Where do we begin on this one? To employ a current overused cliche by the press and the gaggle of commentators and gasbags, “we’ve got a lot to unpack here”.
Let’s begin with the last time you saw someone with a purchased ticket being dragged off a commercial airliner because they allegedly refused to voluntarily surrender their seat because the airline overbooked the flight and had to have the seats to get their flight crew to their destination in order to get on another plane and fly more passengers.
Have to admit might be the longest sentence I’ve ever written without the proper punctuation, but how can you take a break when trying to make a story as gripping and absurd as it actually is?
The CEO of United issued the standard apology. Trouble is, it took until late in the afternoon the next day for the statement to fully make the rounds. Knowing how corporate PR crisis communications works, I can see where this was going up and down the corporate food chain at United with lightning speed all day long. Still, this goes down as a “FAIL” for not getting on this with all speed. The same speed cell phone videos spread around the world. The airline, their PR people, their communications experts and everyone involved isn’t new to this kind of incident and need to be hammered for dragging their feet.
I found it interesting that the former CEO of Continental Airlines called the scene on the aircraft “immature”, though no matter how many times you read the statement it’s difficult to tell if he was calling the security personnel immature, or the victim, or the people who took the various videos less than mature.
What needs to be looked at here in the early stages are the various comments and attempts at explanation that emanated from various sources. This one from the “New York Times” caught my attention:
Charlie Hobart, a United spokesman, said in a telephone interview on Monday that “we had asked several times, politely” for the man to relinquish his seat before force was used.
“We had a customer who refused to leave the aircraft,” he said. “We have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there.
“Since that customer refused to leave the aircraft, we had to call’’ the police, and they came on board.
Hey Charlie, a little sympathy for the guy your computer apparently picked to be bumped and then left him bloody in front of the cell phone cameras, huh?
The man paid for his ticket. He had what in his mind was a legitimate reason to not give up his seat. You would think he had every right to refuse and stand his ground.
You would be wrong. Every commercial airline company has you over the legal barrel when it comes to their right and ability to yank you from an aircraft. And the legal language used is so broad, it leaves open plenty of room for interpretation.
From “Popular Mechanics”:
“Passengers have far fewer ‘rights’ than they imagine,” says George Hobica, president of AirfareWatchdog.com.
It all comes down to the fact that when you purchase an airline ticket, you are technically entering into a contract, known in industry jargon as a “contract of carriage.” Few consumers exercise their right to get a copy of the lengthy document, much less read it, but they might reconsider that after this week.
Bet you didn’t know that little slice of life, did you?
The United CEO finally issued his statement, which should have been the first thing out of the figurative mouth of the airline. From “NBC News”:
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”
“We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation,” he added in the statement.
The officer who did the most damage was placed on administrative leave while the airline and law enforcement investigates. If I were him, I’d start burnishing the resume.
So let’s bring this all to a conclusion.
United Airlines needs to ensure they don’t at any time and under any circumstances blame anyone but themselves. They must take full and complete responsibility for everything.
This in spite of the fact the flight was operated by Republic Airways as a “United Express” flight. United, as the name on the fuselage, must ensure at all times that the people who represent them…represent their image…are trained in the proper procedures for all circumstances. Because when they screw up, it’s not Republic getting the blame. It’s United.
Though in my opinion the news reports and various stories need to be up front and take greater pains to reveal this flight was operated by Republic. Because United is the name carrier, Republic execs have got to be toasting themselves in escaping the bulk of hte bad publicity.
Still, in the end, it does come down to United.
United overbooked the flight, a common practice in the industry. They are completely within their legal rights to do so. From “The Washington Post”.:
But the manner with which they dealt with the situation was atrocious. Every time I’ve flown and there’s an overbooking situation, and I need to note I rarely if ever fly United for numerous reasons, there is always compensation offered the passengers. Booking on a later flight, a free ticket, something that honestly costs the airline pennies versus grumbling of passengers. According to one passenger, there was an offer made prior to boarding. But $400 and a hotel stay is not going to help the majority of people who need to get somewhere.
Standard procedure for this is to pay the passengers and get them on another flight ASAP. We need to assume for the moment there were no other flights out that evening where the proper connections could have been made. I find that one difficult to believe as this was O’Hare Airport in Chicago, one of the busiest airports in the world. Granted there may not have been a United flight out that evening, but in that case the accountable thing to do is suck it up, pay for a flight on another airline and get those passengers to their destination.
THAT is customer service.
United/Republic put themselves in this situation. They are the ones who needed the seats for their additional flight crew, needing to get to their destination in order to be ready for another flight. Again, this happens all the time. Not to say it could and should have been handled better, and perhaps making other accommodations for a flight crew in Louisville.
Quite the rabbit hole here, isn’t it?
United/Republic forgot the first rule of business.
The customer is always right. It is ALWAYS about the customer. The PAYING customer. Solid business practice and ethics means you bend over backwards until your spine snaps in order to serve your customers.
The fact they waited until the passengers were seated also tips me off that someone failed to follow procedure, and they didn’t do everything in their power to avoid this mess. Knowing their flight crew members had to make a connection trip, they could have chosen another method or swallowed the bullet and put the crew on another flight if possible.
I read where someone suggested putting them in a car and making the drive. That’s 300 miles and over 4 hours. In retrospect, the cost of footing the bill for a limo would have been a lot less than the hit on ticket sales. However, that is one long and tedious ride.
Again, it comes down to customer first.
The cop in question was wrong in the manner with which he handled the situation, and may have earned what should be termination.
However, he was put into that situation by United Airlines. They failed in their responsibility to serve the customer. The cop failed in his responsibility to handle the situation in a more professional manner.
The key word here is “responsibility”. United/Republic failed. They will, and should, reap the consequences.
Which likely won’t be much. Bad PR has never cost an airline of this size much. People need to get where they’re going, they will often sacrifice what is the right thing to do in exchange for the right flight time and an affordable price.
And United has tens of thousands of employees, many of whom do their job with integrity and pride. If the airline suffers because a select few failed to do their job and turned this into the nightmare it is, it’s simply not fair for others to suffer because of their actions.
United will find someone to blame and possibly terminate. As it should be. Someone, or more than one, created this fiasco. Perhaps by being unprofessional. Perhaps by failing to follow procedures. Perhaps by doing what they were told. And perhaps because they were lazy. It will all come out in the following days. And everyone connected with it needs to be suspended or fired.
CEO Oscar Munoz has a mess on his hands, and he failed to use that word “responsibility” right at the top of his statement. Or “accountability”. Or before apologizing to the customers to single out the bloodied passenger, putting him first and foremost.
First words in the statement, Mr. Munoz: “I and United Airlines would like to profusely apologize to the passenger who was forcible removed from the flight. We would like to beg forgiveness from him and his fellow passengers for the insensitive manner in which this was handled, and we take complete responsibility for the actions of everyone who mishandled this situation. I will personally take charge of this investigation and get to the bottom of why this happened”.
Screw the legal protection, Mr. Munoz. Man up and take the heat.
Grovel a little. It’s the responsible thing to do because the buck stops with you.
Those are the bucks people won’t be spending on United for the rest of their lives if they can help it.