J. Scott Kirby, Chief Executive Officer, today issued the following message to nearly 100,000 United Airlines employees:
In my message to you last week, I talked about doing everything in my power as CEO to make sure we are in a position to bounce back more quickly than any of our competitors once the virus is defeated and demand begins to recover.
That means we have to continue to plan for the worst. But at the same time, we also have to be prepared for the best. After all, the one thing I am absolutely confident in is that our customers want to fly again and reconnect with people and places around the world. And part of preparing for the best means thinking about the short-term adjustments that we have to make to get through the crisis as well as the long-term structural changes that will allow us to thrive once again.
So today, I am asking Greg Hart to take the lead on those big picture issues. During my tenure here at United, Greg has been the rock that I could always count on as our Chief Operations Officer (COO). Despite having hubs in the most difficult weather/ATC markets of any airline anywhere in the world, we moved to the top of the industry in all of the operational metrics. We also invested in the customer experience and have been making the largest, recent improvements in Customer Satisfaction of any airline in the country.
But being the COO of United is a tough, 24×7 job. Greg told me last year that he wanted to start preparing for retirement but he agreed to spend the next 12-18 months grooming his successors. And while none of us could have anticipated the COVID-19 crisis, it accelerates a need for leadership in new areas.
Specifically, I’m asking Greg to step back from his role as COO and instead focus on critical medium and long term issues – in particular, setting the stage for United to be the world leader in innovation with respect to safety, hygiene, and operating efficiency. Additionally, I’ll be relying on him to continue his work on one of our most important objectives – developing strategies to allow flexibility in our cost structure, including labor costs. Our costs are not designed for the near-term uncertainty of travel demand. Demand could be down 30% or it could be down 70%. The way to best survive this crisis is to be able to nimbly adjust the size of the airline, including labor costs, to meet demand and importantly, be ready to bounce back quickly when the virus is defeated. We believe we are working on ideas that no other airline in the world is considering. Greg is uniquely qualified to be a leader not just for United, but in world-wide aviation, taking us all to the next level on these issues that are so critical to our future.
And so that means that it’s time for other members of Greg’s team to step up, in a way that is consistent with our succession planning, to help run the operation while Greg focuses on more broad, fundamental, structural changes to our business.
Jon Roitman, currently our Senior Vice President of Airport and Network Operations, will step into the role of Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer effective June 1. Jon is the embodiment of our core4 culture and no one has a better sense of the inner-workings of our operation. We’ve made some tough choices as an organization and even tougher decisions may come in the near-term, so it’s more critical than ever that we have a leader of Jon’s caliber waking up every day thinking solely about how we stay a step ahead of this virus and its impact on our operation. In addition to his current responsibilities, Jon will expand his role to include Flight Operations, Technical Operations and Safety. I am confident that Jon will rise to this challenge.
As part of these moves, Sarah Murphy, Senior Vice President of United Express, and Jan Krems, Vice President of Cargo, will move into Andrew Nocella’s organization and Toby Enqvist, Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, will report to Brett Hart.
There are tough times ahead. But there are also glimmers of hope – our schedule is expected to be down 75 percent in July, a slight improvement over May and June. While we can’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, it’s not pitch black in here anymore.
But there is more work to be done and I’m confident that today’s leadership changes will put United in an even better position to drive our near-term, operational goals, while at the same time create an environment where we can fly past our competitors when demand returns.
Thank you for all you do every day to take care of our customers and one another.
Stay safe and we’ll talk soon,
Scott Kirby, CEO