United Denied Boarding Controversy
By now everyone has heard of this infamous video:
— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017
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.
@EPCoan We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities. ^RD
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
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:
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
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 🙂
— Alamo Drafthouse NYC (@AlamoNYC) April 10, 2017