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Update 7/12/18: United reached out to share the following statement:

“We are introducing a new training program for our co-branded credit card that is especially designed for flight attendants, as this work group has the most engagement with our customers. Our Inflight crew are effective ambassadors, who can best communicate to our customers in the moment the benefits of the United Explorer card.”

We’re no strangers to the United Explorer Card, but aside from some airport and seat-back marketing, there isn’t much of a push directly from United. That’ll change on September 1, as flight attendants will be expected to promote the refreshed co-branded credit card — including via announcements and application distribution — on every single flight.

John Slater, the airline’s new Senior Vice President of Inflight Services, sent a memo to United’s 24,500 flight attendants detailing the new card push this week. Citing the “sizable lead” American Airlines has on United when it comes to in-flight card sign-ups, Slater explains:

“Although we have a lot of catching up to do, I know we can close the gap with the right focus and commitment. To accelerate this initiative, we ask that beginning September 1st, the Explorer Card announcement is made and applications are distributed on every flight, both domestic and international. In addition, as part of our commitment to Chase, we are introducing a new, required computer based training for all 24,500 flight attendants that will be launching soon. To build excitement around this re-launch, we’ve temporarily increased the normal $50.00 incentive flight attendants receive for approved accounts to $100.00 through the end of 2018.”

He goes on to reference some of the benefits, including priority boarding, a free checked bag, two United Club passes and a 25% statement credit for in-flight food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases. I do agree that the card offers significant value, but pushing crew members to sell the card to a captive audience of United customers really cheapens the experience quite a bit.

A flight attendant I chatted with voiced significant frustration, saying “We didn’t sign up to work in a sales commission job,” and adding “We’re all annoyed. Literally no one I ever fly with will participate.”

They also expressed concern that aside from modest commissions, employees won’t see any benefit from the additional credit card revenue, explaining “at the end of the day this all comes down to UA trying to make more money, and once they do and it comes time to contract negotiations, management will say they don’t have any to give us.”

Get ready for United’s upcoming credit-card push. Photo by Zach Honig.

Based on the language used in Slater’s memo, it doesn’t sound like the “initiative” will be entirely optional, either — flight attendants are being asked to make the announcements and distribute applications on every flight.

While PA announcements are always pretty annoying to sit through — particularly because they automatically pause the in-flight entertainment system — the credit-card sales pitch will be especially frustrating to customers hoping to maximize their sleep on redeye flights, when crew announcements are otherwise kept to a minimum.

It’s also incredibly challenging to police announcements made by 24,500 flight attendants. While I’ve found that United crew members are pretty good about reading announcements verbatim, American Airlines employees have been heard making all sorts of outrageous (and blatantly inaccurate) claims about the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard, which they’ve been incentivized to push on flights for quite some time.

Even with the “new, computer based training” United has in store, I imagine some flight attendants will take creative liberties and wander off-script, just as they’ve been known to do on Twitter.

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