I fly a lot all over the world for business and for pleasure. Lord knows I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles in my life.
I usually fly United and while I don’t always have issues, there have been times when my luggage was lost; the staff was rude; and I was saddled with inconvenient delays. Much as I was perturbed by these experiences, I usually just chalked them up to the occasional unfortunate nature of air travel.
But yesterday, I heard the story of what happened to the man who was dragged from a plane following an overbooking. I watched the video, too. And to be honest, I’m not so sure I can ever fly United again.
I understand why airlines overbook flights. Financially, it is in their best interest to do so, because of the probability that seats could be empty. An empty seat on a plane is basically the equivalent of flushing money down the toilet because it will never be something the airline can sell again. So it makes business sense to overbook flights and just bribe a passenger or two to leave the plane if that becomes necessary.
However, these passengers weren’t just booked, they had boarded and were seated. At that point, those passengers all have a right to their seats and it is the responsibility of the airline to do whatever needs to be done to entice one of the travelers to get off the plane.
What United did here was clearly a breach of the agreement made and the lengths to which they went to remove a passenger were way over the line. That passenger had every right to his seat and was flat out assaulted.
The worst part of all is the cavalier nature the CEO and company’s PR flacks showed when reacting to anger over the incident. Twenty years ago before cell phone cameras and social media, it is possible nobody would have ever even heard about this story. But now, people all over the world know about it and instead of owning up to the mistake and vowing to do whatever is necessary to make restitution to the passenger who was abused, the company dug their heels in.
Not only was this infuriating, it was also a terrible business move. United’s stock has plummeted since the incident, and I would imagine it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Which is as it should be.
United Airlines has made me very hesitant to ever use their services again and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Hopefully, they will think twice before doing anything like this again and other airlines will take notice and avoid this behavior outright. And hopefully the court will financially punish them dearly.
But in the court of public opinion, that financial punishment has only just begun.
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