Change of Culture

In mid-August, the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Steven Norton entitled, “United’s Strategy on Overbookings.”  The intent of the story was an interview with United’s Executive Vice President Linda Jojo, who is in charge of technology and is chief digital officer.

Ms. Jojo explains that the vast majority of overbooking situations are due to some kind of operational disruptions like having to use a different airplane or anticipating who will show up for the flight. Data can help to tell which flights will have a higher probability of no-shows.

Ms. Jojo says that in April, which has the month of the Dr. David Dao incident, United announced 10 new initiatives to improve the customer experience, including reducing overbooking, which has helped to dramatically reduced involuntary denied boardings by more than 80 percent from last year.  Overbooking is an example of where today’s new techniques of machine learning and analytics can help us, according to Ms. Jojo, stay away from black-and-white rules.

In the case of Dr. David Dao, the United flight was not oversold.  United was attempting to make seats available for a flight crew that needed to be in Kentucky for flight the next morning.

The airline tried to get volunteers, but no one stepped forward.  Four individuals who represented those passengers United least wanted were then ordered off the plane.

Two people complied, but Dr. Dao refused, saying he had patients to see the next day.  A physical confrontation followed in which Dr. Dao according to his attorney suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth, which were knocked out.

In June, 2017 United Airlines again made news when they gave a 2-year-old boy’s seat to a standby passenger.  The boy and his mother were on the final leg of an 18-hour flight from Hawaii to Boston.  Here again the flight crew were indifferent to the needs of the passenger who had to hold her son on her lap when she had paid for his seat.  United blamed the problem on “inaccurately scanning the boy’s boarding pass.” Indifference to your customer’s needs is a cultural issue, which one cannot simply walk away from.  Too many flight attendants and support personnel have long ago given up caring about customer service and should be retired.

April was also not a good month for animals traveling on United.  That month a large rabbit named Simon died following a flight from London to Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  United spokesman said the airlines reached “a satisfactory resolution” with the London breeder, Annette Edwards.

There simply are too many bad experiences that are still tolerated.   If you want things to change and improve, look to change the culture.

Oklahoma too maybe on the cusp of a cultural change. At a recent board meeting of the State Chamber, members were told that last year most of Oklahoma’s business leaders were reasonably comfortable with economic conditions.  Today, the picture has changed with the state facing an $800 million budget shortfall and practically no new business growth  – business leaders are fed up.  No longer will they tolerate the state’s lackadaisical way of approaching opportunities and addressing problems.  If need be, members were told changes to Oklahoma’s Constitution would be proposed and advanced.

Oklahomans don’t ask for much and usually get less.  Let’s hope that when change comes it is real change and not business as usual.  The state is too important to lose.