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by Matt Alderton | October 06, 2015
A month into his tenure as United Airlines' CEO, Oscar Muñoz has announced a "new journey" for the country's third-largest airline.

In a move of contrition, Muñoz last week published a message titled "Beginning a New Journey" in which he acknowledged United's strained relations with employees and customers, and vowed to seek solutions.

"Last week, my third on the job, I took United flight 1248 from Chicago to Denver, where we have 4,600 employees who serve 10.4 million passengers annually, to meet with colleagues, including pilots, flight attendants, technicians, customer service agents, ramp service workers, staff from our flight kitchen, and many other airport employees. I wanted to learn how they think we can operate better, how we can better serve our customers, and how we can help them do their jobs better. They were not shy," Muñoz wrote. "It was exciting to hear the sincerity in their voices, the passion they have for the company and the belief they have in its future. While their concerns are serious, so is their desire to find solutions."

Muñoz said he wants to make United "not just great, but greater than ever." To do that, he plans to focus on four priorities.

"We need to focus on our customers, so they get to where they're going on time and as pleasantly as possible," he continued. "We need to act as one team, with a shared purpose and common goal. We're called United, after all, and we need to act that way. We also need to focus on innovation to ensure that our customers know that, like them, we're relentlessly on the move, and our employees know we can never sit still and risk the world passing us by. And lastly, none of this would matter without a strong foundation of safety. Safety first, safety always."

In service of his commitment, Muñoz has launched a new website, UnitedAirtime.com, dedicated to interaction with employees and customers, who are invited to submit questions, comments, and ideas through the new web portal.

"In the first 24 hours after the site was launched, we received 3,173 questions and ideas," Muñoz said. "It's an amazing resource we'll be tapping to make United better for customers and employees."

Travel Industry Reacts

On behalf of the travel industry, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow commended Muñoz and indicated his hope for a new chapter of positive relations with United, whose relationship with the larger travel industry has been strained due to disagreements about aviation policy, including the United States' Open Skies agreements with the Middle East.

"The travel community welcomes this message from Mr. Muñoz, and I personally look forward to working with him any way I can. U.S. Travel's mission is very simple -- to increase travel to and within the United States -- and he is sending some very encouraging signals that he understands that means making travel a fundamentally traveler-focused enterprise," Dow said in a statement. "On the travel policy front, I hope this means that the era of sharp elbows is over. We have lately criticized the U.S. legacy carriers, United included, for pursuing a Washington agenda that is too focused on stifling competition and not focused on growing the pie by getting more people to travel. Mr. Muñoz's words give us hope that we can work together to form a new paradigm in industry partnership."

As a sign of good faith, Dow called on Muñoz to end United's membership in the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition consisting of the "Big Three" U.S. airlines and their supporters.

"A clear sign of United's commitment to travelers would be for United to step out of the coalition that is working to freeze certain Open Skies aviation agreements the U.S. holds with other countries -- what we deem to be perhaps the most glaring example of how the legacy carriers have misprioritized their policy goals," Dow concluded. "There is absolutely no question that Open Skies has added choice and value for travelers, but nowhere have the fortunes of the traveler been reflected in the legacy carriers' assault on the agreements. Mr. Muñoz can quickly add substance to his message by ceasing United's participation in the anti-Open Skies campaign; this will ensure that his introduction will be more than a typical corporate PR effort."