Beating Up a Doctor on a United Flight Was Terrible… Was It Unavoidable?

I wrote earlier about a doctor who was dragged off a United Express flight last night when the airline needed to transport crew instead of four passengers. He needed to get to work at a hospital the next day. United, though, needed crew in place in Louisville.

In this case it doesn’t appear that United sold more tickets than seats, rather they discovered for operational reasons they couldn’t carry as many passengers as expected. They needed to position crew at the flight’s destination.


    Credit: @Tyler_Bridges

What I wanted to explore here, though, is a comment from reader neversink,

You buy a ticket. You should be guaranteed a seat. Overbooking should be illegal. And if the airline wants people to leave, they should up the ante to the market rate until someone takes the offer. Whatever it takes. Even if it takes $20,000 to get someone off the plane. The airlines play this game at the passengers inconvenience. It’s time the airlines were inconvenienced.

Why Airlines Overbook

While there wasn’t an oversale in this situation, most airlines in North America will sell more seats than they can carry passengers. They use historical information to determine how many passengers are likely not to show up for a flight. They want each seat to go out with a passenger in it.

Maybe they figure passengers are likely to oversleep a Sunday morning flight out of Las Vegas, so they can transport home those passengers that do make it to the plane. Passengers that oversleep expect to stand by on a later flight (either free or for a fee). Either way, an empty airline seat is a spoiling resource.

Airlines are pretty good at guessing these things, taking data like when the flight is and how far in advance tickets were purchased. And indeed they’re getting better, the rate of denied boardings has been on the decline over the past two decades. (In 2000, 0.21% of passengers were denied boarding (voluntary and involuntary) by the largest US airlines. In 2015, 0.09% were.)

You might think airlines shouldn’t overbook, sell each seat one time. But if that were the case airlines wouldn’t really be able to allow passengers the freedom to switch flights at will either on refundable tickets or merely by paying a change fee. Show up 15 minutes late for the airport, buy a new ticket.

What Does it Even Mean Not to Overbook?

If an airline sells exactly the number of seats they have on a plane, they still may not be able to accommodate everyone. Sometimes weather requires the plane to take on more fuel, and so they have carry fewer passengers (weight and balance issues can even affect a widebody aircraft).

And the number of seats on a plane itself can seem somewhat arbitrary. American Airlines has more seats on a Boeing 777 than Cathay Pacific does, so American is more likely to be unable to carry as many passengers as the plane has seats on Los Angeles – Hong Kong than Cathay is.

Is American overbooking by selling each seat on their plane, knowing that sometimes heavy winds on the long flight could cause challenges?

If Airlines Couldn’t Overbook, Had to Sell Fewer Seats, Prices Would Be Higher

You may not like the idea of overbooking, but denied boardings are rare. And the flexibility to do it means that the airline has more seats to sell.

Ban overbooking and that’s fewer seats being sold. That means higher costs per passenger (since you’re spreading the costs over fewer ticket sales). And quite simply, holding demand for seats constant reducing the quantity of seats supplied raises their price.

But Shouldn’t Airlines Spend More Time Seeking Volunteers?

It often seems that airlines should work harder to find volunteers to take a bump in exchange for compensation, instead of involuntarily denying boarding to passengers who have to get where they’re going. Maybe the airline only offered $200 or $400 in vouchers, why not $600 or $800 in cash especially when they’ll be on the hook to pay out to passengers involuntarily bumped. Should the airline here have been forced to keep upping the ante to $2000 or $5000?

Except that the time spent doing this might cause even bigger problems. Or at least it’s reasonable for the airline to think ex ante that it might.

  • Delaying a flight even a little could cause crew to time out and the whole flight to cancel
  • Government may have given the plane a very specific takeoff time (air traffic control) and if they miss their window the flight could be substantially delayed or even cancelled
  • A late flight might cause passengers to misconnect with their next flight and be stranded
  • And late arriving crew would delay other flights
  • Or crew might be required to sleep in the next day to meet legal minimum rest requirements

There are No Guarantees in Air Travel

JetBlue doesn’t overbook their flights but saw a big spike in involuntary denied boardings. It turns out they had to substitute small aircraft on a number of occasions, which had fewer seats than the original planes.

Weather cancels flights. Mechanical issues cancel flights. Airline IT meltdowns cancel flights.

A friend had her Delta flights cancelled three days in a row last week (on day two we got her a United flight using miles that Delta had said was unavailable, no time to argue over a rebooking).

Sometimes flights are delayed and you don’t make your connection, and sometimes those connections are the last flight of the day — or even the week.

Air travel is complicated, and subject to the whims of mother nature, the skills of the airline, and the vagaries of chance.

Unfortunately you have to roll with it, and if you really really need to be somewhere you need to build in a cushion (something my friend on Delta did, flying to Los Angeles a day and a half early, but with Delta’s operational problems this last week and their personnel and IT failures it simply still wouldn’t have been enough).

What Should the Doctor Have Done? And How Should United Have Reacted?

In this case the flight was delayed, and the situation went bad. It’s reasonable for an outside observer to think the police should have found a less confrontational way to work with the passengers who were ordered to get off the plane than to drag them off and bloody them!

In fact that’s my hunch, fully realizing that we only have seen video of what happened once the man was being dragged off and not what happened leading up to that.

However when an airline orders you off the plane, you need to follow instructions even if it sucks. You could face criminal charges for failing to do so. You could wind up in Guantanamo and frankly no one wants to be water boarded…

If the passenger had gotten off the plane, they still could have made it to the hospital the next day albeit more worse for wear. There was a later Chicago – Louisville flight on United — and also on American (if they’d hurried) — although it’s not clear United would have put them on it. It would have been a 4.5 hour drive but a rental car is possible. It would have been ~ $300 with UberX. These options are all bad but it’s better than being dragged off by cops and bloodied.

Sometimes there are no good options so you look for the least bad. That’s basically never confronting crew and then confronting police. Confrontations with police can end badly not in an airport. In an airport the stakes are even greater, and this situation could have become worse than it did.

While the police probably could and should have done better, in some sense the man got lucky.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. You think that beating up or possibly knocking a passenger unconscious was unavoidable? Seriously?

  2. Gary, you are saying that beating up a passenger, possibly knocking him unconscious, was unavoidable? Seriously? I will tell you what I think it was. I think it was a terrifying act of violence against an innocent person! Horrifying actually!

  3. Stop making excuses for incompetent United Airlines management. Increasing the offer for passengers to voluntarily give up their seats takes all of 30 seconds. Just have keep going up by $100 every 10 seconds until someone rings their call button.

  4. Bullshit bullshit bullshit!!! This was a situation entirely created by United and when the employees couldn’t resolve it they escalated the situation because they never bothered to make a Plan B. There was only a single solution they would accept and it ended up assaulting a paying passenger. This is ENTIRELY on the company.

  5. Unavoidable? Really? Why him? Why not the lady across the aisle? Why not the 12 year old seated 3 rows away? This is bullshit. The man was not being irrational, he was not threatening anyone and violence was COMPLETELY avoidable. You are an idiot.

  6. Overbooking shouldn’t have to be an unavoidable fact of the industry. Southwest? Jet Blue?

  7. Frank, whether the Doctor has a past criminal record is not what this whole debacle is about! We are not here to pass judgement on the Doctor’s past! This is about any human being to be treated in this disrespectful manner.

  8. Gary, you drank the cool-aid and all you can provide is excuses. News flash: Every business is complicated. Is United so incompetent that is can not figure out how to serve all of it’s customers? Last I heard legitimate businesses don’t have the police beat up their customers, even when they disagree or fail to do as asked. They make it worth the customers trouble to go along. You saved a couple hundred dollars by not willing to pay for someone to get off. I hope you lose millions because of the incident. I will never again fly United and I hope thousands more will do the same.

  9. This mentality is incredibly disgusting. You assume the structure of a business is an excuse to interfere with basic decency and fairness. If the airline industry shocks the general public with their motive and performance of despicable acts, it aint society and decency that have to yield. Everyone from a five year old child to an economics major can instantly understand how incredibly awful this situation is, and how any industry that has gotten to the point where a man who has paid for his ticket in good faith is told to rearrange his life and potentially the lives of the sick, for the purpose of an airline maintaining their financial quota. If this is the airline industry as it must be, then we must all learn to drive and take trains, as this is fundamentally counter to our ideals as capitalists, customers, and above all else, people.

    I challenge you to examine your life and career, ask yourself if you are an apologist for a tone deaf and greedy industry. I believe this article in its entirety is a major indication of this error. If you feel that in some way you are, I encourage you to do the right thing, call an injustice an injustice, and apologize for describing the beating of a paying customer for refusing to be moved as “unavoidable”. If you feel this article is still justified, then I encourage others to remember the name of Gary Leff, and to never let his erroneous points take root without a challenge for the sake of ethical responsibility.

    Good day.

  10. We are supposed to plan better and leave a cushion. Sure. It looks like United was the poor planner here when they had to get a crew to another location at apparently the last minute. United chose their needs over their customers’. Plain and simple. Not a great business model.

  11. > They want each seat to go out with a passenger in it.

    No, they’d actually prefer to maximize the number of tickets sold and minimize the number of people on the plane. Greater income and lower fuel costs.

    An empty seat might be a sign they didn’t sell that seat enough times, but that’s a distinctly different issue.

    People have a gut instinct that selling the same resource to two different people is wrong. Honesty would mean selling something other than a “ticket” to budget travelers who are buying something more like a bus ticket (Greyhound will get you there, but you have virtually no guarantees on timeline or actual bus).

    Airlines want to have it both ways — selling something that gives the illusion of certainty (a flight number and even seat assignment) while using the fine print to defend a practice that abuses the language and the less sophisticated. When an industry that used to be exclusive moves to be mass market (as illustrated by dropping ticket prices), it needs to use language readily understood by its customers.

    I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s rental car reservation turned out to be something less than “reserved”.

  12. Your article reads with a slight undertone of victim blaming. Just so you know. If it was intentional, you should check yourself and try to empathize with this patron who purchased a ticket and had every right to stay on that flight and be provided the service he paid for! I’m a little woman and watching this video thinking this could possibly happen to me, or my father or mother is mortifying! This video is deeply disturbing. My heart breaks for that man and I hope he his not only compensated, but vindicated!

  13. Dear Mr. Leff,

    I am hoping that you can explain to me how “the man got lucky.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a complete lack of humility in my lifetime. Additionally, I am curious as to how long it took you to craft this blog post that is rampant with contradictions and lacking an overall structure – with the beginning stating this was not due to over booking only to be followed with a rambling set of loosely coherent quasi-factoids about why overbooking exists. Perhaps my favorite is the third from last paragraph where you highlight the alternate options for the displaced passenger. If those options were so feasible, one must ask oneself why the four crew members didn’t select one of those very options. I by all means hope you are are somehow affiliated with United airlines or are receiving something in return for whatever it is that I just read.

    Perhaps most obvious is your place of privilege established by your bio on here. If that information it is in fact true, it is likely that you are an elite member of this and many airlines, and therefore you would not be able to relate to this passenger because the “random computer selections” do not select elite members.

    If you made it this far, would still love to learn more about how this man got lucky.

  14. I just wished that poor man were your mama. An old Asian man being dragged off a plane… Shame on you AA. Never again. I have used this airline for years. I will never allow my parents and rest of my family use AA ever again. They will be discriminated and attacked. WOW

  15. I have to laugh at all of these comments. Was every single person who has commented, on the aircraft and knows every detail of what happened? OR did they just watch a 10 video and read social media and formulate their opinions? If the passengers were so concerned about this man, why didn’t one of them volunteer for him? Maybe you all need to stopping flying commercial airlines because they all have the same business faults and practices and find other means for your future travel. Also, did you all know Delta had authorities drag a woman of a flight in December?. Google it if you do not believe me.

  16. I just wished that poor man were your mama. An old Asian man being dragged off a plane… Shame on you. Never again. I have used this airline for years. I will never allow my parents and rest of my family use United ever again. They will be discriminated and attacked. WOW

  17. Actions speak louder than words. The fact the author hasn’t responded indicates he acknowledges his mistake writing this article… Or this blog prohibited him to do so

  18. Well airline works in service industry, although said points above maybe true, i believe there is customer protection law or act somewhere out there and since he didnt violate any rules, telling him to go, beating and dragging him is not in anyway acceptable

  19. “you could end up in Guantanamo and frankly no one wants to be waterboarded”??????

    I cannot believe I am reading this!!!!!!!!

  20. How do you think it would go over, if say the Metropolitan Opera sold more tickets than they had seats for a performance? Or if they said “we need your seat for our staff, so you will have to leave?” In any other industry, this would be preposterous. Time for a culture change, methinks.

  21. One thing to mention that everyone seems to be overlooking. United personnel did not drag the man down the aisle. They only called authorities to assist in removing the man from the aircraft. How the rest played out is on the passenger and authorities shoulders.

  22. While some interesting points made, I found this biased and predisposed to victim blaming.

    The fact remains, United could have pulled any flight crew member from anywhere across the USA to cover that other flight. They have thousands of cabin crew, but rather than allocate a different crew, they chose to forcibly evict (don’t even think to suggest volunteering in this case, as clearly that definition did not apply) their paying passengers, who were ALL boarded and IN their allocated seats and ready to taxi.

    United should have resolved this issue prior to boarding passengers. They would have known they had crew on stand-by. Why they didn’t account for them is United’s problem. You do NOT board passengers THEN think to ask for volunteers. This is miss-management on a grand scale on United’s behalf.

    Using the premis that flights would cost more is irritating. Airlines make millions, even billions, in revenue and profit from US, the paying customers, so there realistically is no reason why the flights should cost more.

    We seem to have no rights as customers, even though we are sold a ‘confirmed’ ticket with an allocated seat. As someone mentioned, the fine print shatters that illusion as you can be ‘bumped’ at the airlines discretion. For their lack of managment. This is unreasonable. You have paid for your seat and a service, therefore you expect that seat and service to be provided, as per your plans.

    There is NO justification for treatment like this. That Poor gentleman deserved better. As paying customers, we all deserve better from airlines and if anything, this highlights changes that need to be made to the industry.

  23. It appears to me that most of the comments seem to forget that the passenger was asked to leave the aircraft by law enforcement officers. Regardless of the reason , he must accept some responsibility for his own actions. You can hardly refuse an order to leave an aircraft, be warned that if you refuse that you will be forcibly removed and then complain about the consequences.

  24. Seriously?!!! So let me see, so if I buy something and paid for it and the seller decides they want it back, so because the seller said because it’s in their terms to take back the item that I already paid for, I must give it back or they will take it from me forcefully? Hmm…the word stealing comes to mind so I thought I double just check the dictionary:

    steal
    stēl/
    verb
    1.
    take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.

    Just because they stated in their policy they can steal doesn’t make stealing right. So don’t give me your b.s. about how it’s unavoidable and THEIR rights to kick off a customer who paid for the seat and how his seat can be taken away. That’s he definition of a thief

  25. I agree with concerned citizen.

    I didn’t see a united airline agent involved in this video.

    United called for assistance and the way the rest of it played out was on the customer and authorities.

  26. Airline rag stepping up on the apologist narrative, no surprises here. Did you really just write that if someone doesn’t get off the plane they could be sent to Guantanamo, with a casual reference to water boarding? WTF!? Quarterly profits are not more important than human decency.

  27. Thank you, Gary, for such a clear, logical and rational assessment of the situation. I wish that more people thought more rationally rather than reacting so emotionally to these types of situations. Keep writing.

  28. While it is a shocking incident, I am not surprised. The service at United Airlines is getting worse lately. I recall the incident happened with me and my wife on the 12 hours flight. We were refused to be given vegetarian food by the reason that we did not warn the airline company 24 hours before flight. As a matter of fact, I have called twice – first when the booking has been done and the second time before leaving USA on our trip. The flight attendants completely ignored our request. Their behavior has been rude and outrageous and without a trace of sympathy. Finally they brought us a piece of bread and the leftovers of salads, leaving us hungry and most of all – humiliated.
    When I placed a complained upon arrival, they offer us 5k bonus miles as a compensation for the “inconvenience”. United is the worse company in the whole world.

  29. I find that in most large companies today, sometimes things don’t happen exactly like they should. Some companies are worse than others; however, we are responsible for our own self interests and we should plan accordingly. If I was a vegetarian about to board a 12 hour flight, I would plan ahead on the off chance that someone at the airline made a mistake and didn’t board by vegetarian meal. I would perhaps buy a vegetarian sandwich or carry on some vegetarian snacks in case there is nothing for me to eat onboard that long flight. People make mistakes and we should expect things like this to happen instead of assuming that everything is going to happen perfectly every time.

  30. You deserve whatever happens to you. It doesn’t matter, police or not, you should stand for your rights, or those pretty police cops would abuse their power.

  31. I’m with you Gary. What happened to the other three passengers? Who knows, they were adults, got up and left the plane, as adults do in situations like this.

  32. Sorry, I take issue with a few of your comments:

    “You might think airlines shouldn’t overbook, sell each seat one time. But if that were the case airlines wouldn’t really be able to allow passengers the freedom to switch flights…”
    Years ago, no change fee. Able to change flights any time, including same day, with no fee. Not sure about overbooking but I never saw it (albeit very young so didn’t fly much).

    “Ban overbooking and that’s fewer seats being sold. That means higher costs per passenger (since you’re spreading the costs over fewer ticket sales).”
    Amazingly, prices weren’t bad and the airlines still made $ and prices didn’t go up.

    What it all boils down to is greed. Airlines can screw us every which way and we have no recourse. If we don’t show up for a flight, we’re dinged. If they don’t fly, we’re dinged. Ask a flight attendant a simple question and you are trouble maker and you better watch out–you can be arrested.

    On the other hand….Not saying that United was right, but I am tired of the entitlement mentality that says screw you to everyone else. “I’m a doctor and I have to get home to patients.” Why is his time more valuable than anyone else on that flight? Oh wait, it’s not. Everyone is busy and needs to be somewhere or do something. And that goes to anyone who feels so entitled.

  33. Airlines have no right to accost a paying customer especially when he as a doctor was due at work. I dare say he had a right to stay. This airline should have used the CEO’s private plane to take passengers rather than inconvenience any traveler. Shame on them. I hope the doctor sues them for this debacle.

  34. @Lauren so there are several problems with that.

    1. deregulation was done in 1978 during the carter administration
    2. deregulation primarily means that airlines just set their own schedules and prices now
    3. the regulated era largely protected the profits of airlines
    4. involuntary denied boardings are down substantially since deregulation (from ~ 150k per year to 46k per year, despite many more passengers flying)

  35. Having read many pages of ranting, I finally felt compelled to give my two cents worth.

    On the surface, it does seem like United had a world of alternatives that would have prevented this whole scenario from starting. Of course, none of us has access to all the contextual information that might have led them to the course of action they took. Something that comes up in my employment…bad choices, unknown info, whatever….we’re here at this point right now….how do we solve the problem from this point. Should it have been handled differently….maybe. But they were in the position they were in….and this was how they chose to address it. They broke no laws, it’s their plane and their business. However, for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead say that United totally botched the whole situation. That’s ONE of the two isolated incidents that took place. Yes, one led to the other, but was it the cause? None of that got this person beaten.

    The second incident is the beating of this person. (Please note, I’m leaving out race, gender, profession, etc…because it’s NOT relevant.) There is a person on the plane who is not complying with instructions and who’s behavior is interfering with the operation of PUBLIC transportation. The person’s behavior is now affecting not jut the fellow passengers on his plane, but, potentially, passengers on other planes. How do we know someone on that plane doesn’t have a more important reason to be somewhere? If this type of behavior happens while in the air, they land the plane and have the passenger removed. It does happen…and it should happen. This person’s refusal to comply was the problem. Security professionals were brought in to remove him. Should this person have been bloodied? Was it excessive? That will be determined…and not by United.

    The amount of vitriol being voiced here is amazing to me….and it seems to come from an inability to distinguish distinct events.

  36. Your analysis of the situation overlooks the fact that this was a commercial dispute. The passenger and the airline had all of the elements of a contract, offer, acceptance, and consideration. This was a civil dispute about specific performance of the contract.

    United Airlines chose and was incorrectly allowed to bring the power of the state in the form of sworn law enforcement officers to enforce their interpretation of the contract. This was possibly illegal and certainly unjust.

    For too long we have assigned extraordinary powers to airlines in the name of safety and security. We all have every right to be safe and secure when we fly, but the airline does not have the right to abuse that power to achieve their own commercial goals.

    The aircraft was fully booked. United Airlines benefited from maximizing their yield on the aircraft. Someone made a mistake and didn’t reserve seats that United wanted for their own operational purposes. United made the mistake and should have born the cost of correcting their mistake, either through incentives or other transportation.

    As a society we must now allow ourselves to be complacent and, in your words compliant, with those who would violate our rights.

  37. @Ben, I’m assuming you’re responding to me…and I appreciate the discussion. It beats all the yelling that was going on.

    Please understand, my intent wasn’t to absolve United of responsibility or imply that they did things right. How they managed it certainly seems out of place. It was a decision made by someone in their staff which doesn’t reflect well publicly and that will affect their business. I do believe it’s their choice how they are going to manage (or mismanage) their customer relationships and the consequences/obligations associated with those choices. The point I was trying to make was that it was separate from the actions of the passenger.

    I also don’t mean to imply complacency should be the norm. But I do question where the line gets drawn between right and wrong. Do I think he should have been complacent? No, of course not, but I also don’t think that’s the same thing as giving up his seat. He should have gotten up and demanded every dime due to him for not getting him where he needed to be when they said. Or, he could have plead his case to see if someone on the plane would please volunteer in his place. He made the choice not to do that…and the situation escalated to security (I don’t think it was technically “law enforcement”). At that point, though, to me, it crosses a line. Respecting authority isn’t the same as complacency.

    I’m not a lawyer and I’m not going to pretend I read all the fine print that goes along with buying an airline ticket…probably wouldn’t understand it all if I did. I look at airlines this way. I pay for passage from point A to point B. Their obligation is to get me from A to B in a timely fashion or compensate me appropriately if they do not. To further that cause, I choose not to do anything that interferes with their operation or the other passengers on the plane. Is that complacency? Is it giving up my rights? To me, it’s not. It’s respecting their authority. It’s not my right to be on their plane.

  38. @Objectivity of course the passenger could have simply gotten up and left the plane as the other three passengers did. If I had been that passenger I would have reluctantly left my seat and then raised holy hell.

    The key point here is that the passenger was not legally obligated to vacate their seat. The passenger paid for transportation, was assigned a seat, and was ready on a timely basis. The passenger was most likely on a non-refundable ticket which means that the passenger would not have received a refund if they decided not to travel. United Airlines was trying to have it both ways, the passenger must pay to travel, but United was trying reserve the right to only provide the contracted service if they felt like it.

    I read an analysis by an aviation law attorney who read all 45 pages of United Airlines Conditions of Carriage. I imagine this must have take the attorney several hours. This attorney could find no provision in 45 pages that comprehended permitting United Airlines to remove a seated passenger. Even if United inserts this language into a new 46th page in the future, it still isn’t just.

    All the rest of us in the real world are required to live up to our commitments. Why should United Airlines be any different?

    Overbooking is a strategy airlines use to maximize their “yield,” meaning their revenue per flight. The airlines are betting they will collect fares from more passengers than actually show up to fly. Nothing wrong with this practice per se except when it doesn’t work out, it should be on the airline to make it right. United Airlines involuntarily refuses boarding to more passengers than any other airline because they try to minimize the compensation to passengers. Why should we reward this practice?

    This case wasn’t even overbooking. Someone made a mistake. The plane was already boarded and then United decided it was in their best interests to put their employees on the flight. That is fine, but United needs to bear the cost of that decision, not the hapless passenger. Pay what it takes to get passengers to voluntarily deplane or arrange another aircraft or ground transportation for the ground crew.

    This was a civil dispute about performance under a contract and United Airlines had no right to bring law enforcement into their customer service issues. It is telling that United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz now says United will abandon this practice.

    The passenger did us all a favor by bringing long overdue attention to United Airlines abysmal record of consistently failing to do the right thing for customers.

    United Airlines second value listed under the “Shared Purpose is “We Fly Friendly…Warm and welcoming is who we are….” Do you feel United stuck to their shared purpose in this case or did they cravenly focus on minimizing the cost of their mistake, customer be damned?

  39. @Ben…I have a little bit of trouble with “customer be damned”….in that the customer was involuntarily displaced. If they don’t get him to his destination within four hours, by law he’s entitled to four times his ticket cost…up to a max amount. So in that view, he’s not damned if he gets off the plane. Perhaps I can agree on “happy customer be damned.”

    Do I think they were trying to minimize cost? Of course they were! Just like you and I or any business would do…or as this passenger (likely) did to get himself in a position to be randomly selected….cheapest ticket he could get. Isn’t that what we all want? This goes back to my first post. None of us knows all the details of what went into their decision to do this. Maybe there was a mistake made with those four employees. Or, maybe they were late arriving for their connection because something earlier in the day was overbooked. Maybe, the least cost option was to upend and offend these four customers rather than upending 200 people on the flight those four were trying to get to. If they cancel the next flight, then there’s 200 people damned…or crammed on to another flight. I can’t confirm any of these points, by the way…just making a case that they may have been choosing between 4 upset customers and many, many more. As I’ve said, the public appearance makes it seem like they had plenty of ways around this, but there may be other factors or laws that come into play that forced them. If they do it wrong enough times, they won’t be in business….so I feel like that takes care of itself. Everyone can choose not to fly United if they believe United was totally in the wrong. I’m not defending them…only stating that I don’t feel I’m in a position to judge the choice they made.

    We’ll have to let a legal team decide the actual terms of the contract. My interpretation is clearly different from yours, and that’s ok. I could be wrong. With that said, if it’s not an agreement to get you from A to B, then there’d never be a way to adjust anyone’s schedule due to mechanical problems, weather, a different seat, exit rows, whatever. If you were buying a seat, they’d be free to screw you over by having a mechanical failure and then not transporting you at all. It’s not good business…but hey…it’s a contract! Sorry you bought that seat!

    The other point where we differ is in the interpretation of his refusal to move. I’m understanding that you, too, would have been upset but gotten off the plane so maybe this is just beating a dead horse. Myself, I can’t get over the fact that this is their plane and their business decision to piss this customer off. Sucky, but that’s where we are. This person is now present in someone else’s property without permission. In other environments, it’s carjacking or trespassing. Sure, he has given them money…which they’re going to give him back. Does/should that matter? I would again point to a situation that happens mid-air. We’ve all heard of passengers becoming unruly and the plane making a landing to have them removed. Those people had boarded, been in their seat, and even taken off. Do you think they got their money back? Do you think they should have?

    Again, let me stress how much I’m enjoying this respectful discussion and thank you for it. I do appreciate how you’re doing that. And, I hope that this incident has brought awareness to the issue and, hopefully enlightened people on what behavior or airlines they might want to avoid.

  40. In order for businesses to be successful, they must make a profit.
    In order for them to be successful they must plan accordingly, this includes many areas including customer service.
    This is a prime example of “poor” customer service and planning.
    A failure on your part to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.
    Key here is: once these passengers were boarded, there was no danger constituting the need to disembark one, any or all of the passengers. It was purely to remedy a failure on the part of the airline, to either plan ahead or make alternate plans – as the plane was already loaded. Remember they can put their people on other airlines as well if needed and have done so.
    I have volunteered my seat several times in the past – due to overbooking (not the case here) but would’ve been less inclined if I’d already boarded the plane. If motivated by price, yes in this case I can be bought, but if the circumstances don’t work for me I’m going to say no.

    A poor example and execution of customer service here and it doesn’t matter that the police were the ones to hurt the guy. They aren’t employed by the airline, they were called by them to enforced what the airline wanted. Can’t hide behind “it’s not our fault the police ruffed him up”. Business doesn’t always get it right, but that is part of the price you pay to be in business. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you have to eat it.
    Learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them and in this case admit to it cause most of us can see you went very wrong here.

    I do agree it is fortunate that he wasn’t hurt worse, but he was far from being “lucky” – really?, that is pretty tacky that you said it.
    Perhaps you worded it wrong and meant to say it like I did.

  41. I’m curious, do you work for the airline? Because this article is ridiculous. Airlines overbook because of greed. Doctor’s offices do the same thing, and the bottom line is greed. If you not only book a seat, but get all the way to the plane and sit in your seat, you shouldn’t be ordered off because the airline doesn’t know how to book their flights. If the airline wants to get folks off the flight, they should, one-by-one, ask for volunteers and offer cash or a free flight. What happened here, and with a family not a month later, should never happen. This was inhumane and really a horrible thing. If I was that doctor, I would sue the airline for all I could get.

  42. I think that airlines should not overbook. I think they should do what Broadway theatres and concerts do. If you buy a ticket and don’t show up, you forfeit the cost of the ticket and the seats go empty. This would solve the problem very quickly.

  43. QUOTE: “Delta supervisors, who had previously been restricted to a $2,000 cap on vouchers offered to bumped passengers, can now go all the way up to $9,950.”

    So you were wrong.
    Delta CAN afford to offer more money when they bump a passenger from a seat.

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