A Letter to Employees from United’s CEO

A United 787 Dreamliner at LAX, one of the aircraft the company is betting on to help it grow in China

What’s on the mind of Oscar Munoz, United’s new CEO? Here’s a message he sent to some employees earlier today:

Dear United team,

Gathering with ramp employees at O’Hare last week, I shared my ambition for United. Heads nodded politely, but beneath that I could feel their skepticism. The sideways glances at their friends on the front lines, the whispers. Yeah, great, Oscar, we’ve been here before.

I know that the level of concern over leadership and management is real, and I know the challenges we face affect your lives every day. I’ve received thousands of e-mails from employees and customers over the past two weeks – some of you may have received responses from me, penned at all hours of the night. Personally connecting with you and genuinely listening is my top priority. You need and deserve that from me.

I received a particularly poignant e-mail from a 747 pilot based in SFO who told me we have the power to make United the best airline in the world if we just turn lip service into action. I could not agree more. In my reply, I wrote that my pledge is to work to create and drive a very different employee and customer experience. And I asked him to hold me to it.

Also, on a flight this week, I spoke with a flight attendant in the galley who was near tears as she told me she has worked here for 25 years, but the last 10 have been the hardest. “I’m just so tired of having to tell people I’m sorry,” she said. I understand many of you share this sentiment.

On Wednesday, I was in Denver connecting with our people at the Chelsea kitchen, flight training center and terminal. Soon I will visit the rest of the network. When I see you, please come with ideas too – I promise to take these to heart.

Though I’m just two weeks into my role, my conversations with you have made a few things immediately obvious and actionable:
1) As we make cost management decisions, we’re going to seek input from the people who do the work, and put ourselves in our customers’ shoes to see if those changes make sense.
2) We need to unite the company from the inside out, and look forward, rather than backward. The merger was five years ago, and it’s time to move beyond subsidiary-level thinking.
3) I am going to review every initiative utilizing outside management consultants to determine if they create value and help move us forward. If not, I will eliminate them.
4) We’ve heard that you want to be empowered to do good work with effective tools. We will give you the right tools to deliver the service and reliability I know we are capable of.

As we move forward together, our shared purpose remains: safety, customer service, teamwork and innovation.

I recognize that the journey hasn’t always been smooth and it won’t be fixed in a day. This is a marathon with a running start. I’m ready to take this team forward. It’s time for a new day. Come with me.

Obviously a lot of commitments there and a lot of promises. Providing the tools and delivering the changes in management style will not be easy. But, at least to start, it appears he’s saying the correct things. Color me cautiously optimistic, at least for now.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.

Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. So, I haven’t been around as long as you have, Seth, but I’ve seen a bunch of these types of missives from new leaders, in various industries. They are meaningful to the workforce, however 3-6 months later, many promises remain unfulfilled. I sincerely hope that Mr. Munoz comes through. The fact that he took the time to write it, is important. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on the vast majority.

    1. You’ve been around long enough if you’ve seen that pattern. Like I said, cautiously optimistic.

      If messages like this were not being sent there would be a problem IMO. But that’s not the case here. He did send the message. Delivering on it is a whole different thing.

      Calling it a marathon with a running start is an apt analogy. There will need to be real changes/progress/announcements in the near future or he’ll likely lose the employees and from there things collapse again. But if he does take the running start there’s a chance.

      Cautiously optimistic.

      1. You’re right exactly right – he has to send messages like this, otherwise he starts at a disadvantage. The challenge, just like you state, is that he needs to have some big wins early on. I’d offer that numbers 1 and 3 may be where he has a chance at a big win, early. Numbers 2 and 4 will require capitalizing on those big wins to achieve.

        1. “Big win” can be a misleading statement. What is “big” to a customer may not necessarily be big to the various employee groups, and vice versa. I honestly think they will (and should) focus their energies on making this a positive employee experience and to find some of those quick, meaningful wins with the FAs, ground crews, pilots, et al, which should translate to a better customer experience.

          On #1, in particular, it is startling to me that the previous management could have been so tone deaf. You can’t please everyone, but they deserve to have their voices heard and to provide meaningful input into the process. As long as this new management does that and is able to convey the rationale for the decisions they’ve made in a way that shows they are listening, if not doing everything that was suggested, they stand a great shot at being successful.

  2. Look I agree but in all my years as a corporate officer and long time traveler I have a hunch that this guy might walk the walk. And I am willing to give him a shot. Since moving to the west coast I have become a loyal AS flyer but UA was my first real airline and so I wouldn’t mind the “friendly skies of United.”

  3. Curious on how you received this letter. If we’re going to be successful employees that feel the need to share our internal workings to the public need check themselves.

    1. I have a number of sources inside the company. Some leak information which should probably remain private. I don’t think this is an example of such.

Comments are closed.