United Airlines Is ‘Pressing the Pause Button’ on Its Lottery Bonus Program

Ladies and gentlemen, this United Airlines idea has hit some turbulence, and will be turning around right away.

Over the past 72 hours, we’ve seen a firestorm erupt among employees at United Airlines, after company president, Scott Kirby, sent an email detailing a plan to change the company’s employee bonus program–and replace it with a lottery.

If you missed the details of the lottery program, you can find them here. In short, United employees were united: united in opposition to the new policy.

Within hours, there were thousands of anti-lottery comments on the company’s private internal website, plus thousands more complaints on Facebook and even a Change.org petition.

Now, United says it’s heard its employees loud and clear. Earlier today, Kirby sent a second email to United employees backing off on what he’d said in the first one:

Dear United colleagues, 

Since announcing our planned changes to the quarterly operations incentive program, we have listened carefully to the feedback and concerns you’ve expressed.

Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you.

So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead. We will be reaching out to work groups across the company, and the changes we make will better reflect your feedback.


To be clear, it’s a “pause,” not a full-throttled cancelation. It’s hard to predict exactly what that will mean–whether it’s a return to the original, apparently much-loved system, or some kind of hybrid, or whether the bonus program will simply disappear.

As others have surmised, it seems United would have saved a lot of money by switching from a universal program to a lottery based one. And, it’s striking that this kind of quick action t have happened a decade ago.

There wouldn’t have been robust internal networks, or Facebook groups, or flight attendants and gate crew reading the stories and posting online via their phones. (And, there wouldn’t have been places like Inc.com, or Flyer Talk, or View From the Wing, or the like, to pick up on the story.)

Within a short time after I posted about this new policy Saturday morning (which was in turn after reporter Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Business Journal broke the news), I was hearing from employees about their objection to the change. One such source let me look at hundreds of employee comments on the internal website, which I detailed here

Now, I’ve had the chance to look at a lot of other comments, in the wake of the “pressing the pause button” email.

While there are a lot of sentiments and nuances, here’s a quick sample that should make it pretty clear how many employees seem to feel about the whole thing.

–Customer Service Rep

“Thank you for listening. Please continue to do so, or as we’re taught in Customer Service, ‘Just ask, then listen’.”
–Customer Service Rep

“Scott, Thank you for listening and including all the stakeholders in the decision.”
–Captain – B-737

“Thank you Scott for listening.”
–Flight Attendant – Domestic

“Thanks for listening… We can all do better when we learn from our mistakes… we got your back if you got ours!”
–First Officer – B-737

“The traits of great managers are to realize when they made a mistake, take responsibility and change course. Thank you for listening to us and restoring faith and confidence in your leadership.”
–Flight Attendant

“Good decision. Thank you.”
–First Officer – B-767/B-757

“Thank you, Mr. Kirby!!! I know we all appreciate you listening to us. Have a good week!”
–Flight Attendant Intl

“Thank you Mr. Kirby…well done and a trait of a true leader. It takes courage to admit that the decision was wrong or not received by the employees as intended.”
–Captain – B-737

“Thank-you for reconsidering and (hopefully) keeping the previous program in place.”
–Captain – A-320

“Thank you for taking this necessary action. It’s nice to know our voices are being heard loud and clear.”
–First Officer – B-777

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