I don't envy the folks who run United Airlines.
Some airlines seem unable to do anything wrong in the minds of customers. Southwest Airlines leaps to mind--even during a year in which it had the only passenger fatality on a U.S. flight, it still came in tops on most of the customer surveys.
But for United, sometimes seems like they can't catch a break. We don't have to rehash all the incidents of 2018 that made this clear, but if you think back to the dog that died after being placed in an overhead bin, you'll sort of remember.
The only airline that seems destined, for highly explainable reasons, to get worse customer reaction for the same kinds of issues that happen on almost all airlines: American Airlines. But that's another story.
Personally, I think it all comes down to something Maya Angelou once wrote, about how people forget what you do and say, but they never forget how you make them feel. That seems to go double for airlines. Maybe even triple.
So, that's why it's intriguing that United Airlines says it's going to bring all 25,000 of its flight attendants to Chicago for a two-day training event next year called "Backstage 2019."
25,000 divided by 33
Not all at once of course; United says it's planning to hold a version of the same two-day event 33 times during 2019, since of course it can't really bring all of its flight attendants to Chicago at once without shutting down most if not all of its flights.
It's tempting to say this comes at a controversial time for United Airlines and its flight attendants. Backstage 2019 was announced just after a few hundred flight attendants held a "day of action" protest, and the first event takes place just after cutbacks on the number of flight attendants assigned to some flights will take effect.
But honestly, when is it not a controversial time for airlines and flight attendants? To me, the more interesting thing is that the airline is being tight-lipped on exactly what's involved, except to suggest that it's intended to get all of the flight attendants on the same page from a customer service standpoint.
So far, I can't really find anything in detail about what they plan to do or say. Instead, United is trying really hard to spread the word about how it hopes its employees will feel after the event.
"In terms of goal -- our flight attendants spend more time with our customers than anyone and have a huge impact on our business. This is as much an opportunity to give them a behind the scenes look at our strategy as it is for us to hear their insights," a United spokeswoman told me. "This is unlike anything we have done in the past."
'1 Unforgettable Experience'
Until then, I guess we'll have to go with the slightly longer version that somebody at United apparently provided Lewis Lazare of Chicago Business Journal:
Sources said each two-day gathering will be about a lot more than speechifying. There will be an experiential, immersive aspect to each session to help flight attendants get enthused about where United is headed as a company.
Or, we can check out the flashy video that United made to roll out the whole thing to its flight attendants, and which touts the whole event as "1 Unforgettable Experience." (It's embedded at the end of this article.)
Or else, United flight attendants: reach out to me and let me know what happened. Especially those of you in week #1.
We hope you have fun, but there will be 32 cohorts of flight attendants behind you, and thousands of United Airlines passengers, and they'd all like to know what's really going on.