United Airlines wants you to think it’s sexy (their employees don’t like that)

United Airlines/Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNET

My friend Kevin had his late night United Airlines flight canceled at the very last moment last week.

more Technically incorrect

The alleged reason was the weather. His fear was that although there had been some rain, the pilots and cabin crew were timed out and the airline had no one to replace them.

He called customer service. There a very nice man told him to go to the ticket office and speak to a representative.

Kevin explained that there was no one at the ticket counter, whereupon the nice man on the phone exclaimed, “Whaaaatttt?”

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Kevin came home a day later than planned. I tried to calm him down by saying, “Don’t worry Kevin. United are sexy now.”

He replied with a withering grin.

What could I do other than explain that United’s image has now completely changed. It just signed a partnership with Emirates, anything That points guy described as “once unthinkable”.

Let’s be friends. let’s be sexy

US airlines and their Middle Eastern brethren have been in something of a standoff for a number of years. Please try to preserve your dignity when I tell you that the problem appears to have been that the home governments of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways hung large sums of money on these airlines.

Yes, and not only during the pandemic.

But back to sexy. To celebrate this beautiful new union, United and Emirates released an uncontrollably shiny ad adorned with incredibly glamorous pilots and flight attendants.

Here you see ridiculously seductive United employees stepping out of limousines, strolling through an airport and meeting their new Emirates partners while Frank Sinatra sings “Come Fly With Me”.

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Will her life be like this now? It seems so. Everyone is so happy.

This is the beginning of a new era. That means United will now offer a totally upscale experience, doesn’t it?

Who am I to say?

I can tell you Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates said: “I’m not worried. Emirates has been a major force in the industry to restore service and we continue to see improvements from others. United take their soft product seriously and will continue to make progress.”

We are not moved

Then get ready. It’s a new morning, a new era. Fly United on your next business trip.

Remember the incredibly welcoming, happy pilots and flight attendants in the ad? Well, their unions, and the unions that represent all other United employees, were drier.

They penned a joint letter with the inviting title: United – Emirates Codeshare: Labor is Watching.

No, the tone of the letter was no friendlier than its title. Example: “After years of highlighting the unfair business practices of state-owned enterprises (SOE) such as Emirates Airlines and other Middle Eastern carriers, United’s announcement of a new codeshare agreement warrants close scrutiny.”

What kind of exam? This way: “Protecting the jobs of US airline workers requires continued financial transparency and improved labor standards that ensure fairness is maintained in all open skies and codeshare agreements.”

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Surely there was a positive word somewhere in the letter, you wonder. There was. The word was “enormous”.

The context? It read: “These subsidies are putting US airlines at a tremendous economic disadvantage and threatening US airline jobs. American workers can compete with any foreign airline on a level playing field. We cannot compete with whole countries.”

I’m not sure about all of this. I don’t think I would prefer a US airline to many European ones for a transatlantic flight.

But, in case you haven’t realized by now that United workers aren’t happy, the unions have also offered: “The fact is, there are currently no independent unions in the UAE. Attack on the rights of airline workers, with alarming reports of unfair labor practices and intimidation by employers.”

That doesn’t sound all that sexy, does it?

We need to talk about Kevin

Still, United are making progress. It now promises that you’ll never have to wait in line to speak to customer service representatives again. That’s tempting, isn’t it?

But let’s leave the last word to Kevin. I sent him this new United ad and asked his opinion. He knows a thing or two about brands and companies.

His verdict: “This is a huge PR win for United and an unforced mistake for Emirates. Emirates has a reputation for first class service that runs through all aspects of the airline – even when you’re on the bus. United is quite the opposite: a ‘coach-first’ approach, infusing everything with a sense of cheapness and indifference in the name of expediency. The next example that comes to mind is the merger of Mercedes and Chrysler, which frankly tarnished both companies’ reputations.”

Yes, Kevin flies a lot for business.

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