Let's face it, the friendly skies are not too friendly any more. The events of September 11 are not the only reason. The United Airline problems have been building for quite some time. September 11 just brought them into focus.
Saving United will require a coordinated plan of bankruptcy protection, improved image through advertisements, union concessions, and financial protection for travel agents and employees. Here is our five-point plan to save United Airlines:
1. File immediately for bankruptcy protection. Don't just ask creditors and taxpayers to bear the financial burden for the sins of the past. Employees from senior management to baggage handlers should be willing to sacrifice to save their jobs and their company.
2. Rewrite the script for current ads, showing each type of employee. Have them say:
Senior management. "We realize that the friendly skies are not so friendly anymore. For several years, forces inside of United have been locked in a selfish battle over everyone receiving more, more, more. However, today we recognize there is less, less, less. You, the flying public, have suffered. We apologize and commit to you that the United family will never ignore you again. To show our appreciation for your renewed support, and to thank you as taxpayers for your financial assistance, everyone in United will give back from 10 to 25 percent of our compensation to United over the next year."
Captain. "My colleagues and I have been selfish. To force United to pay us more, we ignored your travel plans and intentionally slowed the airline down to get what we wanted. Our greed and avarice was not based on what we were worth to the flying public, but rather we just wanted to be paid more than American and Delta pilots. We know that you were able to look out the cabin windows and see what we could see from the flight deck. Delta and Southwest planes were passing us on parallel taxiways, while we were slowing down to 3 miles an hour. At the same time, American Airlines was passing us as the number one airline in the world. Sometimes it took over an hour for us to reach the end of the runway. You missed connections, were late for relatives' weddings, and missed other important events because of our selfishness. Now we realize that we need you to come back. We apologize to you and gladly give up 20% of our pay to demonstrate our sincerity."
Mechanic. "Airline mechanics are the best paid mechanics of any industry. But we have used our position of power to force United to cancel many flights. We just wanted more because the pilots got more. We ignored you, the flying public. When we were told that we might all lose our jobs, our response was to shoot the messenger. We now know that we were wrong. We will gladly give up 15% of our pay to save our jobs and our airline so that you can continue to receive the service you deserve. We promise we will never intentionally harm you again."
Flight attendants. "Many of our people have been rude and nasty. Simply because you may have asked for help. History has shown us that heavily organized industries have suffered when union demands have exceeded the public's willingness to subsidize the effort. Our demands have stretched your patience. Not only will we gladly give up 15% of our pay, but we will also grant the company the right to terminate any flight attendant who has had a history of service complaints, regardless of seniority. We are sorry for the rudeness that we have displayed, and we promise you that our record will greatly improve."
Ticket and gate agents. "We join our flight attendants in committing better service in the front line of an industry that survives on a high level of customer service. We gladly give 15% of our pay to help save our company. We also grant the concessions to the company to terminate any agent with a history of rudeness and poor service, regardless of seniority. This will save many jobs of younger people, and help keep the older "salts" on their toes and not fearless about losing their job."
Baggage and ramp handlers. "You never meet us, but we can help make your travel more pleasant by helping insure your luggage reaches your destination when you do. Some of us have rooted through your luggage searching for valuables. We have been careless about routing bags properly and safely. We gladly give up 10% of our pay to help save our company, and promise you we will respect your belongings as if they were our own."
"Help us fly the friendly skies again."
3. Unions should immediately accept the pay cuts and concessions in order to save the airline, members' jobs, and the union itself. Unions have outlived their usefulness in many industries. With the advent of very successful non-union airlines, members must decide what's more important: their jobs or the union itself.
There is a significant parallel with Eastern Airlines. Many former Eastern employees are still bitter over loosing their jobs and their airline. Other carriers snapped up Eastern's routes and customers -- but not many of their employees -- without remorse. The organizing efforts were prevalent: "us against them," divide and conquer, we deserve what we want, management is out to get us, and government must help us get what we want. The official attitude was unbending at Eastern. Borman and Lorenzo were the established as the scapegoats. Eastern is gone, and nobody misses them.
4. In order to protect employees who cannot live with a reduction in pay, they will be allowed to borrow up to a maximum of the pay cut from the pension fund at 3% interest.
5. Travel agents will once again receive a 10% incentive to sell United.
With a coordinated effort on everyone's part, the friendly skies can be friendly once again.
The above was originally posted on our UAL discussion board on Oct. 31, 2001.
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