Normally, I try pretty hard to avoid all “discussions” on Facebook anymore that could even slightly be construed as political, or controversial at all. Mostly pictures of travel and forests and my dog. A lot of people don’t seem to be able to handle any more than that while staying civil and tolerant. I generally haven’t ever put any of that on my blog, either, but this is a pretty long read for a FB post, so I’ll see how it goes doing a little of this kind of writing over here.
Since I fly United fairly regularly now, and was traveling by air yesterday when the news of this mess was all over social media and every TV set, I’ll toss out a few random thoughts that come to mind:
First of all, United is not my favorite airline. I do have quite a few miles piled up there, but generally I’ve had fewer delays with Delta than with United. I’m not a United fanboy, by any means. Nor am I generally inclined to apologize and make excuses for large corporations or the police when they are obviously behaving badly.
United is a big old legacy airline, and it seems like there should have been plenty of resources available to them – at one of their major hubs, no less! – to get their employees where they needed to be, without doing what they did. Even if they had to put them on a plane with no one else on it, and fly them down to KY all by themselves, that surely would have been a lot cheaper than what they did end up doing. Over $500 million in market valuation wiped off the board in one day? Whoops!
United’s screw up in deadheading their own staff is not the problem of the flying customers, and should not have to be solved on the backs of the customers. It’s only a five hour trip by car, let alone if you already own a bunch of jet airplanes. Throwing paying customers off of a flight in order to shuffle staff around seems like a really, really crappy way to run an airline. I get why airlines overbook, and I get that sometimes people will get bumped, or paid to be bumped. I understand that that is a part of the process, and I’m not criticizing that, per se.
However, this guy was already boarded and seated. I haven’t read all the rules and laws about this situation, but my impression has been that once you have scanned your boarding pass, passed through the gate, and been seated on the plane, with your bags loaded, you have to be misbehaving in some pretty dramatic manner in order to be removed from the airplane. Not just because United changed their minds after boarding you, and now wants you off. Some things I’ve read over the past couple of days seem contradictory around this issue. I don’t know what the correct, legal answer is.
I do know what it means to do decent customer service, though, and this was not that. If you need the seats for your staff, sort that out BEFORE boarding the passengers, not after. It’s got to be way easier and less likely to result in a PR disaster to piss someone off who is still OUTSIDE the gate, than to drag them off the plane, unconscious, in front of a bunch of smartphones taking video. People getting bumped from flights while waiting outside the gate happens hundreds of times a day, and is a normal part of the flying experience. Dragging someone off a plane that you already let them board? Not so much.
In the aftermath of this mess, pretty much every official statement made by United over this seems engineered to drive their credibility and stock price even lower. Everything seems to be about blaming the passenger, and I haven’t seen anything at all that resembles even a tiny little mea culpa about how this mess even started developing in the first place.
As to the passenger: Once the po-po put their hands on you, unless you plan to go down in a blaze of glory over your seat on an eighty minute commuter flight, you should recognize that you have already lost the immediate battle. You might still win the war later, with lawyers and all that jazz, but nothing good can come from violently, physically resisting at that point. They are not going to give up because you screamed at them, or struggled. Even if what they’re doing is or seems wrong. This guy was definitely well within his rights to object to how he was being treated by United, but screaming and kicking and fighting with the cops was idiotic, and the outcome was completely predictable. (And for all the idiots on social media declaring that this was “racism” because a randomly selected passenger happened to be Asian? Please just stop… )
I am not flying pro by any means, but I am a quick learner, and I work pretty hard to be a cooperative and friendly passenger. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of people holding boarding passes don’t seem to get that concept. Yesterday, for example, I witnessed nearly an entire plane load of people who just could not seem to get their shit together. Multiple people trying to board before their group was called (even AFTER multiple announcements by the gate agent NOT to try that), people dragging way too many and too large of “carry on” bags and other items along, and resisting the pleas of the gate agents to gate check the larger carry ons. Then people standing in the aisle chatting with their friends, partially unpacking and repacking their bags, and generally NOT getting seated in a timely fashion. Lady in front of me puts her bag in a mostly empty bin and then closes the bin, as if no one else would need to use that space! One mom wandering up and down the aisles while boarding was going on, trying to get other people to give up their seats so she and her teenager could sit together, and generally clogging up the process, and resisting the flight attendants’ efforts to get her seated until boarding was completed. People headed to the bathroom while the plane was trying to get pushed off from the gate, and ignoring flight attendants pleas to be seated for push-off. Then, hours later at baggage claim, people from that same flight grabbing multiple bags off the carousel and then just leaving them lay in a mess right next to the carousel while they futzed and got into bags looking for things, and then went looking for a cart while leaving their bags in the way of anyone else needing to access their bags. In short, big swaths of the flying public seem to be clueless, entitled jackasses who cannot or will not get their shit together to make things flow more smoothly for everyone around them. God bless the flight attendants who have to put up with this shit every day, and somehow refrain from dope-slapping every third or fourth customer.
And seriously, not one person booked for this $200, eighty minute flight was willing to accept $800 and a hotel voucher to get bumped? Really? They could have hopped in a rental car and still made it home that night! Or taken the hotel voucher, hopped on United 5477 the next AM and still been to their destination by 10AM. Since pretty much all my travel is for work, I do understand needing to be someplace at a particular time. But I also understand that shit does sometimes happen, and one needs to be adaptable and prepared for things to not go as planned.
Tons of people on my Facebook feed are declaring that they will never, ever fly United again, as if this problem could never have happened with any other carrier. I have to admit, that United is where most of my delays have happened over my short flying career. As I stated above, they’re not my favorite airline. But having a pile of United miles still on the books, and often needing to use United since my work would like me to book the most economical flights that meet my scheduling needs, I don’t have the luxury of saying, “never ever again!”
If it had been me? I probably would have already taken the $800 and been at the rental car agency by the time they finished boarding the flight.