3 Weeks Later: Business Outcomes of the United Airlines Fiasco

By Robert Brodo | May 4, 2017 8:24:18 AM

Three weeks ago I wrote a blog called “What the United Airlines Fiasco Should Teach us about Business Acumen” in response to the unfortunate incident involving the passenger who was forcibly removed from an oversold flight.  In the blog I shared some ideas, insights, and lessons learned through the lenses of Business Acumen and Business Leadership skills that are required for company success.  During these past three weeks the blog has become one of the most popular blogs we’ve ever published and I have received feedback and comments every day since.  Because of this activity, I think it’s worthwhile to reflect on what has transpired since the incident and share the comments and reactions for additional learnings and application.  Below are several random but connected thoughts that I hope can enhance your ability to learn from the situation and improve and build upon your business leadership and business acumen skill set.

In a world of virtual information, there is no place to hide

The video of the Chicago transportation police dragging the passenger off the United Flight went viral within a few hours and was the topic of conversation for millions of people around the world within 24 hours.  25 years ago, it would have taken weeks if not months to achieve that level of penetration and in most likelihood, would never have reached millions of people because the story would have lost its legs much sooner.  The implication of this phenomenon to today’s leaders is profound.  In the blink of an eye and a share on Facebook the execution of your business strategy could be derailed forever; one of your most critical roles in this new world is to create a culture of “doing the right things” and anticipating the things that can and will go wrong and try to prevent them before they ever happen.

Customers aren’t inventory

In Business Acumen training, one of the first things you learn about are income statements and balance sheets.  An income statement illustrates revenues (what customers buy and pay for) and a balance sheet illustrates what a company owns (assets, inventories, etc.) and what a company owes (liabilities, debt, etc.).  A lesson that isn’t taught – but perhaps it should be – is that customers aren’t inventory!  Customers provide revenues and ultimately profit in exchange for a service rendered or a product delivered; they can’t be treated like a box of product in a warehouse and you certainly can’t pick they up by their arms and legs and throw them onto another flight.  I know these last few sentences sound ridiculous, but it’s the lesson learned.

Cost justification analysis

Another valuable lesson taught in most Business Acumen program is the concept of the cost justification analysis.  How much would you invest ($X) to have an outcome of ($Y)?  In most cases, business leaders understand and benchmark the analysis in business terms and can make the right decisions.  In the case of United, I think that lesson is now learned.  United recently announced that they have given local decision makers the ability to go up to $10,000 in travel vouchers in exchange for a passenger giving up a seat.  When compared to the millions of dollars in settlement and legal fees, that $10,000 seems like a very wise decision.

“But’s that’s my job!”

Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all is that existing airlines are making a distinct effort to make sure this never happens again.  During the past few weeks I’ve been on at least 8 flights and the difference is noticeable.  I almost exclusively fly #AmericanAirlines and I have noticed that everyone – from the ticketing agents, to the gate team, to the pilots, to the flight staff – has been more accommodating, friendly, and customer centric.  On my most recent flight from Philadelphia to Chicago I thanked the lead flight attendant for what I perceived as services beyond the core and she replied with a big smile, “But that’s my job.”  It was funny, refreshing, and much appreciated.

In summary, sometimes good business outcomes come from bad business situations.  I had my doubts, but it is clear to me now that the existing airlines have “received the message” and aren’t going to sit around and do nothing about it.  There are lessons here for us all…

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