Captain Joe Kolshak, senior vice president of operations for United, explains how we tend to the details so you can relax
Photography CREATIVE SERVICES , UNITED AIR LINES
It’s fascinating when you think that on any given day, we’re operating on all corners of the earth, flying more than 400 aircraft on hundreds of flights and carrying roughly 160,000 customers. Every single day, we wake the airline up, we operate the schedule, we put the airline to bed, and we strive to do a great job, with safety at center stage.
As a pilot and a frequent airline passenger myself, I understand the importance of consistency. You rely on us for safe, reliable, pleasant service every time you fly — that’s what earns us your business. So everything we do is centered on getting your experience right. It’s all about the details and, in our business, there are thousands of them.
In the course of a 24-hour period, as we operate more than 1,300 flights, we know that unexpected circumstances can arise, and we’re poised to make the adjustments we need to in order to keep you on track and on schedule. The airline is an immense algorithm that we execute every day, and it’s actually a lot of fun for us to bring it all together in a way that makes things look easy — from your perspective.
When an airplane rolls up and you climb aboard, every aspect must be at the ready: The flight plan is complete, the airplane is fueled, it’s clean and comfortable, it’s stocked with the food and beverages of your choice, and it’s well maintained. Then it takes off — and we do it all over again, hundreds of times a day. We want your flight to be smooth — because of the planning and preparation that we’ve done — so that you have a pleasant journey and land on time (or slightly early).
You’ve told us that one of the most fundamental aspects of your satisfaction with us is arriving on time at your destination. Starting in October of last year, we began making some structural changes to improve our on-time performance. We’ve changed the way we position spare aircraft, and we have adjusted how long we schedule airplanes to be on the ground as well as the amount of time that we’ve allotted between the minute the aircraft leaves the gate and the time it taxis in at your destination. We’ve also made a special effort to improve the reliability of our fleet.
I’m pleased that we have driven up our results in these areas, moving from fifth place in the summer of 2008 U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report rankings to tops among major network airlines in the first quarter of this year. Our continued improvement is a top priority for us, and we plan to keep that momentum going.
We are also focused on completing our international premium cabin upgrades, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to become the first U.S. network carrier to offer 180-degree, fully flat beds in business class. We’re also investing in other upgrades that you want on long international flights, such as 15-inch flatscreen monitors, on-demand audio and video and more inspired cuisine to enjoy as you travel. Those of you who have experienced the new product have told us loud and clear that this is the type of transformation you expect from us. You’ll see more.
By the end of this month, our entire international Boeing 767 fleet will be outfitted with the new cabin configuration.
Work on the B747s is well under way, with completion scheduled for October, and we’re set to begin work on our youngest fleet type, the B777s, in September.
If you travel domestically, you will also begin to see a new interior configuration, as we convert our former all-economy-class Ted aircraft back into mainline United aircraft, adding a first-class cabin. We are also rolling out all-leather seats on the Airbus 320 aircraft we used for the Ted fleet. All 56 of those aircraft will be converted by the end of this year, and our plans call for adding leather seats to our remaining domestic aircraft over the next few years.
We have examined every aspect of what we can do to keep our airline running smoothly and your travel plans on track, centralizing many of our operations functions. We have customer advocates based in the Operations Control Center whose sole function is to be a voice for you when there’s a weather irregularity and things don’t go according to plan. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing and very integrated, so that the work that gets done behind the scenes stays behind the scenes, and you can relax and enjoy our onboard service.
Another key area that I’m responsible for is aircraft maintenance. The Line Maintenance organization is in charge of the condition and cleanliness of our cabins. We’ve standardized not just how we clean the airplanes, but where we do the work. Rather than having each location determine its own standards, we’ve set a single standard for new processes. It involves simple steps with clear goals that our cleaning crews can follow no matter who does the work or where it is done. As we park our aircraft for the night, we roll up our sleeves and give thorough attention to all the surfaces, carpets, lavatories, galleys and cockpits.
For us, the proof is in the numbers — in the latest survey data on our cabins, you have rated our aircraft twice as clean as you did last year and more than 10 points higher in terms of condition.
Hand in hand with the cleaning program, we also check the key interior elements with precision, such as reading lights, tray tables, seat recline, carpeting, lavatories and galleys — so that everything you see and touch on board is in clean, working order. We are raising the bar in this area, as well, and are committed to having dedicated mechanics check and repair the interiors. In some cases, we’re going through and inspecting these aircraft at five times the previous frequency.
We will continue to examine every aspect of the interiors of our aircraft — and our business — so that we can exceed your expectations and provide you with the world-class experience you deserve. Stay tuned. We’ve only just begun..