Past few months have been interesting. But so far, looking at the reactions, the dragging of passenger off the United flight caused the biggest uproar of 2017. And how it could not be, when you look at the video it’s truly hard not to be in shock:
Lady yelling “This is wrong” gives the simplest and the best possible description of the video. Simply, looking at what’s going on you find it completely unbelievable. It’s like you are suddenly transported in some surreal theater in which this gruesome scene playing out.
That’s also where initial United’s response comes in. Basically, in PR they went with standard “we were just following procedures”. Passenger refused to cooperate, so we have dragged him off the flight, and the rest is history. Sorry, but that’s how things are. No mention on how or why they boarded all the passengers. No explaination on decision to off 4 paying customers to accommodate employees. Or how doc managed to get back onto the plane through security mumbling “I have to go home” and “Just kill me” (0:50):
Confirmation that this is United‘s corporate culture came with CEOs internal memo. Basically he doubled down on what happened by saying:
Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.
Now, I understand the need to pump up your team’s spirit. But being CEO of large company and paid $14 million a year you should be well aware of two things:
- That your statement to wide number of recipients will likely leak
- The outrage going on was not on whether you were correctly following self-imposed rules and procedures. The outrage was on whether what happened was fundamentally right or wrong
This video got so viral in part because other people found it easy to imagine themselves in similar situation. Many lived it. There were actually hundreds of thousands of people bumped off the airlines in last year alone. On that same flight 3 other persons were removed from the flight. Unfortunately, neither United nor their CEO understood this. For them, it’s business as usual – in 2015 over 550,000 passengers were denied boarding.
Finally, responses from United and their CEO siginificatly contributed to fallout. They showed that handling of situation is not incident, but how they operate. They basically poured gasoline on the fire. And then even more stories of United’s incompetence began to surface:
So, taking all this into consideration it’s easy to understand how this came to be one of the most discussed events of this year. For me it truly got crazy when it went international – and people in China and Vietnam started accusing United of racism… like this wouldn’t have happened to non-Asian. As always, facts at this point become completely irrelevant. What is relevant for United is just how easy it was to do things better.
How United Airlines should’ve reacted
The weirdest part of this whole incident for me is how many times common sense was ignored. The whole problem started not because the flight was oversold, but because someone decided to board 4 employees so they could service flight from Louisville the day after. So, obviously, first option would be – find another 4 people to service Louisville flight. Problem solved, right?
Now, let’s say that for some reason you can’t do that. You need exactly those 4 people on the flight… i.e. you can’t put 3. Well, follow federal regulations and offer cash instead of vouchers. Reason why United didn’t get enough volunteers was because offer was $800 in $50 vouchers. And you can’t use more than one $50 voucher when purchasing ticket. Others will expire.
Analyzing this situation from economic side shows how crazy it was. Because if you are now in position to pay $800 in cash per seat – tons of options open up. Say there aren’t ANY flights from Chicago ORD to Louisville. There is no other flight on any airline with free seats. Well, there is Midway airport – put your employees in cab and let them fly from that airport.
Or if even that is not an option – final solution. Say to your employees: here is $800 each, we’ll rent you a car and you just drive from Chicago to Louisville. Paradoxically they would’ve arrived to Louisville faster that way (4h30m). With security check and blood cleaning delay, United flight from Chicago to Louisville lasted more than 5 hours.
It was just announced that passenger will sue United. So Dr. David Dao and his family are probably set for few million dollars. Here is excerpt from the news conference with his lawyers and daughter:
After going up and down for past few days, UAL stock is now on downtrend and will likely shed few billions from market cap. Also, United is set to lose a lot of ticket sales – this was mother of all PR blunders – and will be felt in Asia. What could’ve been $3,200 in cash, will probably cost United at least 100,000 times that. Oscar Munoz, CEO is supposedly losing $500,000 bonus over this. I get that it’s peanuts for him, but hopefully it’ll at least make him rethink policies.
The rest of us got to learn a lot about our rights in respect to denied boarding. As a bonus we also got tons of quality memes and jokes. Hopefully all this will be a lesson for everyone that eventually improves airline travel. In the meantime, let’s enjoy those memes and jokes, shall we.