United Execs: Our Bad

United Airlines executives during Thursday's third-quarter earnings conference call acknowledged a rough summer impacted by operational challenges and took blame for customer migration to other carriers. Now, the airline is attempting to mend relationships, especially with corporate customers.

The third quarter was "one of the toughest quarters of our integration," said CEO Jeff Smisek.

"We recognized that some of our customers chose to fly other airlines during the summer when our operational performance degraded," he added, noting how the airline "didn't do a good job with our operations during June and July," but has since recovered. "With our operations back on track, our unmatched global network and our industry-leading product offering, we expect to earn back those customers who took a detour, and we expect to attract new customers as well. We have more work to do."

Chief revenue officer Jim Compton added that United's "recent relative year-over-year [passenger unit revenue] underperformance" has been caused both by macroeconomic challenges faced across the industry and "issues unique to United because of our merger integration."

"As for our revenue results, we are not satisfied," Compton continued. "Corporate revenue increased modestly this quarter. Although some customers flew other carriers during the height of our operational challenges this summer, the vast majority of our global corporate accounts chose to stay with United."

So, what is the carrier doing to win back those who jumped ship? "We are being very active," Smisek said. "All of our salespeople are deployed, making sure our customers understand that reliability is back, making sure they understand the product investments we are making. We are doing all we can to get our customers back. We are having dinners around the system with our Global Services customers."

Does doing "all it can" mean that United has offered pricing concessions to corporate accounts? Compton wouldn't bite on that one, and focused instead on the network."The network is the one sustainable differentiator we have versus our competitors," he said. "It's about communicating to our customers, our high-level customers, our corporate customers."