After 18 Years, United Airlines Just Made a Really Big Announcement

This is a story about United Airlines, the future — and, quite frankly, you. It’s the kind of lesson I explore in my free ebook, Flying Business Class, which you can download here.

It also illustrates why I think leaders in all industries should pay attention to how the big airlines make decisions.

Let’s go to our case study of the moment. (Seriously, there’s always  a new one): 

How, when, and why did United Airlines decide this week to announce a deal to buy at least 15 supersonic passenger jets from Colorado aircraft startup Boom, with an option to buy as many as 35 more?

The previous supersonic passenger jet service, the Concorde, flew from 1976 to 2003, was subsidized by the UK and French governments, and flown almost exclusively by British Airways and Air France.

So, as an American, I’ll just say it: I like that this announcement, 18 years after the last Concorde flight, involves a U.S. airline agreeing to buy supersonic jets from another American company.

Also, there were only 14 Concorde aircraft in service. Thus, if United buys all of the Boom supersonic jets in its initial deal, it will have a bigger supersonic commercial passenger fleet than the entire world had at any one time during the previous era.

United said it projects 2029 would be the start of commercial passenger service. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that sounds like a long time from now, or just around the corner. 

Still, it could cut some travel time almost in half: Newark to London Heathrow in 3.5 hours, for example.

This isn’t something United and Boom drummed up during the pandemic; when I spoke with Mike Leskinen, United’s vice president of corporate development this week, he said the deal has been seven years in the making.

Now, if you’re a business owner–even if you don’t fly that route, and are never likely to fly personally on a United supersonic jet–I think stakeholder perception like that is the real story.

Think about how this announcement changes the conversation in the airline industry.

Not long ago, we were talking about record losses and the recovery of less-lucrative passengers at the expense of business travelers. Now, we’re talking about innovation, advancement, and achieving (or re-achieving) a milestone.

Will it work out as planned? I have no idea. But, the announcement and the planning are instructive. If you’re running a business facing challenging times, you might think about how you can duplicate them.

  • Can also give your stakeholders an exciting vision of the future, grounded in fact, but offering inspiration and aspiration?
  • If you’ve lost key people, can you find ways to inspire your team to believe you won’t just make up for what you’ve lost, but that you’ll greatly surpass it?
  • Even if the last year has been difficult, can you acknowledge the challenges, but then announce ways that you plan to change the conversation and transcend your competition? 

It’s not just about airlines, or technology, or even about supersonic travel. It’s about leadership.

And if you can find the right kind of goal to aim your company toward, and get your people excited about, it can be a game-changer.

Don’t forget the free ebook, Flying Business Class. You can download it here.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.





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