By Steve Moran

I so want to fall in love with United Airlines.

I fly a lot; 23 or 24 trips this year. I fly Delta when I can and have top-tier status. On short trips, Southwest is a good option, but they are such cramped planes that I find it hard to get much work done. This year I have flown United a handful of times, and it turns out their flight options and pricing are a bit better from my home airport than what Delta offers.

I find myself thinking I should do a status match and take all my business to United, saving some money and maybe some convenience.

Except that …

I flew United to the Senior Living Innovation Forum in the Bahamas and, because of Hurricane Nicole, switched back to Delta for the return trip. I am on my Delta flight as I write this, and I feel like I am back home. On every single United flight I have flown this year, the service has been perfunctory at best.

No smiles, no sense that they are doing anything other than the minimum required. No friendly chit-chat, not even any eye contact. Every request seems like an imposition.

On one flight I left my phone sitting in my seat, realized it as soon as I stepped off the jetway, and immediately told the gate agent. It was simply a big bother, and I was told I would have to wait until everyone was off the plane.

The plane was getting a crew change, and the pilot for the next flight overheard the conversation, flashed his badge, asked me where I was sitting, and went on the plane and retrieved it for me. This is how it should be.

Whose Fault

I found myself constantly annoyed with the United flight attendants because every single one was not good. But honestly, most employees are the same, and they simply reflect the culture their leaders accidentally or intentionally design. It is to the discredit of United leadership and to the credit of Delta leadership.

While each person, when they go to work, ultimately chooses how they are going to show up, it is pretty hard to have much enthusiasm if your leadership treats you badly or even simply as if you are just a necessary cost center. I am sure there are some United flight attendants who have made the decision to show up fully engaged in spite of their employers, I have simply not encountered them.

It Gets Worse

I wrote this after the rest of the article was done.

When United could not get me to Seattle, they promised I could receive a refund, which I requested. Their response to the request was a flight credit that would expire in a year, even though I was promised a refund (yep I have a screenshot of that promise).

I have already wasted an hour trying to get the refund, which I suspect will eventually go through. It simply should not be this hard. Now, even if and when I get the refund, I will still think ill of United.

Could they do a service recovery and make me a fan again? It would be tough at this point because of so much bad history, but maybe. What it would take would be a huge flight credit of $5,000 or $10,000, and more importantly, a promise to make it right in the future for me and other customers. And then it would take time.

Something Special

What Delta has done is made working at Delta a privilege, an opportunity for the company and team members to give people a great travel experience, whether they’re traveling for pleasure or business. It is almost certainly why their prices are higher and flight availability is lower.

In senior living, our team members want to be a part of something special — something that is making the world a better place. Something that is improving the world of others. We are right now in the beginning season of “the culture economy.” People want great work experiences, and when you provide them with great work experiences, they reward you by treating customers, vendors, and visitors as special people.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that when you make people good about coming to work, they will pass those good feelings on to each other, your residents, and their families … even your visitors and vendors. This means higher occupancy, lower turnover, and better business results.