People who know me well have experienced my systems-fixing proclivities. I constantly find myself musing about things like improving efficiencies while waiting in line at the coffee shop or grocery store. Yet no industry has enthralled me more than the airline industry. As a frequent flyer, my attention is usually riveted on ways that airlines could do a better job of customer service. After watching the tragic events on United Airlines unfold it was impossible not to see the very serious leadership implications.
It is sad that it finally took an act of outright inhumanity toward a passenger to shine a light on the everyday mistreatment of customers in the name of doing business. Let us not forget that it took several incidents of passengers being stuck on tarmacs for hours before Congress mandated fines for airlines that do so. Ultimately these incidents happen when the desire for profits, or cost-savings, come into conflict with the expectations that passengers have for the service they will receive.
Everyone understands that weather and other uncontrollable factors can complicate airline schedules. But in an era when air travel has become an integral part of many people’s lives, it is time to evaluate if bottom-line-only motivations are serving us well. Like many other industries, airlines have been operating on a business model based solely profits. But while costs to the airlines are being monitored closely we are finding that public and personal costs are soaring.
My solution? For years I thought it would be fun to sit on an airline board of directors and address the issues from the inside out. After witnessing the abysmal leadership of United CEO Oscar Munoz during this self-inflicted crisis, I am more convinced than ever that the solution will come in a new approach to air travel. I’d love to see a B-corporation airline started. In this type of business organization, employees are valued, customers well served and profits made—but not at the expense of the public good. I am certain that such an entity would quickly soar (pun intended) to a top-tier airline because it is what the public wants and needs.
Air travel will continue to grow as a vital part of our economic and social fabric. If we want to see something different out of future air service it will require a different leadership approach—one that values the public good it provides while balancing it with profit. When someone wants to make this happen, count me in as a fan, customer and prospective board member.