Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Well, not just to me, but to all United customers.
His email began:
I consider you part of our United family and your safety remains our highest priority.
I'm not sure whether Munoz considers me a long-lost brother or a mere distant cousin whose name he constantly forgets or misspells. Still, he wanted to describe all the things United is doing to combat the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19, without mentioning the bad things. Which isn't the wisest move for a business in such times.
Munoz explained the airline is taking great care to clean planes thoroughly. United's planes are, he said, equipped with "state-of-the-art circulation systems, similar to those found in hospitals." Which may be news to some.
He added what seemed to be an enormously civil gesture:
To give you the greatest flexibility, when you book any flight with us now through March 31, you can change it for free over the next 12 months -- any ticket, any fare type, any destination.
United isn't alone in doing this, but it still feels like the decent thing to do. After all, many flights are being canceled and, frankly, the $200 change fee is one of the airline industry's more significant disgraces.
I finished the email believing United continues to make progress in its attempts to embrace humanity.
Sadly, that feeling failed to last. Because there was one thing Munoz omitted -- surely by accident.
On Saturday, you see, Skift's Brian Sumers unearthed another little thing United has decided to do. This little thing will surely annoy many passengers quite bigly -- especially those flying on business.
In pre-coronavirus times, if United rescheduled your flight by two hours or more, you were entitled to a refund.
Now, United has decided it can reschedule your flight by, oh, 25 hours before you can get your money back.
This is, indeed, the moment when you wonder if you read that right. Please believe me, you did. United has already confirmed it on its site.
Why would any company -- especially one that's worked so hard to improve its customer relations -- suddenly make such a heinously severe move? Two hours has now become 25?
Naturally, my first instinct was to contact United. Its spokeswoman told me:
Our goal is to rebook as many people as possible without interruption and right now, more than 90 percent of impacted customers are being put on a flight that is within 2 hours of their original booking. For any rebooking that goes beyond 2 hours, those customers can change for free or cancel altogether, and use the value of that ticket toward future travel up to 15 months from their original ticket issue date.
Please try and parse this while noisily gritting your teeth.
The airline told its employees that, with this drastic change, it can "accommodate our customers by offering more options when we rebook their flights."
That word accommodate has a particular history for United. When paying customer Dr. David Dao was famously dragged off a plane, his face bloodied, Munoz originally described his experience as being "re-accommodated."
It's worth thinking about this enormous change from a business perspective.
Many business people fly somewhere specifically for one or two meetings and fly out again. What chance might they have of rescheduling their meetings? Especially by 24 hours. Sometimes, quite slim.
Yet with this new rule, they or their companies won't be able to claim a refund if United decides their flight will miss its takeoff by even 24 hours.
The biggest problem here is that United failed to make this change openly. Munoz could have easily made reference in his email and offered a plausible explanation.
The inevitable conclusion from the customers' perspective, therefore, is that United is merely enacting a crude ploy to ensure the airline doesn't have to give customers any money back, except in the most ludicrously extreme circumstances.
I have sympathy with airlines at times such as these. Their businesses are being severely hit through no fault of their own -- for once. I suspect many customers understand this, as their own lives are being disrupted.
Yet to make such a draconian call without offering an explanation -- just as you're emailing customers to tell them how caring and thorough you're being -- leaves a very unpalatable sheen over your brand.
Being honest with your customers in difficult times breeds both loyalty and forgiveness. Being sneaky rather doesn't.
Yes, your family can sometimes treat you poorly. But at least you know their love is genuine.