United Airlines just put its top lawyer in charge of customer service

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This post has been corrected.

United Airlines’ reputation for customer service got off to a rough start in 2015, when a run-in with an irate monk made headlines around the world. Now a high-level executive reshuffle (paywall) is raising some eyebrows among frequent fliers, since it puts the company’s general counsel in charge of customer care and experience.

“United is turning customer care over to their lawyer (no, really, they are, and I’m not even kidding),” wrote Gary Leff on his widely-read View From the Wing blog. “All in-flight entertainment and hold music is now Supreme Court audio,” joked Twitter user Jason Rabinowitz.

United general counsel Brett Hart joined the airline in 2010 after a stint in the same job for food group Sara Lee, following a stint as a partner for the Chicago law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

Regardless of Hart’s professional background, he will have his work cut out for him: Even before the company pissed off Brother John Baptist of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, United was dead-last in customer satisfaction among US airlines, according to the American Customer Service Satisfaction Index (see chart above).

While the airline industry is notorious for angering its customers, United is often singled out for particular scorn. Despite making improvements in metrics like on-time performance, mishandled bags, passenger complaints, and overbooked flights, United still ranked 12th out of 15 US airlines (pdf, page 15), and last among major carriers, according to the annual Air Quality Rankings released in April.

But regardless of the tough road that Hart may be facing, he still probably has it easier than one of his counterparts in Asia: Cho Hyun-ah, a Korean Air vice president who oversaw some aspects of customer service, is currently facing criminal charges after throwing a tantrum when a flight attendant improperly served her macadamia nuts. Her father, chairman Cho Yang-ho, has vowed to reform the airline’s corporate culture.

This post incorrectly identified the author of the View From the Wing blog as Jim Leff; it is Gary Leff.