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

Airlines have rules.

Strict rules that can't be broken. 

This is something United Airlines' CEO Oscar Munoz was asked to address, as he chatted to Bloomberg's David Rubenstein this week.

"There's a rumor in Washington that members of Congress can get airlines held for them," said Rubenstein. "Is there any truth to that?"

I can only imagine a whole airline stopping what it's doing at the behest of a Congressperson.

It's depressingly imaginable. 

I fear, though, we're talking about individual flights here. Which is even more depressingly imaginable.

Especially as one United passenger last year accused the airline of bumping her from her First Class seat in favor of, oh, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

In answer to Rubenstein, Munoz began: "We generally, as an operation, don't want to hold anybody, because we have a schedule to keep."

Oh, no. They do hold planes for politicos, don't they?

Munoz drifted in a different direction:

If one of my Gate Agents sees a young woman with three kids running down.. but our schedule says we close in 30 seconds and she's a minute away or 10 minutes away or whatever, we have historically tended to shut the door.

Well, historically the airline has had paying passengers dragged down the aisle, too.

Now, though, it's a new United. It's one that's teaching employees that the next most important thing after safety is caring.

So now, claims Munoz, the airline allows Gate Agents to make the call and actually hold the aircraft.

He made a distinction between the first flight of the day and the last. 

With the former, oh, it'll really mess with the system if the flight leaves late. With the latter, well, you have a little more leeway. 

Munoz, though, insisted on reiterating: "We don't hold aircraft for anyone."

Unless, it seems, the Gate Agent chooses to.

There was, though, the sort of smile on Munoz's face that seemed to indicate: "Oh, what do you expect me to say? How would it sound 

Munoz is popular among his staff. Many see him as the one human preventing an avalanche of data-based coldness that could sweep the airline at any moment -- instigated by the airline's president, former American Airlines executive Scott Kirby.

He's the one who tried to take the employees' bonuses away and replace them with a lottery in which very few people would get a bonus.

Therefore Munoz is, within the airline, the face of United's new caring attitude.

Still, if you were a Gate Agent and you saw a Congressperson running toward your flight, late, what would you do?

I fear I'd be tempted to shut the door.

Published on: Aug 26, 2018
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