United Airlines working to improve operations, labor relations

United Airlines plans to invest more in its employees and its customers in an effort to improve operations, said Jim Compton, the airline’s vice chairman.

Compton admitted that listening to employees’ demands and customers’ expectations has not been United’s forte in the wake of its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines.

“That’s an area that in the last five years we have not done a good job on,” said Compton, in remarks at the fall conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Also, since the United-Continental merger, pilots have been working overtime without a contract, something the company wants to quickly correct under new CEO Oscar Munoz.

“We just have to get it done,” Compton said, referring to a proposed two-year contract extension for pilots.

“When you reinvest in the people, you reinvest in the product, and you also return value back to shareholders. All positions are winning and you can see that in the industry today,” he added.

United Airlines Vice Chairman Jim Compton says the airline is trying harder to please employees and customers.
United Airlines Vice Chairman Jim Compton says the airline is trying harder to please employees and customers.

The airline industry, including United, has enjoyed record profits as oil prices have declined in the past year. Some of that money is being reinvested in the business, such as improving United’s Newark terminal and buying new planes.

Another crucial focus is on departure and arrival reliability. United is near the bottom of the list of airlines arriving on time and reported a 78.8 percent of timely arrivals for August, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report.

Compton said to improve reliability, the airline is looking at cutting the number of flights, which will mostly impact smaller cities in the U.S.

While slowing growth in China is currently a background concern, Compton said he expects travel to and within China will double by 2020.

“Expectations are that half of the growth of China is going to come from secondary cities, where today historically that growth is coming from Beijing and Shanghai,” Compton said.

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