Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

United Airlines is trying.

No, I'm not lurching toward the obvious joke here. 

Instead, we're here to talk about how the airline is trying to improve the way it's doing things.

Today, United CEO Oscar Munoz spoke at the Society of Human Resources Managers in Chicago.

Now why would he be an appropriate speaker there? 

Well, the airline has undergone an image torture test ever since it dragged a bloodied paying passenger down the aisle of a plane.

The behavior of its employees -- and, indeed, the way they're managed -- has been subject to severe scrutiny.

They've been given extra training in, of all things, behaving like a human.

Indeed, Munoz explained how bad the situation had become.

As Quartz reports, he told the story of a veteran United gate agent who wasn't terribly happy.

One day, a passenger waiting to board a flight suffered a heart attack on the jetway.

So the gate agent called their zone controller, who's directly responsible for flight operations.

Was the zone controller concerned about the passenger? 

Not quite, it seems.

Instead, Munoz said, the zone controller's one concern was whether the heart attack would affect the departure time of the flight.

Munoz used the story to describe how his airline had become obsessed with rules rather than, say, humanity.

Indeed, I've heard more than one story from former Continental Airlines employees who were merged with United.

They were astonished at how United staff had no regard for anything other than procedure.

Of course, one of the problems for United is that the image of it as a heartless airline has now stuck.

United has become a bitterly humorous byword for callous behavior.

This will take quite some time to change and the best United can do is improve, one flight, one zone controller at a time.

It won't be easy.

Published on: Jun 18, 2018
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