April 11, 2017

This Won't End Well For United

Try as I might, I can find no way this recent kerfluffle works out well for United.

The facts, as I have been able to ascertain, are as follows:

* United had a fully booked flight, but needed 4 passengers to give up their seats so the airline could shuttle a flight crew to Louisville.
* The man purchased a ticket for the flight.
* He cleared the Thousands Standing Around security theater.
* The passenger was allowed to board the airplane and take his seat.
* When nobody volunteered to take a later flight in exchange for airline credits, four people were selected to be removed from the airplane.
*This man refused.
*The cops physically removed him from the airplane.

Now I'll point that the airline has the right to refuse to allow a person to board the airplane.  That's in the contract that comes with the ticket (I've read the contract... I flew weekly for business for some 4 years, so I took the time to read the contract.)  But that's not what happened here... They let the man board.  At that point, the airline is not covered by the "refuse boarding" clause in the contract.

While one can argue that passengers are required to follow the instructions of the flight crew, that only applies once the airplane has left the terminal.  That hadn't happened yet, so that doesn't apply either.

What *SHOULD* have happened is United should have continued to raise the offer for giving up the seat.  If nobody bites at the $400 offer, then raise it to $800.  Then to $1200.  Then higher and higher.  I assure you that sooner or later people will take the offer.  For $2000 and a night at the O'Hare Westin, I'd gladly give up a seat (barring special circumstances like needing to get home to a sick family member.)

But having the man physically assaulted -- and make no mistake, that's what happened -- and removed forcibly from the plane is wrong.  The airline is wrong.  The cops are wrong.  There's no way this works out well for them.

United could have chartered a private jet to fly from O'Hare to Louisville for $15,000 or so.  How much you want to wager that United's CEO and PR staff would pay $15,000 for all of this to go away?

United's CEO should get in front of the cameras, make a profound and sincere apology to this man, admit they screwed up, and give him one free airfare per month for a year in First Class.

The cops need to be fired.  And charged with Assault and Battery.

What's worse is that is this tweet from the Chicago Police Department:

That's a special kind of stupid.  "He fell"?  YHGTBSM.

I hope the passenger sues the daylights out of United and the police department and wins big.

I used to fly United when I was a business traveler.  Fortunately I don't have to fly for work anymore, and despite Denver International being a United hub, I'll do everything in my power to never shade the door of a United aircraft again.


Suz said...

For sure there are a lot of other folks thinking the same thing now. That cell phone clip has been playing all over the internet for several days now.

What I don't understand is why did the airline sell those seats to begin with. Surely United knew they would have to move that extra flight crew. They should have blacked out those 4 seats so they were not sold.

I'm betting that policy will cost the entire airline industry quite a chunk of change before the dust settles.

Jeff B said...

Overbooking flights is not uncommon in the industry, as the airline assumes (based on historical data) that some of the booked passengers will either cancel at the last minute, not show for whatever reason, etc. It's the airline's way of hedging bets against empty seats (remember that the expense incurred for the flight is fairly fixed... the only way to recoup that expense is to sell seats. An empty seat is lost revenue.)

Old NFO said...

Two points. One is the limit for domestic is $1200; second, and confirmed by an AA pilot I talked to, passengers are not 'boarded' until the door is closed and the jetway is retracted. Prior to that point, it's still in progress. The doc brought it on himself, and according to video today was already on the phone with his lawyer before the situation escalated. Did United to wrong? Yes, no question. But the doc isn't as innocent as he claims either... Just sayin...

Jeff B said...

I wonder why the domestic limit is $1200. Is that a UA policy? A government regulation?

I don't disagree that the passenger should have simply left quietly, took up his case in a more responsible and mature fashion. But this shit-show is going to hurt UA more than it will hurt this guy.

PJ Geraghty said...

IANAL, but I suspect that the $1200 "limit" is required by law, but nothing prevents an airline from going higher (other than the fact that they don't *have* to, and can drag someone off the plane who won't accept it). But clearly that limit hasn't evolved with the times, and right now I bet United wishes it had given Dr. Dao a $12000 offer instead of $1200, because someone would have accepted that, and United et. al. would be in much less [poop] than they are now.

Also, the O'Hare Hilton is *much* more convenient to the airport than is the Westin. The Hilton also has the unusual distinction of being the only hotel I've ever been in where it's cheaper to drink out of your minibar than to do so in the hotel bar. On the other hand, the Westin is within easy walking distance of Giordano's. Decisions, decisions....