United Wants To Pick Up A Whole Lot More Passengers This Spring (And Not Drag Them Off Planes)

Image courtesy of Themarcogoon49

United Airlines executives had a goal for the second quarter of the year: To start from a position of strength and boost domestic growth heavily. It’s a very rah-rah, sunny, corporate view of the world that may well be derailed by one big thing: United itself.

As Bloomberg reports, aggressive domestic growth is hard enough for an airline in the current environment… but doing it right after a whole lot of folks started considering swearing off your airline for good is even harder.

United, as most folks are probably aware, has been embroiled in a week-long PR disaster after having a passenger hauled out of his seat and dragged off the plane on an April 9 flight.

The airline’s first few attempts at an apology were widely met with derision, as company CEO Oscar Munoz used corporate-speak to discuss “re-accommodating” the passenger and calling him “disruptive and belligerent” before finally actually saying, “I deeply apologize” and kicking off an apology tour with his fourth statement.

Since then, the airline has said it won’t use law enforcement to drag people off flights anymore, has promised some kind of compensation for every passenger who was on the flight, and has changed its crew travel policies so passengers who have already boarded won’t be booted from the seats they’re in.

That now is the backdrop against which airline president Scott Kirby told analysts that upping the number of domestic passengers it books is United’s big plan.

Kirby says that aggressive growth is not about trying to “invade” other airlines’ hubs and spaces, but rather is, “about restoring United to where it should have been.”

But Kirby, Bloomberg notes, was at the helm over the past seven years too, when, after the United/Continental merger, the airline deliberately shrank its domestic footprint. Meanwhile, the very few other remaining national carriers have much smaller ambitions for their own growth. American and Delta are targeting growth of 1% or less for the second quarter of this year, and an apparently-ambitious Southwest is looking at more like 2.5% for the whole year. In comparison, that makes United’s 5.5% target seem… unlikely at best.

An analyst with Bloomberg also pointed out that in a robust, competitive market, there’s no such thing as making your own business grow without taking away someone else’s.

“There is no ‘natural share,’ everything is market share,” the analyst said. “When you’re expanding, you’re trying to take market share. Delta is going to be ticked.”

About the passenger-dragging incident, meanwhile, United executives said that they have fielded “appropriate questions and concerns” and are launching a review into what happened. That review, of course, is likely to make big news when it’s released — making everyone remember, once again, the whole viral video thing that United wants to be a lot farther behind them than it is.

United Picks a Funny Time to Attract More Passengers [Bloomberg]