By Kevin Meyer
As you read this I’m probably on a long United flight from San Francisco to Shanghai for a week of customer visits and a trade show. Yes my customers are in China, not vice versa, thank you. Amazing how a little lean can make you globally competitive.
So anyway, I’m flying United, and as I mentioned a few weeks ago one reason I fly that airline more than any other is because I can count on them to be on time. I fly a lot and it has been a very long time since I’ve had a significant delay, let alone one that compromised a trip. On time flights are very valuable to me, and I will often pay more for that value. According to an article in The Street I’m not alone in recognizing and being willing to pay to obtain that value.
Scott Dolan, United senior vice president for airport operations, said on-time performance has played a role in the carrier’s financial resurgence, although the impact is impossible to quantify. “It’s about when customers make a choice, especially schedule sensitive, high-yield business travelers,” he said. “We can’t break down how much of our current financial performance is due to this, but we know it has a major impact.”
So how did they do it?
In terms of execution, United has empowered its station managers to
tackle problems as soon as they occur, without trying to ascribe blame.
Historically, airlines seek to resolve on-time problems during regularly
scheduled conference calls. While station managers don’t necessarily
oversee such functions as maintenance, flight operations and crew
performance, Dolan noted that they generally coordinate airport
operations. “When a flight goes out late, we try to have people discuss
it right then and there,” he said. “Then we try to put the right
resources in place to avoid [repeating the problem].”
Fixing problems, root cause without blame, empowering decision-making at lower levels, accountability meetings. Sound familiar?
I do have to ding United for one policy that I believe hurts their efforts: baggage charges. Now more and more people try to carry on larger and larger bags, almost always creating some havoc near the end of boarding when the overhead compartments fill up. I wonder how much higher their on-time percentage would be if more people were cajoled into checking bags rather than carrying them on.
But all in all, I’m impressed. They’ve managed to create value for the customer, which is paying them financial rewards. Now if they’d just get rid of the ridiculous red carpet treatment at the gates.