6 Shockingly Simple Changes to Avoid Another United Fiasco

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I haven’t written about the recent incident where a passenger with a paid seat assignment was dragged out of a United plane, because I was waiting for all the facts to emerge.

 Here are some changes to ensure that such a horrific incident never happens again.


What United Airlines Must Examine

1.   Flexibility

Southwest has the very best customer service in the US among airlines.  That’s because their agents are empowered to do what it takes to make the customer happy.  Empowering front line staff to make things right goes a long way to having good customer service.

I can’t imagine such an incident happening on Southwest, JetBlue, or Alaska Airlines mainly because staff on those airlines are empowered to make decisions.

2.   Higher Incentives

I used to take “bumps” or compensation for $300 and a later flight when I was younger.  I value my time more now, so even $800 would not entice me to give up my seat.

But I probably would give up my seat for $2,000!  Paying the extra $1,200 is much better than all the negative publicity surrounding this incident.

3.   Empathy

I see a lack of empathy in how this situation was handled by United Airlines.  Understandably, the passenger did not want to leave after being boarded on the plane and was irate.

Instead of demanding that the passenger leave and threatening him, United Airlines and Law Enforcement could have empathized (ex. “I hear you’re angry that you have to leave the plane.”) with the passenger.

6 Shockingly Simple Changes To Avoid Another United Fiasco

United Airlines Customer Dr. David Dao Was Violently Removed From His Seat. Multiple Mistakes Caused This Incident. But the Worst Might Be Lack of Human Compassion

Sure, this would have taken 20 to 30 minutes, but empathy and negotiation would have yielded a kinder, compassionate, and more humane, alternative.

4.   Outsourcing Customer Service to Law Enforcement

This was a customer service issue, which United Airlines turned over to Law Enforcement.  United could have resolved this issue instead of turning it over to law enforcement.

The passenger stood his ground and refused to leave, as many folks would, because he had a ticket, paid the amount, and was seated in the plane.

5.  Business Decisions  

United Airlines makes a business decision to overbook flights.  The consequence of this decision which United makes after lots of analysis and discussion, is that sometimes you may not be able to fly crew if all seats are taken and that you may have to pay compensation for folks to vacate seats.

United wanted the benefits of overbooking (increased revenue) and when a situation arose – which likely could have been peacefully resolved by paying additional compensation – they refused to pay and called law enforcement to remove the passenger.

I’d like to think that in the US, we don’t call armed policemen to resolve business issues, unless it is absolutely necessary.

6.  Special Training for Law Enforcement at Airports

Airports are stressful places and passengers are sleep deprived, jet lagged, tired.

And sometimes it is their first visit to the US where local customs are different.  Law Enforcement at airports should be specially trained to deal with passengers in a peaceful manner and using techniques much different from what is traditionally used.

Bottom Line

I felt sad and disappointed by how United Airlines and Law Enforcement handled the situation on Flight 3411.

However, the gift from that incident is that airlines have already started changing policies so it is very unlikely that a similar situation will occur again.

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22 responses to “6 Shockingly Simple Changes to Avoid Another United Fiasco

  1. The flight wasn’t overbooked. It was full and 4 crew from another airline needed to travel for work the next day. You should see some of the coverage on the legality of removing a seated passenger in a non overbook situation.

    • What United could’ve done is get a rental for those 4 FAs to get to Louisville. It’s a 4 hour drive from Chicago. Hell, UA can afford to pay one of their staff overtime to drive those FAs.

  2. Stanley Hoffman

    The CAP are more like mall cops than actual sworn LEO. Unarmed, no uniforms, $10.50 an hour., apparently untrained or at least poorly trained. One has to wonder if Dr. Dao thought that these three men had any legal status. Also, it appears the gate agent was in charge, not the flight crew.

  3. Richard Paverd

    Cannot agree more that it was handled appallingly.
    The fact that the cabin crew followed procedures and when the passenger refused an instruction to leave the aircraft, followed by calling airport security and police highlights the lack of flexibility and authority given to cabin and ground crew.

    The damage to the public perception of United (but really, it could have been any airline where the policies are cast in stone and the staff have no flexibility) and to United States (240 million views of the video in China – and that was a few days ago) is massive.

    The good part of it, however, is that it will NEVER, EVER re-occur. Yes people will be bumped off flights – overbooking is a normal airline business process, but we will see far more flexibility and options available to those who are “re-allocated” – and definitely before boarding! There are occasions when I would happily give up my first class seat in exchange for $3,000 for example….!

  4. Eileen Kerrigan

    “United wanted the benefits of overbooking (increased revenue),” but didn’t want to accept the consequences: I think that sums it up perfectly.

    If they want to gamble with overbooking, then they’d better be prepared to pay out the wahzoo when it doesn’t work out in their favor. And removing paying customers purely for the airline’s convenience shouldn’t even be an option.

    Overbooking is a problem of the airline’s creation, done out of sheer greed. What other seat-selling venue does this? No concert hall books two people into a seat. Restaurants don’t expect patrons to sit on other diners’ laps, two to a chair, or kick out a seated, paying customer. The practice is inexcusable, but if the airlines ARE going to do it, it’s up to them to pay the price — not us.

  5. No one mentions the passengers obligations here. As poorly as this was handled by the Airline and the Police, once you are instructed to do something by a flight crew, you just need to do it. Once he refused to do as instructed, this was not going to end well for him. We have seen folks dragged off flights many, many times in the past so we know it will happen whenever an order is disobeyed. Remember it is their airplane. Get off the flight and then get irate, yell and scream and sue if you want to. He shares responsibility in all of this as well as United and the Police.

    • I understand where you’re coming from but, at least in the context of this situation, the passenger did not legally have to comply. Sure, you should follow crewmember instructions… as long as they’re legally empowered to give them. The flight was already boarded and everyone seated in their respective paid seats. The approach taken by UA crew in this instance was unlawful on multiple accounts (too lazy to cite all the facts but they’re easy enough to find at this point). Anyway, I respectfully disagree with any notion that the passenger remotely shares the same responsibilities as the UA crew and law enforcement involved, when his legal rights were being egregiously infringed.

    • I fully agree with you. Lack of respect for law enforcement officers is at the heart of this.

    • Finally some common sense.

  6. I don’t know why people keep sided with UA saying the flight was overbooked. It was NOT overbooked… Everyone already boarded than they decided to put their crew in and took 4 passingers off. If the flight was overbooked, you can NOT get your boarding pass and seat assignment.
    DOA only has the rules for overbook flights but in this case… UA did was wrong and illegal.

  7. The other part of this story is that apparently where the employees needed to go was only a four hour car ride. Why wouldn’t they look into other ways of getting them there like renting a car rather than lose the revenue and all of the negative press.

    • As a 31 year crew member, I have deadheaded on hundreds of flights. I have only been transported by vehicle ONCE when all flights were grounded during a blizzard in 1986, and that was only 70 miles. This is just not an option an airline considers when repositioning crews. Have I bumped paying passengers off? Absolutely, many times, especially after a big storm- but we were ‘must ride’ and it was handled before the flight was boarded- that is the difference!

      • Margaret – Your logic is flawed. A non-revenue United employee is never “Must Ride” over a paying passenger. In the end if a paying passenger isn’t given enough incentive to get off as a volunteer (which they typically would), they have priority over a non-revenue United employee. Oscar Munoz sent us an email last night which was sad in that it was too late and far too weak in its approach. His only real suggestion was to require crews to book 60 minutes in advance?? Really?? Come on Oscar! You are a CEO, take a stand, put your customers first, empower your employees to do the same and make this right.

        Dear Mr. Ed,

        I’ve heard a lot of understandable anger and disappointment from customers and, as one of our most valued customers, I wanted to be sure you heard directly from me.
        The awful event that occurred on Flight 3411 has elicited many responses from our customers: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments. For me personally, I’d add shame. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
        In addition to offering my profound apologies to the customer forcibly removed, as well as all the passengers aboard that particular flight, I also offer my sincere apology to you for not living up to the values you expect of us.
        Our customers’ satisfaction must be the center of everything we do and your opinion of our service is the measure of our success. We know we did not measure up, and for that we will redouble our efforts to earn your trust.
        This situation has provided a humbling learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to make this right so nothing like this ever happens again.
        First, United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security. Second, crews traveling on our aircraft must book at least 60 minutes prior to departure. Third, we will fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first. Our values will guide everything we do. We’ll communicate the results of our review and the concrete actions we will take by April 30.
        You expect more from us and I promise we can and will be better. I am committed to putting proof behind our promise.
        Thank you for granting us the opportunity to re-earn your trust.
        Oscar Munoz
        Oscar Munoz
        United Airlines
        [email protected]

  8. Mr. Dao could have avoided all these problems had he shown respect for law enforcement officials. When you choose to resist arrest you suffer the consequences. I think Mr. Dao is more at fault than anyone. This incident underscores the current notion that citizens do not have to respect for law enforcement officers and this is unfortunate. It leads to these kinds of incidents. Where is the outcry for resisting arrest?

    • The outcry for resisting arrest is back in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Maoist China where it belongs. The United States is a democracy; the police exist to serve the people, not the other way around. That means the police hold their cool even when someone is resisting arrest, mouthing off or frankly even when they are acting like an idiot. If you resist arrest or strike an officer you should be prosecuted for it, but not bludgeoned for it. The police are public servants, not government or corporate thugs; it is high-time they acted like it.

    • What resisting arrest? Dr Dao was not being arrested. He was being removed from the plane. And from some analysises I’ve seen probably being removed illegally. They also seem to have been operating outside their authority.

      The idea that a citizen is wrong when he opposes a quasi police officer who oversteps his authority is what needs to go. A police offficer overstepping his authority deserves no respect. Caution yes, because he can mess you up, but the same caution that you give a mugger.

    • Stanley Hoffman

      The Chicago Aviation Police are not law enforcement officials. They are private security contracted by the City of Chicago. They are unarmed, not uniformed, have no powers to make arrests. In my opinion they are just muscle not actual police.

  9. The compensation should and must be in the form of cash or vouchers without expiration date.
    Let’s call Congress to change or make new laws with your 6 changes and cash compensation.

    • Stanley Hoffman

      You have the right to demand cash already. No expiration vouchers are worthless if never want to fly United again.