A common overbooking problem on a United Airlines flight on Sunday ended with a man being bloodied and dragged from his seat and an already troubled airline earning more bad press. How did it all go so wrong?
USA Today reports that the flight was not overbooked. United Airlines staff wanted to fly and apparently United Airlines chose staff over their customers:
United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said Tuesday that all 70 seats on United Express Flight 3411 were filled, but the plane was not overbooked as the airline previously reported. Instead, United and regional affiliate Republic Airlines, which operated the flight, selected four passengers to be removed to accommodate crew members needed in Louisville the next day. The passengers were selected based on a combination of criteria spelled out in Unitedâ(TM)s contract of carriage, including frequent-flier status, fare type, check-in time and connecting flight implications, among others, according to United.
Also, contrary to the entry currently pinned to the top of United Airlines' twitter.com feed from United CEO Oscar Munoz which looks sympathetic, "The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments", he told staff a completely different story:
Munoz issued his first public apology Monday but hours later sent a letter to the airline's employees lauding the behavior of the flight crew in dealing with a "disruptive and belligerent" passenger. Munoz credited employees with following established procedures on the Louisville-bound flight.
"This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused, and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help," the letter says. "While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right."
This would seem to answer the question the BBC pairs with their apparently hastily-drawn conclusion: "How did it all go so wrong?": It went wrong because United Airlines flight crew favored United Airlines staff over paying customers. None of the 4 customers asked to give up their seats should have been asked to give up their seat. Stop letting staff have privilege to fly at the expense of paying customers, apparently going so far as to assault customers. Stop taking the company's side of events seriously: Dr. David Dao, the customer dragged off of United flight 3411, wasn't "disruptive" or "belligerent". Even while being dragged, the video (easily found online) shows the worst he did was to say no (along with other passengers who saw him being dragged past them), which is completely understandable. Staff can coordinate their flight schedule, reserve a ticket, and board the plane just like everybody else apparently boarded flight 3411.
Contrary to Munoz's words in the letter, I sense United Airlines is now looking for new flight crew and a new CEO, assuming they're able to survive as a company (which I'm not sure they should be allowed to because I think we can all do with one less business that physically assaults their customers; we should make room for a professionally run airline that won't instill fear when company representatives ask customers to do something like an preflight offer for deplaning). This also connects very clearly to why employees need more power in the businesses they work for—apparently you can't trust some of your colleagues or high-ranking management to make the right call. This certainly gives anyone, worldwide, pause to consider what power one is giving others when one agrees to fly on their plane (this got violent even without the plane taking off!).