to EVERY employee from gate agents to FA's to Pilots to rampers. He was walking from to he south side to the north side when he noticed me (in uniform) heading to catch a flight home. He was on the opposite side of the building, walked directly over to me and said " Hi, i'm Gordon Bethune, President of Continental Airlines. How are you doing tonight?" I told him I was going home from a long four day to spend the holiday with family. He wished me well and went on his way, stopping to do the same to every employee he met. As months went by, he would be seen on the ramp talking to baggage handlers, mechanics, fuelers. He would ask how things were going and what they needed to do a better job. Gordon had an open door philosophy. On every third Thursday of every month, any employee, and I mean ANY, could go to his office and speak candidly to him about anything. That made middle managers cringe. Actual data from the workers, actual problems dealt with by the boss. Gordon was a people person. He would always have a crowd around him wherever he went; crew room, FA lounge, food court, etc. You could ask him any question and he would give you a straight answer. You might or might not like the answer, but he was a straight shooter.

I have also met Jeff several times and had opportunities to speak with him. He is incredibly intelligent, well educated, well spoken and dresses impeccably. He did his job/jobs very well and Gordon sang his praises. That he is in the position he is in, I can't address. The job he has done, also I can't address. I retired not long after he took the helm at CAL. It appears that the responsible party for the state of the merged airlines lies not with Jeff, but with the board of directors, as it did when Lorenzo was shown the door. Jeff cannot be expected to be something he is not, a people person, but the board needs to recognize that fact, or the airline will eventually get to the point of no return, and disappear.

Just my humble opinion.

Retired CAL pilot December 21, 2013 at 04:48 pm

When I was working at CAL during the Lorenzo days, Gordon Bethune was the COO. Things had gotten so bad (like much of what is being said here) that the board of directors went to Lorenzo and told him he had to step down. Which he did. Gordon was promoted to CEO and President. He did a lot of memorable things to change the company and moral of the workers. I will only mention a few, for,the list is very, very long. On one day, he had an employee meeting in the parking lot near the corporate offices in Houston. An empty 50 gallon oil drum was in front of all attending. He showed up with the corporate Employees Policies and Procedures Manual. He threw it into the oil drum, had gasoline poured on it and set it on fire. He then said "You don't need this book in order to do your job, just go do it". Meeting adjourned. Most of the people at corporate headquarters held titles not because they knew what they were doing, but because they made everyone toe the company line. At that time, an article in Forbes Magazine indicated that most big companies had four levels of employees, from the lowest grunt to the CEO. CAL had 14. Directors, VP's, Exec VP's, managers, etc. gordon went through the offices asking each person to give him their job description. If they couldn't tell him what it was they did, why they did it and what their background was, he fired them. The first time I met Gordon, he was in Term C at KIAH on Thanksgiving eve, walking from gate to gate introducing himself to EVERY employee from gate agents to FA's to Pilots to rampers. He was walking from to he south side to the north side when he noticed me heading to catch a flight home. He was on the opposite side of the building, walked directly over to me and said " Hi, i'm Gordon Bethune, President of Continental Airlines. How are you doing tonight?" I told him I was going home from a long four day to spend the holiday with family. He wished me well and went on his way, stopping to do the same to every employee he met. As months went by, he would be seen on the ramp talking to baggage handlers, mechanics, fuelers. He would ask how things were going and what they needed to do a better job. Gordon had an open door philosophy. On every third Thursday of every month, any employee, and I mean ANY, could go to his office and speak candidly to him about anything. That made middle managers cringe. Actual data from the workers, actual problems dealt with by the boss. Gordon was a people person. He would always have a crowd around him wherever he went; crew room, FA lounge, food court, etc. You could ask him any question and he would give you a straight answer. You might or might not like the answer, but he was a straight shooter.

I have also met Jeff several times and had opportunities to speak with him. He is incredibly intelligent, well educated, well spoken and dresses impeccably. He did his job/jobs very well and Gordon sang his praises. That he is in the position he is in, I can't address. The job he has done, also I can't address. I retired not long after he took the helm at CAL. It appears that the responsible party for the state of the merged airlines lies not with Jeff, but with the board of directors, as it did when Lorenzo was shown the door. Jeff cannot be expected to be something he is not, but the board needs to recognize that fact, or the airline will eventually get to the point of no return, and disappear.

Just my humble opinion.

slappy December 23, 2013 at 03:16 pm

He is NOT a people person. This is trickling down to the other employees beneath him. Also, not people persons.., problem is..., in a service industry.., you need PEOPLE PERSONS

Active United F.A. December 31, 2013 at 01:25 pm

Another poor decision by the new United's management ? I have been flying (working) the Tokyo -Bangkok route for 17 years and the flight and cargo is always full . This past November management decided to discontinue the route for good ending late March 2014 . Management states that they are losing money on the route and can utilize the aircraft at a more profitable route mainly in Europe . The discontinuation stems from ticket pricing and which Bangkok is viewed as a holiday destination and not business related . Ok my response is that hey you have a full plane with passengers and cargo ! Something is wrong if you can"t make money with consistent fully loaded planes . Also ,if ticket prices are inexpensive ( rt from States/BKK are cheaper than rt Tokyo/BKK ) then raise the ticket prices . And yes , Bangkok is a a holiday destination however , Thailand's economy is booming and serves as a major artery for the other SE Asian countries . I have met and served a lot of GS ( Global Service - United's elite customers) who flies to Bangkok for business and they too are confused why United would discontinue this route . Furthermore ,even if a lot of our customers are using their MP miles for this flight as a holiday destination is this how you treat their loyalty by taking it away ? Ok granted our Star alliance partner ANA ( All Nippon Airlines ) will take over our slot . But can they handle all our connecting passengers ? Will our elite status customers be recognized and treated accordingly ? Not sure .... In my opinion I think keeping the rout and trying to make it profitable or break even is a task worth reevaluating for United's reputation or whats left of it .

Jewel January 1, 2014 at 11:00 pm

I have worked for united for 26 years as a manager and I enjoyed my job. We treated the customers, staff and each other with respect. Ever since Jeff took control we all fear for our jobs. You can call him the next "Hilter" I cannot discipline an employee because I am afraid I might lose my job. As a manager I have no control over anything. I am constantly getting a pay cut, no raises and treated like SHIT. I cannot make any decisions of my own or else I might get discipline. Jeff is the one who created the friction between United and Co employees. He does not care about the managers who manager all employees yet expects a lot from us. I hate working for this company and I am only here because this is how I support my family. Why is it all United managers are being fired and more Co employees are being hired? There is no united but this hell whole. How can we manage this airlines and treat passengers with respect when we are shown no respect. Jeff has no leadership and he is a liar. He promised Congress people in the USA will have jobs yet he wants different venders? Get rid of this loser.

Jason January 2, 2014 at 08:58 pm

this blog is awesome. i agree Jeff needs to step down, time to go Jeffy. no more touchy United & Friends (TM)

genzero January 3, 2014 at 09:28 pm

The concept of this being a "merger of equals" probably doomed the short term prospects of this new combined airline.

In the case of Delta, the larger and stronger airline, Delta, clearly merged NW into Atlanta and all the key players agreed (the board, the executives, key business partners etc) and the merger went fairly smooth, although albeit by taking a few shortcuts (non-merging of certain IT systems unseen by the outside world etc). At least in that case it was clear who the alpha male was.

In the case of Continental-United, a lot of those same key players were understandably terrified of creating a bigger legacy United (probably the worst airline in the US and one of the worst ever) at the total expense of the much better but smaller Continental. So came the re-branding, the attempted implementation of most of the legacy CO IT systems and business practices. However they forgot a very important thing, a lot of legacy corporate CO employees, the heart of what made Continental's culture work, were let go, left, retired or were left stranded in politically weakened positions in Houston with limited futures. So they were left with unhappy employees both in Houston but also in Chicago where most jobs had to be re-tasked to comply with CO-style practices or systems, and this after years of abuse at the hands the Tilton regime.

Gordon Bethune said many times this merger could work, but only with sCO management running the new airline, out of Houston, and running it the way Continental was run. We will never know if he was 100% correct but the early returns on this merger of equals seems to indicate he probably was on to something.

genzero January 3, 2014 at 09:29 pm

The concept of this being a "merger of equals" probably doomed the short term prospects of this new combined airline.

In the case of Delta, the larger and stronger airline, Delta, clearly merged NW into Atlanta and all the key players agreed (the board, the executives, key business partners etc) and the merger went fairly smooth, although albeit by taking a few shortcuts (non-merging of certain IT systems unseen by the outside world etc). At least in that case it was clear who the alpha male was.

In the case of Continental-United, a lot of those same key players were understandably terrified of creating a bigger legacy United (probably the worst airline in the US and one of the worst ever) at the total expense of the much better but smaller Continental. So came the re-branding, the attempted implementation of most of the legacy CO IT systems and business practices. However they forgot a very important thing, a lot of legacy corporate CO employees, the heart of what made Continental's culture work, were let go, left, retired or were left stranded in politically weakened positions in Houston with limited futures. So they were left with unhappy employees both in Houston but also in Chicago where most jobs had to be re-tasked to comply with CO-style practices or systems, and this after years of abuse at the hands the Tilton regime.

Gordon Bethune said many times this merger could work, but only with sCO management running the new airline, out of Houston, and running it the way Continental was run. We will never know if he was 100% correct but the early returns on this merger of equals seems to indicate he probably was on to something.

william senzer January 15, 2014 at 01:25 pm

this is the worst damn airlines customer service does not exist all thet tell you is go ojn line a write in a complaint

you cant use miles when you need them they are soo non accomidating

id rather stay home

william senzer January 15, 2014 at 01:39 pm

how does one contact the presidents office with an issue

there are no phone numbers except reservations

F Lorenzo January 16, 2014 at 01:39 pm

[email protected] 872-825-2948

F. Aukofer January 16, 2014 at 06:49 pm

I am a 1.7 million miler with United, and have had 1K status for more than five years, including one year with Global Services status. United used to pass out electronic regional and system-wide upgrades, which the recipient could use to move up on the upgrade priority list. That's no longer the case. Now a regional or system-wide is no better than the automatic one that is supposed to happen on every flight. It's all a combination of the flight class (amount spent on the ticket), status and a whole bunch of other stuff that no reservation agent can explain. Why even pass out electronic upgrades that are useless? Personally, I used to get an upgrade on maybe five or six of all flights--more when I had Global Services. Now the upgrades happen only on short, unpopular routes, if at all. I have complained to the 1K desk several times without a) receiving an answer or b) receiving a satisfactory answer. No wonder 1K friends of mine are bailing out for American and Delta.

Richard January 17, 2014 at 11:00 pm

As long as Southwest goes where I want to go, I will fly them first. When Smisek took Continental, a first rate airline, and moved their successful and ever expanding Houston base to the hellhole on the lake and allowed the dour bankrupt Chicago attitude to prevail, that was enough for me to swear off of United. Congratulations Jeff Smisek and the board of United, you managed to decimate a once great airline, and continue to hemmorhage money while the rest of the airlines are prospering.

brian January 18, 2014 at 03:10 am

Iv been an employee for continental airlines since 1989, after our CEO gorden retired this airline has foundered..since the merge everything has been down hill..smizek has no clue how to keep his employees happy..he does not compare to gordon..even though he was gordons right hand man for years..Smizek only cares about 1 much money he can make for himself..he has bad ideas..and the outsourcing is out of control..all we have now is 1 airline with a bunch of unhappy disguntle workers that will not care about anything...way to go jeff..your doing 1 hell of a job.make yourself useful an just resign..

Duke January 22, 2014 at 09:11 pm

What makes me cry is the video they play with him every time we take off! Why would you spend millions on the music when you could spend it on improving basics ! What poor - non customer centric choices united is making !

Ron Sellin February 8, 2014 at 10:31 pm

My wife and I (Australian Pensionsers in our 70's) planned on going to Mexico for the holiday of a lifetime. It didn't quite work out that way, but actually ended up being the worst trip we have ever had on any Airline. United Airlines were the pits.

At takeoff from Sydney to LAX a passenger in front of us noticed a largish hole in the wing of the aeroplane. Cabin attendants (All old men) were alerted to this position as we were taxiing off to the takeoff runway. Luckily the Captain and staff had a look at the damage which was clearly visible and so we were returned to the airport. Apparently no engineers check these planes for safety. This particular aircraft was perhaps the oldest in the fleet and very uncomfortable.

We were then told to disembark and United would put us up at hotels for the night and to report back to the airport tomorrow when a new aircraft would be available. We incurred considerable personal expenses and as we had a prebooked tours of Mexico, this meant our schedule was not able to be met. Hence we lost accommodation, meals and tours for the first day of our trip as well. We were told United would meet the cost of telephone calls etc to contact our travel agents, but when we were to check out of the hotel, we were told this would be own own expense along with additional cost for meals etc. A very basic amount was offered, however there was only one dining room, and we were forced to eat there as the hotel was in a remote area of Sydney and no alternative eating places nearby.

I have sent numerous emails to United's Customer Care (joke) Officers who refuse to reimburse us expenses for the travel dealy which amounted to approx. $UA245.00 but instead they have offered us a $US200 each voucher, with restrictions which are impossible for us to participate. eg Have a US billing address, valid only for travel to certain places such as USA, Puerta Rico and US Virgin Islands. We have no desire to visit these and have been to the USA many times before and don't wish to go again. And certainly wouldnt travel United.

So they have passed up a $UA 245 claim instead of $US400, which is of no use to us. It cannot be used with travel agents in Australia is another of the strict conditions if we were to accept their offer, and thus release them of all liability, claims etc. Big deal. We have no intention of even considering this option.

They flatly refuse to help us in any way whatsoever. They could not provide me with a low salt diet which I asked for because of a dietry treatment which I need to observe. To ask for a glass of water in the middle of the night was like asking for the moon!!.

Another problem was that the flight the following day did not go to LAX but to SFO as there was not any connecting flight to Mexico City on the next day. This seemed OK, however the United Airline flight to Mexico City was four hours late!!

I would hope Mr Jeff Smisek gets to read of this complaint and will reimburse us for such a small amount, and thus retain some credibility of his company. I have only been dealing with someone who appears top be a junior clerk in the organization and is sticking to rules.

michal_wichita March 6, 2014 at 08:21 pm

New logo for united - "If you want to be late fly United!"

myles kearon March 12, 2014 at 07:01 pm


Your article simply couldnt be more on target. It's brilliantly written. I have no doubt that Smisek is a smart man, but as a CEO, he does very little to inspire his customer base or his employees. They recently failed me miserably on a first class booking to Hawaii. It was an error. I offered them three different opportunties to fix what they admitted to screwing up...each time they failed.

I recently had the opporuntity to fly American Airlines, post merger announcement with USAIR. I must say that I was refreshingly delighted by the new emphasis they have placed on customers. I was pretty shocked actually.

I hope Smisek steps down and they will find one who is both equally smart and passionate in their approach to their employees and their customers. Today, I mailed them back my Gold Frequent Flyer card and told them to never contact me again....thats how bad they have become.

Myles Kearon

Disenchanted employee March 22, 2014 at 06:09 am

Under the mountain of woes that betide the once mighty United Airlines, is the new culture of "dignity and respect."

I wish all of you could see the absolutely inane twaddle that is disseminated to the employees as 'customer service training' or as 'morale boosters,' the production of which is unjustifiably costly and serves not to educate, but to sell us on the idea that United is doing a great job.

One tiny little new procedure that I think is indicative of the greater whole, is having agents sign, with a witness, whenever we turn in a paper ticket. Yes, now and again we still see them, and after handling how many thousands of them through the years, we are no longer deemed trustworthy enough to drop them in a box under our own recognizance. Everywhere, in every department is a galling lack of confidence in our abilities and a new-found zeal for paperwork, redundancy and micromanagement. Words like 'trust' are spoken to our faces without so much as a hint of irony.

Try squeezing your adult backside into a child's school desk. United is squandering decades of it's employees expertise. Seasoned, capable and very knowledgable employees are being systematically dumbed down and rendered incapable of easily rectifying our passenger's travel troubles.

United appears to aspire to become the worlds largest regional carrier.

arnie engstrand March 23, 2014 at 09:26 am

As part of the large number of long time Unied Cars that took the early out offer, just before the 2013 Holidays. In reading this article and all the responses I now know I made the right choice. I wanted to make my retirement memorable. I contacted Gordon Bethune who saved CO coming from Boeing. i asked him if he would meet with me and present my retirement plaque for 27 years of service his response was you bet. I asked Gordon if i made the right choice to retire with all the options and timing he said with his view point yes. He wasnt pro merger. He was ceo that did care no one is perfect but he did turn Co around for sure.

Emily April 12, 2014 at 05:01 pm

SPOT ON!!!! Jeff Smisek, please step down. When you don't help the very customers who pay your salary, it's time to leave. I realize now you only cater to VIPs and I sealed my own fate with your company by booking coach. Don't worry, you won't have to accept my money ever again. United Board, you didn't respond to my e-mails or letters either, BUT PRETTY PLEASE (for the sake of your company) hire someone who actually cares about customer service.

Carlos April 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm

United needs a new management team ASAP SMIESK SUCKS BIG TIME

kirk April 26, 2014 at 04:36 pm

Jeff motto is slash and burn at the expense of the employees. He can't figure out why "Working together is joke of the airline" To become a premier airline you have to pay to play in EVER aspect. Take care of the premium passenger and not give give him watered down coffee and third rate food that you wouldn't feed your dog. As I have eloquently heard "Jeff and his team are the equivalent of High School coaches in charge of a NFL team" What the airline really needs is to slash and burn Jeff and his management team.

John April 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm

You are right on just about everything. I am a United employee (former Continental). I believe the first thing that needs to improve is the proficiency of the front line eployees (airport agents and flight attendants). These are the people passengers see, and these are the people who need to know how to do their job. Airport agents are called ticket agents, but few know how to actually issue a ticket or even book someone on a flight. United keeps outsourcing and quality keeps going down, there is little or no communicaton between departments, and many employees are rude to people. I see it all the time, and when that happens i feel a embaressed. I used to be proud to walk around the airport with the uniform on as a Continental employee. Continental was not perfect, but it was many times better that what United has become. I want to also poit out that although there are many employees who clearly don't need to be there, there are also many that are hard working and want to see the company do well (myself included). Jeff needs to take responsability and start getting rid of bad employees and semplify the product, he needs to give us the tools to deliver a good customer service and hire people who are able to make sound decision for the customer and the company.

Dennis Hlavacek May 1, 2014 at 04:08 pm

Working in aircraft maintenance for 28 yrs at UAL, I can tell you that we have had good years and some bad. When the UAL CO merger happened I was appalled at the outmoded and archaic operating methods by CO. The current atmosphere here now is that it's the CO way or nothing at all! United set the industry standard for maintenance and flight operations which other carriers modeled their operations after. I can tell you first hand that the Co mentality for maintenance is "less is better"! Sorry CO employees,but the old DOS based computer programs used in maintenance and reservations just doesn't cut it in 2014! I can tell you firsthand that many of the Co employees look down on us UAL people with an arrogance that they don't have any right to possess ! I thought that when we merged , the best of both worlds would be combined discarding the ineffective and the inefficient . Instead it has been the CO way all the way. As many of us at UAL have come to see, CO standards were not and are not very high. Bankruptcy scares me and once was enough(although CO went through it twice). As far as maintenance goes I always remember that a shoddy repair on a CO DC-10 came off on the runway and helped bring down the Concorde.

tired dog May 1, 2014 at 10:30 pm

The thread goes on and on...and 1st qtr '14 tallies over half a billion in the hole. I guess the new, gas saving iron isn't paying off just yet, nor is the enhanced ancillary revenue stream.

Mary Mehl May 2, 2014 at 10:34 am

As a retired UA employee I feel very disappointed with the way Unted treated the retired employees. The last straw was taking away our seniority. What is next?

Chris May 6, 2014 at 02:11 am

I have been a platinum CO customer for a decade, prior to the merger. I was a global services customer since that designation came into effect post merger. Despite spending high five figures and flying 120,000 plus miles last year I failed to qualify for global services for 2014. Ok they have their rules but I have to wonder what it takes to keep such a level. I often wondered while I had their highest GS designation how they must treat their non elite customers as I found their treatment of me to be below average at best. I have seen them turn a once great airline (CO in my case but I am sure UA legacy customers could make a similar argument) into a complete disaster from just about every perspective. Old planes, less choice, massively increased costs, near monopolies in certain markets, manipulation of on time statistics, pissed off on ground and in flight personnel, over worked and over stressed employees everywhere, antiquated software and technology and a huge downgrading of basic services and products. I find I get an extremely warm reception from just about every employee if I first sympathize with them about how their upper management treats them. This is a sure sign of a company with poor leadership.

One flight I was on recently between two hubs (Newark and Houston) symbolized the feelings of the employees toward Smiesk, when his face appeared to blurt out his banal propaganda message, a flight attendant being carried as a passenger (in uniform) placed the vomit bag over the screen. I just laughed out loud and offered her my sympathy.

Their treatment of the most elite passengers is bizarre to say the least. There is a widening gulf between the true world class carriers such as Singapore, Ethiad, Emirates et al and United who are now a budget airline from a quality viewpoint with a terrible value to price ratio. Flying to Europe or Asia makes me now book with one of their competitors, something that was unthinkable a couple of years ago.

Smiesk is universally hated by customers and employees, more importantly he is not respected at all. He is going in the wrong direction and I seriously doubt if the airline can survive if the current management team is allowed to remain in place for much longer. Smiesk is completely detached from reality, his level of hubris is unrivaled and apart from the many customer service issues raised by so many people, the result is also financially untenable, which is of course a direct result of all the issues created by Smiesk and his band of sycophants. The fact that he was awarded a massive bonus also tells me that the board is also off the reservation.

Jeff Fitzgerald May 12, 2014 at 08:41 am

This is how it is in the day of the life of a United Airlines employee. We have terrible leadership that seems to fight us on everything. Everything is so difficult to do anymore. With multistep processes for everything. It really is like our own company is anti employee. Now here is an example of how United is trying to save money. In my station we have United ramp personal to make sure all our bags, freight, mail etc. gets to the correct aircraft and we get things done on time. Also we have a ramp contract company that we pay approx. $45,000 a month to work a few flights per day. We have enough manpower to work all those flights. yet our company does not want us to do those few flights which would instantly save us money! We are already here! At the same time we are offered block time off of up 45 days off unpaid. which some employees took. Then the company is forced to hire over time to cover the lack of manpower because of the block time off. This is just a tiny example of what we face daily. The experienced, hard working and dedicated employees want nothing more but to be the best for our customers and our company, but we are unable to even come close to our potential. Its a sad state of affairs. These are just a few small examples of whats happening in a mid size station. It goes on and on and on.

bob May 18, 2014 at 08:06 am

as a AC super elite, 100K, I fly united allot, it is the only SA member left in usa, seeing former continental go bad is sad, I sent a note in a few weeks ago, got back the blah, blah email, have started to fly southwest within the US a bit, forget the miles, I will make my 100K without united. everything is a take away, the toast for dinner in business class from Cleveland to Denver was the best, we could have the bigger boxes, however for full price, fly BC on LFT or AC, huge diff! , the sad part is the employees who are truly embarrassed. And the lack of seat plug power on the old 757/67's coast to coast in BC, unreal, third world!

John May 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Is Jeff Smizek a vampire?

Dean June 4, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Alex: Hi, I'm Alex, your automated guide. I've been designed to make your time on our website as fast and efficient as possible. Just type in a question, keyword or phrase below and I'll take you to the information you're looking for. You Asked: why is every flight through chicago delayed? Alex: I'm not sure how to answer that. I understand simple questions best, can you try asking that in a different way? You Asked: Why does United have so many delays? Alex: I am not positive that I understand what you are asking, please try rewording your question. You Asked: Why is customer service so bad? Alex: I'm not positive that I understand what you are asking. If you would like to reach us, please use the Contact Us link below. Here's More: Contact Us

Scott Santospago June 7, 2014 at 02:18 am

As a longtime expert in the airline business, I can tell you that United is collapsing upon itself under the weight of incompetent leadership.

TimD October 16, 2014 at 08:25 am

And here we are almost a year later and nothing has changed. My only conclusion is that UAL is purposely striving for bankruptcy to relieve themselves of the remaining pensions and finish off the IAM.

Os October 16, 2014 at 01:30 pm

The first step towards recovery is to admit the problem(s). United leadership is in denial.

May Li October 30, 2014 at 02:23 pm

It is true that UA is going to the dogs!!

I have been a member of Continental and now has to be with UA. I have been watching how UA started calculating every step of the way how to screw their customers in hoping to make their bottom line, perhaps. I have been an elite member for many years with Continental, but now I lost it completely because of their constant changes of policies. These changes have driven away their loyal customers away successfully, because all of them were made with nothing in mind but forcing the customers to pay more and spend more for what they used to before. They treated their customers like an idiot. Who want to still stay with them?

Jay January 1, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Jeff is the Grinch-In-Chief.....wonder how he goes to sleep every night, collecting all the money he has not earned. My son, a student in medical school, gets five days off and went on a ski trip to Utah. Flying through Denver the flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems. Harrowing experience to get a connection. Finally arrived in Salt Lake City at 12 midnight instead of noon. And bags were lost. Not delivered to him for two days because staff was enjoying the expense of customers. I hope some brain surgeon should open up his brain and may be we will find clues to how a moron like Jeff thinks and use it to train others on what not to do. Money he takes home also makes him Thief-In-Chief.

valencia rossi January 11, 2015 at 12:27 am

please board please get another ceo fire jeff smisek united was the best airlines I started 1967 what a great airlines we need a ceo from united not continental,

Joe Blow April 13, 2015 at 09:13 pm

Scar Alliance ! The successor to US Scare and Northworst !

George September 8, 2015 at 05:09 pm

Great article. I normally fly JetBlue or Southwest but had to fly United this past weekend.

What a joke. From the confusing lineups to get in to the plane to the cramped seating. DirectTV was great but then message pops up saying I needed to pay for additional viewing after about 20 minutes. Of course, I refused as this is generally free on airlines I fly. Instead they displayed some crappy show that I could not tune out off. It remained on screen for entire trip.

Now the food! There was none offered for this short haul flight. Not even a small snack. Just a cup of water, pop, or coffee.

While the offering was horrible, the service was good.

Hopefully with Jeff gone, the company can turn the corner and actually begin to care about customers.

Bill Hepburn September 9, 2015 at 12:48 pm

I retired from Continental in April of 2011 because I couldn't stand what was happening to the best airline in America. Continental had the newest fleet of aircraft by 2.3 years, United was among the oldest. Continental had one aircraft supplier (Boeing) that cut down on training and enhanced on- time departure due to increased parts availability. Continental paid the employees monthly on time bonuses and was consistently named as one of the best places to work. I used to enjoy going to work until the merger. We didn't need a union because management treated us well. All of that changed so I left and I'm proud that my retirement plaque reads "Continental".

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