United preparing for next decade with new CEO, tech innovation

United chooses next CEO, emphasis on technology

United Airlines announced this week that CEO Oscar Munoz will pass the torch next May. President Scott Kirby, who has played a big role in improving United’s performance over the last several years, will take over. With the change, United is preparing for the next decade, which will feature more tech disruption and innovation across the airline industry.

Munoz hired Kirby in 2016 to help improve execution at United. According to the company’s recent performance, Kirby has done his job well. 

In a recent video message to United employees, Kirby thanked Munoz for his mentorship. “I will be a much better executive today, will be a much better CEO and a better person, for what I learned from you and following in the footsteps of an incredible leader.”

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United Struggles on Public Display

Munoz took the reigns at United in 2015 after former CEO Jeff Smisek was forced to resign. Munoz had a heart attack one month into his tenure and needed a heart transplant. When Munoz returned to work, United had fallen behind its peers. 

On top of that, the airline took two huge hits in the public eye. Security officers dragged a passenger off of an oversold flight in 2017. Last year, a flight attendant forced a passenger to put her dog in the overhead bin. The pet died in transit from New York to Houston.

J.D. Power’s annual airline satisfaction survey has reflected United’s public struggles. The company ranked ninth in customer satisfaction amongst North American airlines last year. 

Kirby to the Rescue

Kirby’s efforts have enabled United’s resurgence. He added flights from smaller cities through major United hubs, increasing capacity and efficiency where United had a strong presence. 

Kirby’s initiatives helped United grow net profit by nearly 20 percent between 2017 and 2018. This year, the airline surpassed 2017 revenues through three quarters and even raised its full-year earnings guidance.

United’s success has cemented Kirby as one of the top executives in the airline industry. Wall Street is optimistic about what he can do as United’s CEO.

Looking ahead, tech innovation will play a significant role in the airline’s future. 

Airlines Readily Adopting New Tech

The airline industry is expected to change drastically over the next decade at the hands of technological advancement. Airports and airlines are starting to implement a variety of technologies to transform many aspects of air travel. 

United already allows people to check into flights through voice using their Google Assistants. SITA’s Air Transport IT insights states that over one-third of airlines plan to evaluate the potential for blockchain in security applications. Biometric scanners have already made their way into many airports.

Asian airports are leading the charge of using robots in terminals to provide information to flyers. In Europe, autonomous baggage handling carts are already undergoing trials. Additionally, many airlines see value in offering in-flight augmented reality and virtual reality experiences. On the AI front, United and others will continue using virtual assistants and chatbots more frequently to improve customer satisfaction. 

These are just a few examples of how technology will make air travel even more efficient and convenient. Airlines that can adapt and implement tech innovation effectively will be able to enhance flyer experiences and identify new financial opportunities. We’ll see if Kirby and the United team can continue the airline’s upward trend and evolve in the decade to come.