Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What is up with United Airlines?

A few weeks back, it was the teenaged sisters who weren’t allowed to board a flight because they were wearing leggings. Turns out they were flying on an employee family pass, and United has a special dress code for family members because, even if no one knows who they are, they apparently represent. My guess is someone in this family party ticked off a gate agent – for a real or imagined reason  – and the gate agent decided to power-mouse it up and exercise some  capricious and arbitrary authority. That or the girls looked like they were going to do a pole dance mid-flight and the gate agent feared that the average passenger would be offended.

Anyway, “#leggingsgate” flared on social media for a while, with calls to boycott United, etc.

Well, now United has gone ahead and upped the ante, and in the process, upped the anti.

It all began at O’Hare on Sunday night when United was trying to resolve an overbooking situation. After the passengers were seated for a full flight, United realized they had no place to seat four United employees who had to be in Louisville for the next day. So they offered passengers $400 – later (once the flight was boarded) upped to $800. Plus an overnight hotel room, and a flight to Louisville the next afternoon. It comes as no surprise to me that there were no takers. It’s Sunday. People flying on Sunday are either a) going home and want to get there; b) need to be where they’re flying for something on Monday.

I’ve never been bumped, but I did take the offer one time. My husband and I were flying to San Diego on vacation and had a stop in Chicago. They were overbooked on the Chicago-San Diego leg, and were looking for volunteers. The offer was lunch money, an upgrade to first class, and a small (couple hundred bucks) flight voucher, in return for a six hour delay. Back in the day before you had to be at the airport two hours early, six hours meant we could take the El downtown, walk around the Magnificent Mile, and have a nice lunch. What the hell? We took the offer and made a nice old day of it. Other than the fact that it was freezing in Chicago and we were dressed for San Diego, a nice outing entirely.

Another time, on a business flight from Atlanta to Dallas, they came on and announced that, given the head winds, they wouldn’t have enough fuel to get to Dallas unless 1,800 pounds of human and baggage got off. I had to be at a meeting, so I didn’t volunteer. I don’t remember what the offer was, but they did find some volunteers and off we went.

Can’t remember which airlines these “incidents” occurred on. The SD-Chicago may well have been United. The Dallas flight was likely American. But both occurred back in the TWA and Pan Am days when all sorts of airlines were flying around.

Back to United’s latest fiasco, rather than do the economically rational thing to do, i.e., keep sweetening the pot until they found four passengers to take the offer and deplane, or suck it up and hire a private jet to fly its employees to Louisville, United invoked a fine print rule that lets them randomly select passengers to bump.

Well, it’s one thing to be bumped when you’re in the waiting area. It’s another to be bumped when you’re sitting there with your seat in the upright position, seat belt on, carry-on safely stowed, and the tray table snapped in place.

And for some reason, someone at United (actually Republic Airways, running a United Express flight) decided it was a good idea to get everyone seated before bumping. So rather than figure this all out in the waiting area, where people might get pissed off, but wouldn’t have to be forcibly pulled off, United let the passengers board and get comfy, and then announce the lucky winners of the random drawing. And what happened is that, while three of those randomly selected took the offer, one of the randomly selected passengers did a hell-no-we-won’t-go:

In a video that quickly went viral, a passenger is shown shrieking and bloodied as he was forcibly removed from an overbooked United plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Sunday night by police officers [Note: these were actually unarmed airport security personnel, not real cops]. He refused to leave the plane, saying that he was a doctor with patients to see in the morning…

In the disturbing video, fellow passengers yelled, “Oh my God, this is wrong! Look at what you’re doing to him,” as officers dragged the man down the aisle. He didn’t fight with the officers. Instead he went limp and was pulled across the floor of the plane, arms first.(Source: Boston Globe)

Maybe the doctor was being a jerk. But when it comes to siding with a jerk or the goon squad, well, we know where the sympathies are going to lie. And that is not likely to be with the not-so-friendly skies.

So, inevitably, folks began live tweeting the situation. Within 24 hours, nearly four million people had viewed the video. And, inevitably, there was insta-talk of a boycott.

It took a while, but United is all apologies for what the company’s CEO termed "an upsetting event to all of us here at United."

"I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened," United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement Monday. Munoz said the airline is trying to reach the passenger to "further address and resolve this situation." (Source: Chicago Trib)

It doesn’t help the situation any that the passenger dragged off was apparently a POC (Asian). Nor does it help that power moves on the part of “authorities”- however tin the badge and mickey mouse the authority – do seem to be disturbingly on the increase.

As for United, I’d hate to be their in-house flack or their PR firm. At least this PR nightmare has relegated #leggingsgate to a position further down the old search engine. But the real bad news is that #boycottunited is trending.

1 comment:


I think what United did was well out of bounds. Your paying passengers come first. They pay for you to have a company. I got bumped off a United flight once. I wasn't happy about it, but they made it worth my time. However, it was the double booking that upset me. I've had other issues with United (cancelling a flight to Hawaii as it wasn't 100% full- lost a full day of vacation). I avoid them now and try and fly Alaskan. In fact, I was in Spokane this Monday trying to catch an earlier flight to Portland. They had a few empty seats and it was no problem whatsoever. Good customer service is actually very easy.