United Airlines Rewards Its Best Employees by Lowering Its Standards

Skift Take

When your airline is better known for “operational woes” than anything else, sometimes you just have to start from scratch.

— Jason Clampet

At United Airlines, you don’t necessarily have to be the early bird to get the worm. You only need to be somewhat punctual.

Workers at Chicago-based United Airlines will get bonuses for hitting its monthly on-time rate goal in July, but only because the airline changed its own target.

United, which experienced operational woes in recent years and has since pledged to land more flights on-time, was on time 76 percent of the time in July, according to FlightStats. While that falls well short of its previous goal of exceeding 80 percent on-time — and just matched the average of all North American airlines — it ranked second-best among the four major U.S. airlines, lagging Delta Air Lines but beating American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

And that’s the new goal this year — to rank at least second of the four major airlines. It’s the highest on-time rate for July in four years, the airline said.

As a result, eligible employees get a $125 bonus for the month for also meeting goals for on-time departures and customer satisfaction.

The new bonus program reflects advice and input from employees, United spokeswoman Christen David said.

At United, eligible employees can earn up to $125 each month — $50 for on-time departures, $25 for on-time arrivals and $50 for a customer-satisfaction goal, a rolling target to get better customer satisfaction scores than the average of the previous three months, David said. Previously, employees received up to a $100 bonus for meeting the monthly on-time goal. July was the first time United achieved all three of the new goals — it met its arrival goal in January and its departure goal in April.

Five of United’s seven hubs had the best July on-time arrival performance since 2010, when United merged with Continental Airlines. The combined airline in 2012 merged operations, including a problematic change to Continental’s reservation system, and its passengers suffered rampant delays for months. It has since fixed the most serious problems but continually ranks in the bottom half for U.S. airlines in on-time arrivals, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A flight is considered on time if it arrives within 14 minutes of schedule.

“While we still have room for improvement, we’re seeing a lot of momentum as we work to create a more reliable and efficient airline,” Greg Hart, United’s executive vice president and chief operations officer, said in a statement. “These bonuses are further proof that the actions we are taking are paying off.”

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