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
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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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