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United Airlines CEO takes a fresh pro-traveler stand

Is this poppycock or a promise that will be made good? Only time will tell, but United wants consumers to know they hear you loud and clear.

Photo (c) baona - Getty Images
How about this for an opening, declarative statement: It’s not fun to fly anymore.

“Duh!” you say?

Believe it or not, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz agrees and says he’d like to do something about it.

“It's become so stressful,” Munoz told ABC News. “From when you leave, wherever you live, to get into traffic, to find a parking spot, to get through security.”

“Frankly, by the time you sit on one of our aircraft ... you're just pissed at the world. Improving the flying experience won't ultimately depend on what coffee or cookie I give you.”


Munoz may be that breath of fresh air travelers are looking for. He’s not an “airline guy” per se, and he probably has more of a consumer-first attitude than his airline peers given his time in consumer services at AT&T, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo.

He seems to be fully aware that he and United may be pushing their hopes up a hill and against the wind of their competitors who are always at the ready to slash prices, sell a couple of inches of more legroom, and charge a fortune for a dwarfish turkey sandwich.

“The competition is less about price discounts and more about the experience and the service,” Munoz said. “I think at the end of the day, it’s better for the customer.”

How little is too little?

ABC’s David Kerley asked Munoz some pointed questions that many air travelers would like to know the answer to.

When grilled about seat size -- “Have we reached the smallest (seat) we’re going to get?” -- Munoz didn’t flinch.

“I think we’re nearing a point certainly that we can’t do that anymore,” Munoz confessed.

Kerley then asked, “Why doesn’t your Wi-Fi always work?” Munoz couched his answer by saying that the technology involved is “complicated.” However, he went on to take responsibility for iffy on-board internet. “We will fix that. That’s how important Wi-Fi is to us.”

Are you a frustrated flyer?

“Somebody asked me what advice I would give to other travelers. I said empathy,” Munoz said. “I think discourse between human beings is lacking. I’ve always lived by the concept that sharing is caring. So, share with us.”

But, Munoz asks the traveler to think about how much actual control an airline has in situations like storms -- things that are out of the airlines’ hands.

“Why would I, on purpose, delay (your flight)? There’s always something that can’t go right. I tell our team that someone trusted us and said you would get me from here to here and that’s what they bought, that’s their product. Anything short of that has to be our issue.”

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