By Mike Wilcox
“Fly the friendly skies!”
Are you kidding me? United, along with most American airlines, is the opposite of friendly. Nothing depicted that more than the doctor dragged off a United flight from Chicago to Louisville because he wouldn’t give up the seat he had paid for.
Unless you live under a rock, you have seen the video taken by a passenger. It has been shown on every television network and is plastered everywhere on social media.
Here’s what happened in a nutshell. A flight taking off from Chicago, already two hours late, had boarded its full plane and was ready to close the cabin door when an agent came onboard and asked four passengers to give up their seats. The reason: four United employees had to get to Louisville and they had to have the four seats.
The agent first asked if anyone would leave the plane for a $400 voucher. No one responded. The agent upped the ante. Still no one would take the vouchers. The agent and United officials then chose four random people and demanded they get off. Three went peaceably. The fourth, a 68-year-old doctor who had to be in Louisville to see patients first thing in the morning, refused to leave the seat he had purchased.
United, in all its wisdom, decided to call airport security and Chicago police to remove the doctor forcibly. As the video depicted, the man was dragged from his seat, down the aisle and off the plane. He incurred cuts and bruises and fainted in the process. All because he wouldn’t give up his seat.
In researching this episode, I learned a couple of things. First overbooking flights is routine. All airlines do it, and do it often. They presume a certain number of people will not make it to their flight, thus they can overbook without hassles.
If it becomes a problem they offer vouchers. If you don’t have to be to your destination in a hurry, the vouchers might be a good alternative.
For me, I consider them a useless piece of paper. Try to buy a hotel room or redeem them at an airport restaurant. It won’t happen. Try to redeem them on another flight and for me anyway, it always seems to be a hassle.
In this case, United offered an $800 voucher fully realizing that a night’s stay at the airport’s hotel was $300 and a decent dinner was probably $75, thus someone would need $375 in their pocket just to stay overnight at the airport.
Overbooking should be outlawed. It isn’t fair to customers to book and pay for a seat, then find out their seat has also been sold to another person. In no other industry could this happen. Why should the airlines be able to do it?
Secondly, once you are onboard an airplane you essentially have no rights. You are at the mercy of the pilot and flight attendants. What they say is the law. If you disagree with them, you can be booted off the plane and/or arrested, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.
United personnel were in their rights to forcibly remove the doctor. Rights are one thing, ethics another. And ethically I think it was a terrible faux pas. There are several options they had versus dragging a doctor off a plane.
First, they could have upped the ante. As I said, an $800 voucher was meaningless to most of the passengers on board. Why not next offer a $1,200 voucher or even more? Better yet, why not offer $800 cash? I bet that would have gotten someone’s attention.
Second, they could have driven the United employees to Louisville. The distance between the two cities is a paltry five hours. The employees could have made it to their workstations with plenty of time to spare.
Third, they could have booked their employees on another airline.
They chose instead, to manhandle a 68-year-old doctor because an employee needed his seat. Whatever became of the axiom, “customers come first”?
Oh. I forgot, we are talking about the state of American airlines. In 2017, the customer always seems to be last. For this frequent flyer, that is a scary proposition.