The three primary characters in this week’s gruesome tale of airline passenger bashing made mistakes: United should have sought a better solution to its oversold/overbooked/crewing situation, David Dao should have gotten off the plane, and the police should have used less force.
On a busy Sunday night at O’Hare, these three mistakes coalesced to create a perfect storm onboard the plane. The end result we’ve all seen play out on viral videos that elicit a visceral, emotional reaction and created a social media firestorm.
United was wrong: United (or Republic) should never have boarded the plane before asking for volunteers. United should have increased the compensation it was offering for passengers to give up their seats until it got a few takers. It should have considered alternatives for getting its crew to Louisville– it could have rented a car and had them there in five hours. United should have tried harder to fix the situation before calling in law enforcement.
David Dao was wrong: But the least wrong of the three. As the Wall Street Journal said this week, “airplanes are dictatorships.” As lopsided and unfair as the situation was and as angry as Dao may have been, he should have gotten off the plane when instructed to do so. By refusing to get off, he was breaking federal law. Once off the plane, he could have possibly plead his case with gate agents, letting them know that he was a doctor with patients to see in the morning and that he was traveling with his daughter. Who knows, they may have taken that into consideration, let him back on board or put him on another flight or arranged to have a car take him to Louisville. UPDATE: Do airlines have the right to throw you off the plane even though you’ve done nothing wrong? As wrong as it may seem, the answer is: Yes. Travel industry analyst and former airline executive Henry Harteveldt helps explain, “Just as airplanes defy the law of gravity when they take off, air travel has its own unique sets of rules that passengers must follow. Among the rules are following airline employees’ directions and commands. If you deliberately disobey an airline employee’s instructions, it can result in a fine, being removed from a plane, or even being put on a ‘black list’ and not being able to fly that carrier ever again.” For more background on this, see: Can an airline really just yank you off a plane? Plus: Legal minds are picking apart this premise.
Chicago Department of Aviation officers were wrong: As I write this, much of the media focus (and blame) is zeroing in on the Chicago Department of Aviation officers who brutalized Dao. Some force may have been necessary to get him off the plane, but not that much force. Tom Demetrio, Dao’s attorney, said that the 69-year-old “lost two front teeth, broke his nose, and suffered a concussion.” That’s grotesquely excessive. Today Business Insider reports that the union representing United pilots stated, “This violent incident should never have happened and was a result of gross excessive force by Chicago Department of Aviation personnel…For reasons unknown to us, instead of trained Chicago Police Department officers being dispatched to the scene, Chicago Department of Aviation personnel responded. At this point, without direction and outside the control of United Airlines or the Republic crew, the Chicago Department of Aviation forcibly removed the passenger.”
Will three wrongs make a right? Will United change? Will federal rules change? Will passenger behavior change? We’ll have to wait and see. But we are already seeing evidence of a policy change at United. Today the airline outlined procedural changes in a statement:
First, we are committing that United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security. Second, we’ve started a thorough review of policies that govern crew movement, incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. Third, we will fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first. Our values – not just systems – will guide everything we do. We’ll communicate the results of our review and the actions we will take by April 30.
UPDATE Friday: Delta has now increased compensation limits for voluntary denied boardings — gate agents can now offer up to $2,000 worth of vouchers, while supervisors can offer up to $9,950 worth of vouchers (per OMATT)
Some of the latest stories to note:
United promising to make major customer service changes (Business Insider)
Dao: The Asian Rosa Parks (USA Today)
How much authority do flight crews have over passengers? (TravelPulse)
Current United stock price (Google)
What do you think will happen? Will this lead to truly major reforms or will it blow over? Please leave your comments below.
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