United Airlines: Fly the (Un)Friendly Sky

The trigger fingers of Chicago Airport Security and their abuse of a 69 year old Asian passenger set worldwide Twitter fingers ablaze demanding justice for the perverse misconduct.  Sunday night, United Express flight 3411 out of Chicago was set to depart when the airline notified passengers that four crew members needed to promptly reach a flight departing from their destination of Louisville or it would be cancelled. 

These standby-ticket-holding crew members were given instant priority over the already boarded paying members, with the airline asking passengers to volunteer to give up their seats without initial compensation.  When that predictably and inevitably failed, United offered compensation for passengers who would offer to give up their seats on the flight, a voucher-incentive base that capped at a meager $800.

That was United’s first mistake in an astounding agglomeration of PR missteps, corporate greed, and basic lack of understanding that actual people fly with their airline, not just sacks of money carrying liquids less than 4 ounces.  Flying comes with responsibility- that itself is not open to debate- passengers are required to arrive at the airport with reasonable time to pass through security checks, to pack their belongings in accordance with TSA regulations, and to not jeopardize the safety of the crew, the aircraft, or their fellow passengers. 

In the exchange of money for airline tickets, paying customers then require a service from the airline: that they safely will get to their destination within reason of the time listed on their boarding pass (acts of nature non-withstanding), and that they will not shoulder the burden of poor planning on behalf of the airline.

It’s no surprise to anyone at an airline gate listening to their playlist carefully curated to offset the stress of traveling, interrupted by the crackled, metallic voice of the desk attendant:

“So sorry, but the flight has been overbooked. Any friendly traveler willing rebook to a later flight? It will be greatly appreciated!”  No. 

Stiff corporate appreciation does not fuel the billion-dollar aviation industry- paying customers do.  In the case of flight 3411, United made demands of their paying customers instead of incentive-based negation- they capped their voucher offers at $800 (despite the fact that per the FAA, compensation can reach up to 400% of the paid fare) and penalized the passengers, saying the aircraft would not leave until four people gave up their seat. Instead of seeking separate accommodation for their four crew members, United sought to protect the interests of their penurious policy rather than the interests of their paying passengers.

With the initial handling of the situation callous and fumbled, the events that followed can be described as nothing less than abhorrent.  Dr. David Dao was one of the four non-white passengers “randomly” selected to resolve the booking imbroglio and upon refusing to de-board the plane was forcibly removed by O’Hare airport security. Informing the crew that he was a medical doctor and needed to see patients the following morning, Dao held his ground only to be met with brutal force from the officers who literally dragged him off the plane.

Dr. Dao dragged off the plane by airport security, as seen on twitter following the incident

To make this complete bastardization of the “customer-driven” policy supposedly in place at United even worse, CEO Oscar Munoz sent a statement to his employees standing behind the chain of events that unfolded on flight 3411. 

“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”

The PR nosedive continued the following day for United and Munoz, with neither apologizing for the physical abuse of a paying customer, only awkwardly accepting responsibility for the act of overbooking.  

“Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.”

Munoz followed with:

It seems both Munoz and the PR team at United need a lesson in what, in fact “voluntarily” means. Once cannot be forced to do something voluntarily and if so, Dao volunteered to de-board the plane just as much as he willingly allowed his head to be slammed, his lip burst and his torso exposed as he was dragged through the narrow aircraft aisle.

As the outcry on social media intensified, (and a petition was created demanding his resignation) Munoz, desperate to save face issued another apology in: 

An apology that would have never been issued had it not been for the outcry of thousands disgusted by the insidious face of 21st century racism and police brutality has no clout, holds no sincerity.

According to CNN, Dr. Dao will be filing a lawsuit.

So to that, we say:

United We Stand. United we stand, with Dao-

And so @united will fall.