Here's what I find amazing about United's current situation. I read an article the other day that mentioned UA's stock was trading at $73.50 back in May of 1999, which I believe was about the time that Goodwin replaced Greenwald. Back then they were the largest airline and had such a strong balance sheet.
Earlier this year, in January, UA was still at $45.50, yet some 9 months later (as of Friday) they're trading at $13.93. At that price, that makes their current market cap $752 Million. Compare that to WN at 12.20 Billion, AA at 3.060 Billion, DL at 2.94 Billion, NW at 1.108 Billion and CO at 989 Million. It's almost inconceivable that they could go down like that in a little over 2 years.
I also agree, to some extent that trying to compare Southwest to United is like comparing apples to oranges, but there are still a few things that the other airlines could learn from Southwest.
1) KISS - (Keep it simple, stupid). Southwest has been successful in large part because they have kept their operations simple. Southwest flies one type of aircraft. The other carriers have many more. I'm not suggesting that United go with one particular aircraft, but they could maybe reduce the number of different types in their fleets. Southwest may have some 10-12 fare codes on their city pairs, whereas some of the other guys have dozens of different fares for the same city pair that change on a daily basis.
Southwest concentrates on on thing and one thing only and that is providing transportation from point A to B. The other airlines do that, too, but then they try to branch out and go into other things like the hotel and travel industry (Alegis) or on-line booking agencies like Priceline, and Orbitz, or going into the corporate bizjet business (Avolar). It's better to do one thing and do it well than to try to do too many things and wind up doing all of them half-assed.
2) Never try to get too big, too fast, or you'll usually wind up falling on your face. Take it slow and steady. This doesn't just apply to the airline industry, but to other industries as well. Remember after deregulation when Braniff went ape hog wild ordering planes and adding destinations right and left? Look what happened to them. Then look at all the mergers that have gone on. A merges with B and for some time afterwards it's like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.
Employees at A did things one way and employees at B did things another way and everyone gets confused on how they're supposed to do their jobs now, and the customer gets frustrated because one employee will tell them one thing and another employee will tell them something different and it's just mass confusion all around.
3) Know what your priorities are. Most airlines take the view that their first responsibility is making their shareholders happy, their second responsibility is making their customers happy and their third responsibility is making their employees happy.
At Southwest, it seems as though their first priority is making their employees happy, not necessarily with pay, but in the way they are treated. Happy employees give it their all and seem to go that extra mile to provide good service to the customers. The customers like it (well... most of them ) and they become loyal customers and give Southwest repeat business and that, in turn makes the sharehoders happy because the price of the stock keeps going up.
4) Save money for a rainy day. Even in the boom times, act like disaster is right around the corner and plan accordingly because you never know what tomorrow might bring. Don't over-extend yourselves, financially speaking.
In conclusion, I sincerely hope that UA can overcome all the obstacles and recover, but it's going to take more than new management, IMHO. It's going to require that employees and management work together as a TEAM and if that is accomplished, then the company can go forward and hopefully better times will soon prevail. But if different employee groups start having work slowdowns, and sickouts, and start threatening to go on strike or start Creating Havoc Around Our System (CHAOS) that's just going to drive more of your customers away and United will continue it's downward spiral.
United was once one of the best and I know if the employees and management put their minds to it they can again be the best. So good luck and get going and I'll get down off my soapbox now.
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