United Airlines just criticized its own employees. Their response was pure joy

Many companies believe good, loyal employees are precious right now. Perhaps airlines aren't always among them.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

But will their shoes be the right ones?

(A screenshot from a United Airlines video.)

Chris Matyszczyk/Screenshot

Today, I'm appointing you to a senior executive role at United Airlines.

I know you don't want the job, but it's only for a day, and I think you could do it well.

So what are your first priorities? Try and cancel fewer flights, perhaps? Hire and train a few more pilots? Please, passengers, with a few unexpected touches? You'll surely want to motivate your hard-working employees to keep doing their jobs in often extremely trying conditions.

In which case, United may need you for more than one day.

Uniformly troubling

You see, in the middle of passenger uproar, frustration, anger, bile and sore resignation, United's management has decided to anger some of its employees too.

It's decided they may have become a little sloppy.

As they're staggering from flight to flight, wondering whether their schedules may change or their flight simply be cancelled, the flight attendants are being scrutinized for a grave potential offense -- the uniform violation.

Live and Let's Fly reported that the airline sent a memo to flight attendants. It offered commendations to those who were adorned with every uniform piece in its rightful place.

It also offered threats to those who weren't.

A deliciously teacherish-quote from the airline's memo: "For those who are not in compliance, base leadership will ask you to address the concern and provide a reference to our uniform standards as a resource. For the first 30 days, our leaders will not document the conversation as long as you can correct the non-compliance issue prior to your flight."

How generous. How thoughtful. And how thoroughly aware of this moment in history. Airline history, that is.

Airlines are desperate for employees. They're even more desperate for employees who actually know what they're doing. Why they allowed so many of them to leave during the pandemic is beyond me.

What kind of an example is it to prospective hires -- and, for that matter, to passengers -- to threaten your employees because they may be wearing the wrong tie or shoes?

Oh, you're that sort of employer, are you? Ach, maybe I'll learn how to code instead.

Hey, teacher. Leave those adults alone

You'll be stunned into harmony with hungry hawks when I tell you that the flight attendants' union wasn't entirely moved by the nature and timing of the uniform spot checks.

It offered withering thoughts: "Earlier this week, Inflight communicated an upcoming uniform compliance check program. We were reminded of the fact we are the face of our airline for all things safety and service. Unfortunately, we're also the face of missing catering items and waiting at the airport to find out where our missing hotel information is, among many other things."

One can quite see the flight attendants' point of view. One can see it even more when the union reminded United of the supply shortage thing. It extends beyond pilots.

Whoever wrote this next part must have been chewing very hard on a large carrot and imagining management with every bite.

For the union continued: "It's no secret that Flight Attendants have experienced challenges obtaining uniform items. From a deficit in the availability of uniform items for current Flight Attendants to our new-hire Flight Attendants not being provided with a full complement of uniform items at graduation and, in some cases, ended up having to borrow from closets in Inflight or obtain uniform items from other than the expected company supply chain."

Does it really take the union to point out what a misdirected, mistimed, misanthropic idea this is?

Why, yes, it does.

With all due respect

The union's response is polite to the point of being British. It's the equivalent of a passenger whose last two flights have been cancelled, walking up to the customer service desk and knowing they have to phrase things just so or they'll get nothing out of the encounter.

Who couldn't love this sentence: "As management recognizes our hard work, Flight Attendants look forward to the time when we can be excited by management's hard work on resolving our immediate issues while allowing us to be rested, respected, and well-dressed!"

I'm not sure about the exclamation point. That's trying a little too hard. The sentiment, though, is beautifully phrased.

This, then, is the one issue you must resolve as United's one-day CEO. What sort of groveling apology should you issue?

If you're flying United in the near future, I feel sure you'll focus slightly more on the bare essentials -- Is there a plane? Will it take off? Will it take off today? -- than whether you can see a flight attendant's bare, tieless neck.

By the by, United Airlines has a new tagline: "Good Leads The Way."

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