A video of a United Airlines passenger being dragged off flight 3411 against his will has gone viral and has left United Airlines with yet another PR disaster in an ever increasing line of them, but will this incident bring into question the practice of overbooking? And will it make passengers question just why they are getting such bad service across the board from all airlines in the first place?
In this specific incident flight 3411 was not initially overbooked, but it was full, and became overbooked when at the last minute the airline decided they needed four seats for crew members deadheading.
In these incidents it is standard operating procedure to ‘bump’ passengers to other flights and offer them compensation, which is what they started to do. Regardless of the fact that the passengers had already boarded and sat down and bumped passengers should be approached at the gate before boarding. They offered them $400, then $800, and most passengers weren’t having any of it. Hardly surprising when the best of those offers are half of what the US Department of Transportation states passengers should get in these circumstances.
So instead of doing the logical thing and keep upping the compensation to a point where passengers were tempted, they just said they will be picking four people at random and they would be removed.
That’s nice, right? You’ve paid for a service but screw you anyway.
One man who was chosen refused to leave. And I don’t blame him in the slightest. In my opinion as a paying customer once he was boarded onto the plane and sat down, he had every right to expect the airline to fulfill their end of the contract and get him to where he was going at the time he wanted to be there.
A catalogue of errors.
And this is where things get really bad. When the passenger refused to leave, crew members called security and the man was forcibly – and violently – removed against his will.
So United Airlines cocks things up on this flight, and their course of action is to punish customers with severe inconvenience and use violence when they don’t comply. Good job United.
Video has blown up all over social media of 3 members of security physically dragging the man against his will out of the seat, slamming his head against one of the armrests in the process and then dragging his bleeding and unconscious body down the aisle to disembark him.
At one point the man regained consciousness and managed to get back onto the plain, clearly injured and seriously disorientated.
In a statement straight out of the abusive partner playbook of excuses, the Chicago Police Force did release a statement that said “Aviation officers arrived on scene and attempted to carry the individual off the flight when he fell and hit his head on the armrest.’
Oh he ‘slipped and fell’? Well that must be his own stupid fault then, right? Did he happen to walk into a cupboard door on the way out too?
Now to be fair on United Airlines this specific part of the incident was down to the security officers involved, one of whom has since been ‘placed on leave‘, and in some sense they should share some of the responsibility too. But the entire situation was wholly down to, and the responsibility of, United Airlines. They cannot duck responsibility for this. How they handled the situation, the decisions they made, were wholly down to them. They caused this situation and escalated it to the point it reached when it clearly never had to get that far.
This is in my opinion indicative of a much wider problem of just how much contempt all airlines in general treat paying customers.
The whole practice of overbooking, a practice where airlines purposely sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane, in the hope they can fill up empty seats on other flights with bumped passengers, is one of the most hated and complained about things airlines do. In a very long list of hated things airlines do. Yet they do it anyway because it suits them to do so, forget the fact that it routinely screws paying customers over.
Here’s an idea, if a plane has a hundred seats, why not just sell a hundred tickets for that damn flight? If you need to ferry crew members from one airport to another for operational reasons, why not keep a number of seats back for them instead of – once again – screwing over a paying customer?
They won’t do that of course, because that would mean having both common sense and also giving a damn about customer care. And this is simply not something that is on the radar of any airline for any reason.
Everything from shrinking seat pitch to the point the average sized person can barely fit in any more or routinely losing luggage and offering the minimal compensation they can get away with, to routinely slashing and cutting service in the name of cost cutting and forcing passengers to pay extra for things that were once taken for granted. The infamous toilet charge idea that Ryanair was forced to scramble back on would be the funniest example of this if it weren’t true.
Airlines know they will get away with it.
The fact is, the airline industry knows it can do what it want when it wants, and decreasing passenger rights and services mean nothing to an industry that has no real sanctions against it for such actions.
Basically the entire industry can treat passengers however they like, and force them to pay through the nose for the privilege.
Just look at the response from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, who in a statement actually had the audacity to ask why the customer defied security officers the way he did.
Do you not think that it was because the flight crew were in the wrong? Maybe that as a paying customer who had already boarded he had a right to expect you to fulfill your part of the contract and a clear right to refuse your initial offers that he clearly did not think was enough to compensate for his time or the inconvenience?
Oscar Munoz actually stated:
“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”. Oscar Munoz.
Say it as much as you want Oscar, but repeating a PR mantra doesn’t make it so, and there are a lot of people with a lot of smartphone cameras that would be pretty quick to call you a hypocrite at this point.
As United Airlines have learned this week, the power of technology and social media mean that those practices are under scrutiny like they never have been in the past, and negative publicity can seriously harm an airlines business. The hashtag #BoycottUnited exploded immediately after the incident happened, and once that starts having an impact on the airlines bottom line, they may, just may, start taking notice and changing policy.
So I sincerely hope that people do boycott United Airlines, and despite rarely thinking the sue culture is a good thing, I seriously hope this man sues United into the ground, and if it threatens to put them out of business, all the better.
Because it is long past time the aviation industry is shown that customer care and passenger rights are actually things they should be concerned about and need to start getting right.
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