business news in context, analysis with attitude

Michael Sansolo’s column about how United Airlines seems to put its customers second prompted a number of emails.

MNB reader Jim DeJohn wrote:

I enjoyed reading Michael’s article this morning regarding the “Uncustomer Friendly” service of United Airlines.  It brought back an experience I had with them trying to get home from a business trip.  It was the last leg of my trip – a very quick flight from Newark, NJ to Albany, NY, maybe 35 minutes flying time.  After boarding the small jet, they moved us over to a “waiting area”.  This seemed strange as the weather was great, no mechanical issues that they said, etc.

After about 45 minutes of waiting, the flight attendant said we were waiting for a couple United employees who needed to get to Albany…  Another 45 minutes go by and folks are getting very irate (it was a late flight to begin with).  And you guessed it, another 45 minutes go by and they say their employees are almost there.  We ended up 3 hours late because of this.  They easily could have had their folks take a bus between the two cities or pay for a Lyft car.  But instead, they made at least 35 folks very late getting back to their families and causing a terrible experience, to ensure their couple employees were taken care of.  But experiences like this is why I only fly United if there are no other options…even then I think if a long drive might be better.  I can’t believe I’m alone in this thinking.

MNB reader Mark P. O’Brien wrote:

I'm retired a few years now so I don't fly as much as I used to. I watched these subtle changes happen to UA personnel over the years as they lost pension benefits and I know flight crew who complained bitterly about their leadership getting golden parachutes while they got hosed. It reminds me of an old Jerry Reid song I heard on the radio a few weeks ago named (I believe) 'You Got the Gold Mine, I Got the Shaft'. I understand their frustrations but I think this is another example of unintended consequences of poor leadership.

You would think that United would make it a policy to leave open overhead bins for the most profitable customers they have.

It's another reason in my mind why Southwest continues to grow and is so strong. Their people in very large part are engaged with the customer, care and try to make flying fun.

Fun for most people, anyway. But, as recent events have shown, not everyone.

From another reader:

Thank you for writing this!  I have been part of the retail industry for over two decades and it still amazes me when you come across instances like this!   We have our own challenges of continually keeping up with training and standards given the high rate of turnover but it must be a focus or what you have worked so hard to build a reputation on will quickly erode by these sort of examples…. Take care of people, both your associates and the guests but the standard for the associates needs to be guest centric.

Yesterday, MNB took note of how Nordstrom Rack finds itself in the middle of a racial bias incident, as employees in one of its stores, in St. Louis, apparently called the police and accused three teenagers of shopping while black. The New York Times reported that “the teenage friends had stopped into a Nordstrom Rack in suburban St. Louis on Thursday to look for last-minute deals before a high school prom on Friday night. Two employees followed them throughout the store, closely monitoring their every move, and reported them to the police … When the police arrived, the men cooperated with the officers, showed them their receipts and let them look inside their shopping bags and car, he said. The officers stressed that they were called out only because an employee had called 911.”

The event became public, and created community outrage, especially since it came so soon after a similar incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks.

I commented:

Starbucks has decided to close down its US stores for an afternoon later this month so it can do some racial sensitivity training, and it remains to be seen whether Nordstrom Rack will do the same thing.

I do think, however, that most retailers have to be aware that this could happen to them. They need to have plans in case it does, and they need to do what they can to create a company culture where it is less likely to happen.

Now, I got one email about this story and comment, and I have debated long and hard with myself about whether I should post it. I’ve decided to do it, and here it is:

It would be a lot less likely to happen if there weren’t so many Blacks who DO steal from stores.

All I can say is that with attitudes like these, it is no wonder that companies get into trouble. The problem is, no amount of sensitivity or diversity training may be able to correct Neanderthal thinking like this.
KC's View: