United’s Culture of Indifference & My Favorite Meme About Today’s Crazy United Denied Boarding Controversy!

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The fallen roof panel. United's response was indifferent at best.
The fallen roof panel. United’s response was indifferent at best.

United Denied Boarding Controversy

By now everyone has heard of this infamous video:

It has been interesting to see the reaction of people to what happened. Most people are simply outraged that someone would be physically treated that way while others are quick to point out that United is seemingly within their rights to do this because of their Contract of Carriage. (There are quite a few other videos as well showing this incident from many different angles.)

Indeed their contract of carriage has a few provisions that address a situation like this. First there is the part that talks about when someone is involuntarily denied boarding.

Denied Boarding (U.S.A./Canadian Flight Origin) – When there is an Oversold UA flight that originates in the U.S.A. or Canada, the following provisions apply:

The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.

Then, there is a section that details when United is within their rights to remove a passenger. 

UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger for the following reasons:

Safety – Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to:

Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives

I see this as cause and effect. Since they have the right to deny boarding to anyone, it would seem United can then remove that person from the flight if they don’t comply with crewmember instructions. But is this right?

Mistakes Were Made

Clearly there were mistakes made here. Should the plane have been boarded when they knew that they still needed seats? Gate agents are often under intense pressure to get an aircraft boarded in order to keep a flight on time. This was a small plane, but it can still take awhile to board. Is this why they boarded the plane only to remove passengers or did something else cause this problem?

The Passenger’s Reaction

While United seems to be getting most of the blame for this, I have seen a number of people criticize the passenger for his behavior. Would I have made my stand there in a plane seat instead of getting off? Probably not, but I would have been pissed. I’m sure you would have been too. This man did everything right up until the incident. He purchased his ticket, checked in on time, handed the gate agent his boarding pass and got on the plane. He should have expected to fly in my opinion. I would have expected to fly.

The Police Treatment

While we do see the above video and have a number of witness accounts, it is still hard to piece together exactly what happened before the police dragged the man off of the plane. That stuff will eventually come out, but no matter what we learn, could he not have been removed in a gentler manner? Yes I know the space was tight, but the dragging of a seemingly passed out man across the floor seems a bit extreme to me. It also looks like the police escalated the situation, but again I defer complete judgement until we get more facts.

A Culture of Indifference

No matter how you feel about who was right and who was wrong in this situation, one thing is clear to me. At best, this company is totally indifferent towards their customers based on my experiences. We have seen it in cases such as the leggings controversy and in others. I learned it first hand when a ceiling panel on my flight fell to the ground and United’s response was full of boiler plate garbage. That is until they read about in on this blog and suddenly changed their tune.

I try to avoid flying United whenever I can. While some airlines like Delta and even Spirit have great employees I have found the workers on United flights to simply be either rude or in most cases indifferent. Its not that they are mean most of the time, they simply seem like they don’t care. I think this incident is just another example of that. No matter how the facts turn out or who is at fault, could more communication and a focus on how this would have affected the customer perhaps de-escalated this situation?

I know this tweet from their Twitter account about today’s incident seems indifferent.

Apologize for the overbook situation? Ok, I know this is their public Twitter account and they don’t want to admit fault or get themselves in trouble, but could that not have been worded a bit better? Oscar Munoz did release a statement a bit later which seemed a little more caring:

Favorite Meme

One of the things I love about controversies like these is that it gives us a chance to discuss the aviation industry. I think perhaps one of the greatest questions of the day has to be whether or not airlines have too much power when it comes to passengers? I’d love for you to weigh in on that and your thoughts on this entire situation. Now, I’ll leave you with my favorite meme about the entire thing. It makes me 🙂


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15 COMMENTS

  1. I think they have too much power…if you bought your seat you should be able to fly before their employees do. Rent them a car – it is only a 5 hour drive and their flight wasn’t until the next day, or put them on another carrier’s plane. Lots of things they could have done that would have been a lot easier and a lot cheaper.

  2. I dont know if I would call it “too much power” as much as “too much autonomy”. They seem to be highly lacking in accountability.

  3. It’s one thing to deny boarding to a ticketed passenger because of an overbooked flight, with appropriate compensation. But once the passenger has properly boarded and been seated, I think it is inappropriate to force him or her off the plane because it is overbooked. Obviously it is better to resolve overbookings before boarding. But once a passenger has properly boarded the plane and been seated, he or she shouldn’t be removed for no reason other than that the flight is overbooked. This situation is particularly outrageous because the passenger was forcably removed to make room for an airline employee. Instead, the airline should keep offering more money until they get sufficient volunteers to leave the plane so no one has to be removed against their will due solely to overbooking by the airline. Shame on the airline.

  4. If paid passengers had to be bumped because UA wanted to fly four employees, was the flight oversold? It doesn’t look that way. So if it wasn’t oversold, why do people have to get bumped for non paying passengers? It seems that the rules concerning a contract of carriage should not apply here. To me, it looks like UA needed to get employees from point A to B, but instead of figuring out an alternate way, they decided to inconvenience their paid customers with a corporate chokehold, and then used airport thugs to make an example for others. Well, UA is paying dearly for it now. So far today they have lost $600,000,000 in market share. Flying their employees on a private jet, or the bumped passengers would seem like a terrible expense at the time, but a great savings today. So much for the old American adage, “The customer is always right”. Penny wise and pound foolish seems to be the reality of it. This is a sad example of Americans losing their personal freedoms for the almighty company dollar. And even worse, we have become complacent with it.

  5. Shawn, there aren’t two sides to every story, and this one is a no-brainer. The victim was not involuntarily denied boarding so we’re not talking about procedures that would apply if that had happened. He was already in his seat. He was not required to follow the crew’s inappropriate order to leave the plane. It had nothing to do with safety. So instead of finding another way to solve a logistical problem of the airline’s own making, it chose to call in thugs to remove a paying passenger who presented no threat.

  6. One other thing I read on reddit was a comment by a health professional who specialized in head trauma and long story short they could have done a lot of damage dragging the guy (instead of not moving him). If he has any brain, neck or other related injuries it’s going to be hard to argue that dragging an unconscious man was within their rights even if they argue he did it to himself.

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