For a couple of grand more in compensation, United Airlines could have saved itself hundreds of thousands of dollars – maybe millions – in bad publicity. And, no, the old saying about ‘any publicity is good publicity’ is not always true.
So, here is what United is hoping for today.
It is hoping that something more sinister is afoot. It is hoping that the man who was involuntarily and violently dragged off one of its planes isn’t really a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, as he claimed to be.
It is hoping that some sort of yet-to-be-told confrontation took place on that aircraft that elicited such a reaction by the city of Chicago’s Department of Aviation Police.
It is hoping that the viral video of this incident on Sunday showing the man being forcibly removed, dragged down the aisle by his arms, bleeding from his face, isn’t as incredibly astonishing as it appears to be.
Because this time, this is not going away so fast.
(Dear United … THANK YOU! Love, Delta Air Lines)
If you haven’t heard by now, a United flight from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked on Sunday night. The airline asked for a passenger to volunteer to be re-booked the next day at 3 p.m. It offered $400 and an overnight hotel stay. When the plane was boarded, it then asked for four passengers to volunteer to be re-booked for $800 compensation and a hotel stay – apparently, four United crewmembers needed to "dead-head" to Louisville to be repositioned on flights for work assignments the next morning.
But this was the last flight out from Chicago to Louisville and nobody volunteered.
Now, hindsight is 20-20, of course, and nobody could anticipate what was about to happen, but this all might have been avoided if United had upped its offer one more time. I know I would have jumped off for a free overnight stay and $1,000 or $1,200 compensation.
Instead, the flight crew announced that the plane wasn’t going anywhere until its dead-head crew was seated, and as per airline policy it would have a computer randomly select four seats which passengers would have to relinquish. One couple was chosen and they left.
Then the man who claimed to be a doctor was selected and the rest is now a sad part of United’s history.
This is not going away.
United might have its legal rights as part of its contract of carriage that allows the airline to involuntarily bump passengers in the event of overbooking, but it most certainly does not have the civil rights to basically assault a paying customer.
Nor does it have the common sense, apparently, to not issue two separate tone-deaf statements.
The first was from a United spokesperson; the other was from airline CEO Oscar Munoz, who said the incident was “an upsetting event to all of us here at United Airlines.” No mention of how upsetting it was to the passenger. No mention of how upsetting it was to his fellow travelers on the flight. No mention of how upsetting it is to a flying public already on edge about boarding an airplane. No mention of United accepting even some of the responsibility.
Look, overbooking is part of every airline’s DNA. Remember the old adage about wedding invitations, that 10 to 20 percent of the people you invite either can’t attend, won’t attend, or just don’t attend at the last minute? That’s the way airlines are – they overbook because they know not everybody is going to make the flight, for whatever reason.
The problem is, airline rules and policies are so rigid that they leave no flexibility, no creativity, no juggling on the fly – pardon the pun – for their employees to make on-the-ground decisions, with the employees scared to death of being terminated themselves.
This is a mess, plain and simple.
For a legacy carrier to leave something like this among its legacy is embarrassing.