The airline industry can be one of our most dreaded foes. We all have to deal with them on some level, but after today, I’ll count my blessings for a delayed flight or two.
On Sunday evening aboard a United Airlines flight leaving Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a man was dragged from a plane in order to accommodate four United employees. United overbooked the flight, and the four stand-by United employees required seats on the plane. In other words, that plane was not taking off without these people. The flight crew invited volunteers to relinquish their seats. Monetary offers went up to $800. No takers.
Finally, a manager came on board and announced that a computer would randomly select four passengers for “re-accommodation.” One couple left voluntarily, and then the man in question came up. The man refused to leave voluntarily, declaring that he was a doctor who needed to see his patients.
United’s rules wait for no man. He was forcibly removed by security. Then, with face bloodied, he made his way back on the plane, where medical personnel were able to treat him.
The whole ordeal delayed the flight about two hours.
You can imagine the backlash that United has to deal with here. Of course the natural question here is: were they right?
Well, yes…and no. They were right, in the technical sense to remove the passenger. The Department of Transportation does have guidelines for fliers who are “involuntarily denied boarding,” as this gentleman was. Everyone’s got a price, and I’m sure this man was no exception. Whatever that price was would have been minuscule compared to the public relations disaster in which United has found itself.
How the man’s face became bloodied is another issue entirely, or that he was manhandled at all. Hopefully, he’ll receive a healthy settlement in court for such treatment.
Lest we forget, this is just two weeks after two girls were barred from boarding a flight as United employee guests for wearing leggings. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz, recently named “Communicator of the Year” by PR Week, called the event “upsetting” and expressed sincere apologies about “re-accommodating” the passenger.
Twitter was not in short supply of hot-takes. Some debated the definition of “re-accommodation,” in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Others, including Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, noted how United managed to one-up Pepsi’s PR disaster of last week, with this classic challenge: “hold my beer.”