Thursday, April 27, 2017

And you didn’t think anything could get worse for United? Hah!

In March, PR Week named United CEO Oscar Munoz its Communicator of the Year for 2017. Since then, Communicator Munoz has had plenty of opportunity to live up to this award. Or not.

First, there was “leggingsgate”, in which some teenage friends-and-family travelers were banned from a flight because they were wearing leggings, which are okay for regular travelers but not, apparently, for those who are representin’.

Leggingsgate was jolly good fun compared to what came next, when a passenger who refused to give up a seat so that United personnel could be accommodated, was roughed up while being dragged off his flight. Big stock price dip, and big law suit in the making, on that one. And Communicator Munoz got very poor marks for how he’s been handling it. All it gave us was a new word: “reaccommodated”,which means that the airline finds another flight for passengers kicked off their original flight.

Then came yesterday’s death of a giant bunny rabbit who expired on a flight from the UK to O’Hare, on his way to his forever home. (I was going to say it was “twagic,” but I don’t know for a fact that this wabbit was cwazy. But how can I resist a comment on the name of the airport that poor Simon was flying through. O’Hare airport. Oh. Hare.)

Simon wasn’t just any old – make that young: he was only 10 months old - rabbit. He was a Giant Continental whose father, Darius, held the Guinness record as the world’s longest rabbit. And Simon, at 3 feet 5 inches long, “may have been on track to break his father’s record.” Simon had been to the flight shortly before he started his final journey and something gang very agley for him,

‘‘He had that exam three hours before he left me to go to Heathrow,’’ [owner Annette] Edwards said in a phone interview. ‘‘He then got to Heathrow, apparently, and he was fine. In Chicago he had to board to go to another flight — and that’s when I believe they found him dead.’’ (Source: Washigton Post via the Boston Globe)

The article doesn’t mention whether Simon was traveling in the hold or being hand-carried. But at 3 feet 5 inches in length, I suspect he was in the pet hold. Quite sweet, in any case, that the way Ms. Edwards spoke about Simon, it sounded as if she thought he was going to get himself on his connecting flight – perhaps with a lift from a friendly gate agent or stew. As someone who’s observed how attentively (hah!) unaccompanied minors are treated, one can imagine the care that unaccompanied pets get.

United Airlines confirmed in an e-mail that Simon had died, writing: ‘‘The rabbit has passed away, but the details surrounding that are being reviewed.’’

In a statement, United added: ‘‘We were saddened to hear this news. The safety and well-being of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team. We have been in contact with our customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter.’’

They better be reviewing the matter. What’s come out in the wash here is that United has a pretty dismal record when it comes to transporting animals. It’s rate of incidents (death, injury, loss) in 2016 was 2.11 per 10,000 animals. The industry average is 0.92 incidents per 10,000 animals. United’s is more than double. Not exactly ‘fly the pet-friendly skies.’

It must be quite terrifying for a pet to fly in an airplane hold: the dark, the noise, the confinement, the cold (or is it heat?), the lack of humans around (which pets will, of course, be used to). I wouldn’t be surprised to find that poor Simon stressed out and had a heart attack. Still, United’s got a pretty poor record with respect to animals.

What will Communicator Munoz have to say about that?

And what’s next in store for United?

A fist fight between a pilot and a steward, which turns into a passenger-involving brawl? Godzilla plucking a United jet out of the sky and munching on it? Snakes on a plane?

Forget what Trump has or hasn’t been accomplishing in his first 100 days. How about Oscar Munoz’ first 100 days since being given the Communicator of the Year award?

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