United Airlines – A Good Time To Negotiate A Better Deal?

Do travel buyers still have “route deals” with major airlines? We did back in the day when I was European Procurement Director for the Dun &Bradstreet group (at that time a sprawling “conglomerate”), where my impressive job title belied the fact that initially I had no-one working for me directly. So I combined a central head office hands-off role with rushing around personally letting lots of frameworks that I hoped our constituent firms might choose to use!

Anyway, it meant I was pretty much personally the category manager for travel, for certain elements of IT, for logistics and shipping, for office supplies, for FM … and so on. In travel, I did route deals with airlines like Virgin, United, BA (who weren’t easy to deal with), as well as firms long since gone like British Midland and Delta.

So I watched the video of the guy being dragged off the United flight after they chose to eject passengers to make room for their own staff with interest (and some degree of shock and horror). The CEO then made things worse by claiming the passenger was being difficult, and the police also put out a pretty misleading statement.

As everything I see gets filtered through a procurement lens, and in the spirit of entrepreneurial procurement, it struck me that if I was still doing travel deals, this would be a good time to re-negotiate that corporate deal with United. Give your account manager a call, tell them that your travellers are all vowing never to use United again, and if they (United) want your help in stemming this exodus, they will have to offer you a better deal – another few percent off the key routes.

I reckon there’s a fair chance of success with that tactic, not least because many corporate travellers will have watched the video and thought about changing their preference. It would also be good if United see that there is a real financial consequence – not just bad PR – from this sort of behaviour. It does seem unbelievable that you could be peacefully sitting in your paid-for seat and end up being dragged out of the plane, bleeding and screaming. So it would be some justice if travel buyers made United pay. No doubt there will be a million-dollar law-suit from said passenger too.

Ironically, United's CEO Oscar Munoz was named PR communicator of the year by a trade publication last month. PR Week called him "a smart, dedicated, and excellent leader who understands the value of communications". Soemtimes you just have to laugh, don't you?

Last week we saw a number of cases where you just had to shake your head at the behaviours of businesses - or to be accurate, the people within them. The Barclays CEO who tried to track down a whistle-blower was another, as was the Shell case about payments in Nigeria, although that is much more serious matter then these other two – more on that perhaps another day.

But in the Barclays case, when the CEO got his internal security team to try and track down the whistle-blower, was there nobody there just to say “this is a really bad idea Jes, just let it go”? Like you would have expected some member of staff on that United plane to say, “you know, maybe assaulting our passenger isn’t too clever”. Easy after the event, I suppose, but common sense seems sadly lacking in these cases.

And that’s even before we mention the Pepsi ad …

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