Aviation Week & Space Technology

Podcast: United in Crisis

Discuss this Video 102

on Apr 13, 2017

Do you mind disclosing your position in United Airlines?

on Apr 13, 2017

Are you related to Trump?

on Apr 13, 2017

Why, are you related to Hillary?

on Apr 13, 2017

"Dumb" would not be grounds for a beating, and in any case we can't assume he is. All we know is that he resisted a demand that he get out of a seat he had paid for.

on Apr 13, 2017

The big objection was that they were offering to accommodate bumpees on a 3PM flight the next day. That's one whole day lost.

Besides a flight on a competitor, they could have offered him compensation and a limo ride to Louisville. It's only five and half hours.

They could have chartered even a turbo-prop for a flight later on - even very early the next morning. It's just a short hop.

There were many possible alternatives - however, I don't take the last flight out precisely in order to not miss a day of work. That is non-negotiable. Furthermore, once seated, I would have only one expectation - specific performance.

Even the one time that weather in the originating city meant I missed a connection in ATL, I was accommodated on the earliest AM flight. I still missed a day, but at least I felt like Delta was doing their best.

on Apr 13, 2017

Duty time restrictions may have prevented the crew from taking a later flight. As a former flight crew member, I was in similar situations many times. No matter how you choose to define this situation, it was bad optics for UA.

on Apr 13, 2017

No need to charter aircraft or hire limos.
If policy (What is UA Policy $ limit btw?) had allowed the agents to increase the compensation by some amount, a volunteer would have come forward. I've seen this myself; after a delay and no volunteers, a Supervisor added Hotel and meal coupons and patiently added that the airline greatly needed a volunteer and suddenly two or three volunteers came forward. We are talking about say $1500 instead of $800. A trivial amount of money. The cost of this misadventure we can speculate hitting $20,000,000 in direct costs. Had the senior citizen suffered a stroke or spinal injury, well, let's just no go there.

on Apr 13, 2017

I can only agree with you. Disrespecting a customer, including his rights, is the last thing to do.

on Apr 13, 2017

From the post of reader PL in another AW page (aviationweek.com/commercial-aviation/opinion-ua3411-fiasco-weighs-united-s-recovery-efforts?page=1)
.
"There is a law governing what conditions airlines sell tickets under. (I'm having trouble as the commenting system doesn't like hyperlinks, but Google "14 CFR 253 and you can see it.)
This law dictates that airlines must spell out their contract of carriage. United does, and more conveniently, provides that contract online for us to view.
United's Contract of Carriage is found at United's web site (google "United contract of carriage).
More importantly, United defines multiple situations that would involve not allowing a passenger to take a given flight that they hold a ticket for.
One set of rules is in Rule 25, "Denied Boarding Compensation".
That rule lays out that an airline can deny boarding to someone, that they can choose randomly who that person is based on fare class, frequent flier mileage plan membership and status, all that stuff.
BUT... the important thing is that this is about *denying someone boarding*.
They didn't deny the guy boarding. They let him get on board and take his assigned seat.
So at that point, it becomes a question of when United can refuse someone transport. Again, there's a rule for that; it's Rule 21.
In this rule are many different reasons why United may refuse to transport someone- which would plainly entail removing them from the aircraft. In fact, the rule begins: "UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger for the following reasons:"
But "we need the seat to move crew members to another city" is NOT in that list of reasons.
And, despite Mr Flottau's blustering about how it's the captain's right to remove someone, it's actually not. If the captain or the airline removes someone, it MUST be for one of these reasons.
If the removal isn't for one of those reasons, the airline is in violation of the terms of the contract it entered into with the customer when the airline sold the ticket.
United (or, perhaps more correctly, Republic, since it was their plane) was in the wrong here. They had no right whatsoever to remove the passenger and frankly, the hubris that is continually expressed in the industry publications trying to justify United's action is precisely why the law exists and why airlines are required to have these Contracts of Carriage rules in the first place."
.
This the only relevant and substantiated post, all the rest is pure uninformed opinion.

on Apr 13, 2017

Well, not exactly ... only the posts supporting UA and the police beatdown of Dr. Dao are uninformed (among other unsavory descriptions).

on Apr 13, 2017

So Dave, assume you are correct......what about the rule that states all passengers must obey crew member instructions. If the FA tells you to leave the aircraft through the forward door, or emergency exit, are you not obligated by law to do so? The FA doesn't need to give a reason, the command is a crew member instruction that must be obeyed. According to your post UA would have had subsequent legal issues with this passenger, but that is a separate issue is it not?

on Apr 13, 2017

Even the military, who write the book on obedience to orders, make it clear that one has no obligation to obey an unlawful order. To position oneself otherwise lets every war criminal argue he was only following orders. Moreover, the military make the point to commanders that is not good leadership to issue orders that will not be obeyed or will bring the side into disrepute. Command has its obligations, ignored in this case, it seems.

on Apr 13, 2017

In effect, even the military sees common sense as an overriding principle.

on Apr 13, 2017

Thank you for the explanation of the regulation, Dave59.

on Apr 13, 2017

Dave: Whatever came before, once the former doctor resisted the security folks relentlessly the person signing the logbook is clearly allowed by the regulations to require his removal and prohibit his re boarding and they should have done exactly that.

Any competent lawyer will quickly turn your distinction between boarding and transport inside out. Its entirely possible to be unsympathetic to airlines in general and see this man's situation as one entirely of his own making. Knowing his past history makes bark at the moon crazy a consideration.

on Apr 13, 2017

There's nothing "horrific" about enforcing the law. Those who resist deserve what they get. If you don't want to get pushed (or dragged if you refuse to walk), then do what the nice policeman tells you to do.

on Apr 13, 2017

Well, one thug disguised as a policeman has been suspended, and the good Doctor's lawyer is going to ensure UA understands the consequences of violating their own Carriage Contract.

on Apr 13, 2017

JDD has got it right. The Chicago cops have been suspended for not following their own procedures.
The US isnt a police state and these guys will face the consequences....a nice new job with United

on Apr 13, 2017

"Podcast: United in Crisis"

Well, that's what happens to a company lead and staffed by stupidity personified AND gets caught blatantly treating its customers like the NAZIs did the Jews.

on Apr 13, 2017

Having read through all these comments, Mr.
Drouin's seems to be the most rational.
I'd pity the poor guy facing a jury comprised of some of the others.
I stopped flying United many years ago because of their pervasive arrogant culture.
It's no surprise to me that this happened.

on Apr 13, 2017

Regardless of "wrongness" or "rightness" on the part of any entity involved, the incident occurred with attendant reaction and consequences. United capitalization dropped hundreds of millions of dollars and numbers of travel agents throughout the United States who subscribe to a travel professional Facebook group with over 6,000 members report backlash from clients directing agents to book away from United even when the ticket price is higher, cancellation of reservations on United, and orders to change reservations to airlines other than United. Granted there is a handful of cities for which United is the only game in town but the economic impact on UA bookings has the potential to exceed any amount that might have persuaded a volunteer to deplane by perhaps several orders of magnitude.

This is clearly a case where legally right and blind adherence to policy and regulation was the wrong choice.

on Apr 13, 2017

Regardless of "wrongness" or "rightness" on the part of any entity involved, the incident occurred with attendant reaction and consequences. United capitalization dropped hundreds of millions of dollars and numbers of travel agents throughout the United States who subscribe to a travel professional Facebook group with over 6,000 members report backlash from clients directing agents to book away from United even when the ticket price is higher, cancellation of reservations on United, and orders to change reservations to airlines other than United. Granted there is a handful of cities for which United is the only game in town but the economic impact on UA bookings has the potential to exceed any amount that might have persuaded a volunteer to deplane by perhaps several orders of magnitude.
This is clearly a case where legally right and blind adherence to policy and regulation was the wrong choice.

on Apr 13, 2017

United.... geeze, any airline! The stewardess only had to shoot the good 70 year old doctor with an elephant tranquilizer and remove on stretcher, no need for all the hoopla and coverage! Hell this Country is going third-world everywhere you look why expect anything else...

on Apr 13, 2017

This WHOLE thing could have been avoided by making everyone turn off their "Electronic Devices" before they boarded the aircraft...

But seriously, rule following without sanity checking led to this. Seems no one had the flexibility to make a local decision.

1. Won't get off aircraft when told.
- Call police
2. Police "do their job".

Had any of the above discussed options been considered, United would still be flying the Friendly Skies.

BTW, really liked the distinction, above, between "denying boarding", and what to do once boarded re: the carriage contract. Thanks!

on Apr 13, 2017

All this could have been avoided if the ground crew was authorized to offer much more. If they offered $2000, of course someone would take it.
And to all of you pointing out what the "contract of cairrage" really says (thereby implying passenger was wrong), can you really tell me you've 100% read the terms of use for websites such as gmail, facebook, or even here?

on Apr 13, 2017

the real problem was boarding all the passengers when they knew they had to hold 4 seats for a deadhead crew, which from what I understand, was not at the gate for boarding. Bad communications? Maybe. Bad judgment to fix the problem- yes!. Did UA raise the ante to a number that others would have jumped to accept to give up their seats? Does not sound like it. I have had to handle denied boarding and everyone has their price. Key is to not have to go on board as it just does not work. Plan ahead and never put the burden on the police for your errors. Good point about denied boarding versus removal. This is going to cost UA and Chicago PD millions in court and much more in the public eye.

on Apr 13, 2017

27 years with the majors as a Captain and I would never let something like this happen on MY airplane... get a pair sir. 2nd. There is a way to stop this; you buy a seat you pay for it, whether you are in it or not; then the airlines can stop overbooking... and United, you need to adjust your programing so the overbooking is more realistic... sorry your CEO made such a mistake with his email... sorry to see him go.

on Apr 13, 2017

Thanks SD. Once you are in your seat it is the captains responsibility, his job is all about looking after his passengers and Im sure that is ahead of the airlines crewing arrangements.

on Apr 13, 2017

All these comments avoid the most basic issue, and that is passenger rights that need to be recognized and addressed by the United States Congress. Congress is the criminal organization that is paid though lobbyists to ignore the situation. When our rights are ignored and or taken away through escape clauses in microscopic text then the collusion of Congress makes them criminals of humanity and the American people. Regulation is not an option but a necessity. Seat sizes. leg room, and contractual obligations need to be defined and legislated in the interests of justice and human rights.

on Apr 13, 2017

Participation in air travel has risen dramatically since deregulation. Airlines have made travel available to the masses by ruthlessly managing costs and by maximizing volume rather than profit margins. Customers who want more leg room or bigger seats are free to pay for them. Conversely, if seats become too small or leg room too tight for most customers, that airline's business will suffer. The idea that leg room is a "human right" in this context is risible.
On the other hand, regulation may well be desirable to ensure that smaller markets are adequately served and that real competition is possible in major markets.

on Apr 13, 2017

You have the human right to book an airline that gives you the seat size and leg room you want. Airlines are obliged to only offer these amenities when they can do so at a profit. Two-thirds of your closing manifesto, then, founder on simple economics. The airlines that jam passengers ever-closer together set the price point all airlines have to try and meet.

But overbooking for the convenience of deadheading company employees and the airline itself is a practice that is genuinely questionable - it's a default on a contract between the airline and passenger which is entirely avoidable by the company (which can afford to fly those people to their destination on other airlines' flights).

The incident which culminated in a passenger being struck on the face so hard he bled, and dragged like luggage down the airliner's aisle was entirely avoidable, either by cancelling the flight and deplaning everyone (I've seen it happen more than once), or by the airline taking a relatively minor loss in the interests of maintaining its good reputation - no longer an option for United Airlines.

on Apr 13, 2017

The problem with a passenger who wont deplane has been handled properly for decades. You cancel the flight and deplane everybody. Fifteen minutes later you announce a "new" flight to the destination with a "2" added in front of the old flight number. Somebody will still be bumped but in the gate area. It's unclear whether the gate personnel were UAL or Republic.

on Apr 13, 2017

Chicago is Uniteds hub. Clearly there are always other better options than the airlines electing to use force on a paid customer. You might as well be flying in North Korea to be treated as United has treated the passenger.

on Apr 13, 2017

The actions of the passenger and the security personnel will be debated for a while that's for sure. What is unknown is how the public will react to United and how it will effect the bottom line. I am thinking it will be like a bird strike, more dramatic when seen but damage can be minimal. Hope the bird doesn't destroy the engine !

on Apr 13, 2017

The viral visuals, bad press and social media ripples from this "bird strike" may make it closer to the one an E-3 suffered pulling out of an air force base in Alaska, when TWO of its engines ingested Canada geese (apparently the aircraft flew through a flock in mid-migration). Lost with all souls.

on Apr 13, 2017

As a retired police officer, pilot and airport manager this incident, which never should have become a problem, was handled badly from all aspects. We all know UA could have made any number of decisions before the situation spiraled down into violence. The passenger could also have done any number of things to help defuse the situation. The cop never should have been there. He should have been smart enough to recognize that this was a civil matter, not a criminal matter and backed off. These few points lead to the deeper problems we face. One of the reasons I retired from law enforcement was because I was seeing a whole generation of young people coming into the work force with zero decision making skills. From the time they were born their lives were scheduled by parents, by schools and then by the administrators of the company they work for. They have never been taught, or allowed, to be independent thinkers who can make good decisions outside the box when necessary. This is our failure as citizens of this great country. Parents have passed the responsibility of raising their children to the schools and neighborhood centers. Those entities can provide some support, but the parents need to be the leaders. When computers came into the cockpits the airlines decided they needed system managers in the cockpit because the computers can fly the plane. Training in piloting skills moved to the bottom of the curriculum and system management moved to the top. In the 90's and 2000's we had a rash of accidents when the computers failed and the planes crashed. If the pilots had known how to fly the plane they would not have crashed. A couple of years ago the FAA mandated that pilots should be trained better in basic flight, DUH. I listened to a speech given by the first female Admiral a few years back. Her synopsis was that we don't create leaders anymore, we create personnel managers. As a country lets take this incident to heart and start making leaders, capable of independent thought, instead of personnel managers who have to rely on a script written for them. People seem to think that it's their 'RIGHT' to act and behave however they want to and not have to take the responsibility for those actions. I don't agree with those views. Oh, and by the way, it would be nice to get back to actual news reporting rather that 24 hour sensationalism looking for ratings. I can make a decision based on rational input and don't need you to tell me what I should think.

on Apr 13, 2017

You're entirely right. This wasn't a law enforcement problem. While the passenger might have been better advised to seek legal counsel instead of refusing to move, he was enforcing a contract between himself and United Airlines. Commissioned police officers have no place in transactions like that.

Strictly speaking, the airport police officers were acting outside of their jurisdiction and ought to have told the flight crew, "Sorry, we can't help you. He's your baby." They certainly shouldn't have behaved like United Airlines' company goons.

And so the CEO of United Airlines gets the annual Tone-Deaf Customer Interaction award for publicly praising what can only be called a failure in corporate decision-making and customer relations.

Airline tickets are contracts. Passengers buy them in the reasonable expectation that they will receive air travel at the scheduled time and date. Airlines can default on this contract for many reasons, but overbooking shouldn't be one of them, and especially when the overbooking is to allow company employees to deadhead for the company's own convenience.

United has probably lost a thousand times as much in good will and reputation than they saved by deadheading their people on that flight at the expense of paying passengers. In the future, if UA and other airlines feel the need to deadhead that often, they ought to think about, when they have pressurized cargo decks below the passenger area, providing a row of seats for company personnel there. The cost would be trivial compared to the reputational and fiscal losses caused by incidents like this.

on Apr 13, 2017

Regardless of the type of individual the passenger was, no crime or disruption was reported before the passenger was brutalized. UAL and the CEO Mr. Munoz can cite all of the airline policy and rights awarded to them by the FAA regarding this incident, but it will not change the course set by mismanagement and the disregard for viable alternatives (higher incentive offers, up to $1,350 per passenger and putting the dead head crew on another flight).

on Apr 13, 2017

United's decision-makers on the spot failed epically to see that their company's good name depended on making their customers happy by either giving them the air travel which they contracted to provide, or by reaching a satisfactory alternate arrangement. Bouncing paying passengers to allow deadheading employees to fly in their seats may be industry practice, but it's an industry practice meeting with justifiable public scorn and rejection.

Only United's accountants can say how much this fiasco will cost them, but it's probably more than $1,350/passenger.

on Apr 13, 2017

Ever since the Continental merger, my experiences on United Airlines flights have steadily deteriorated.

I don't miss Continental a bit. I flew them a lot because my cheapskate company booked me on them exclusively. and I once had to spend four hours in Atlanta Hartsfield when they overbooked and bumped me. I wound up arriving at New Orleans International after the last shuttle home left, and spent that whole night trying to sleep until the shuttle company's first morning run arrived, the next day. Was I offered money or a free ticket? Of course not, this was Continental, the airline that actually once bragged in its in-flight magazine they were moving seat rows closer together. Not "apologized", mind you. Bragged.

It seems that Continental's attitude has infected United. If I have a choice, I won't use United Airlines. Their old slogan "flying United" has taken on an unintentionally black-humored meaning, where the customer is subjected to an involuntary coupling with the company when their interests conflict.

on Apr 13, 2017

Why can't crew member going to another city to catch a flight not be pre-booked like any other passenger. Surely most of the time the crew members know in advance where they need to be on a certain day at a certain time unless it is an emergency and they are being called in to fill in for someone else. I do not work in the industry so what I am saying may be impossible for some reason if so could someone please tell me why?

on Apr 13, 2017

I have flown with United since 1960 and represented them for a number of years before the CAB after they acquired Capital Airways. It is one thing to 'deny boarding' when the flight is oversold. It is quite another to attempt to 'unseat' a passenger in order to accommodate employees. The latter is not permissible under any construction of DoT/FAA regulations and the conduct of those who removed the passenger constituted aggravated assault for which those involved should be prosecuted...in addition to being fired. Nor did the Captain, who managed to absent himself do his job appropriately either.

on Apr 13, 2017

Will this lead to an adjustment in United's Customer Abuse Program?

No. Customer abuse is too profitable and arrogance too easy.

Bring on the Cattle Prods and Bull Whips, that make the suckers obey.

Fly the Ugly Skies of Gestapo!

on Apr 13, 2017

Why can't dead head crews be booked like any other passengers?

on Apr 13, 2017

Greetings

Several points are relevant to the (now notorious) ejection of a passenger from a UA flight recently.

1. The Captain is ultimately responsible for everything which happens on his a/c, but I have seen no mention of that anywhere in the coverage.

2. The moment the passenger boarded the a/c he becomes subject to aviation law and regulations made under it just as he would come under maritime law the moment he stepped onto a ship.

3. The passenger was not denied boarding; rather, he was later arbitrarily selected to be ordered to deplane when he had every right to be there and he had done absolutely nothing to warrant his removal from the a/c.

4. The passenger should have insisted that the flight service director (in-charge flight attendant) summon the Captain who, if apprised of what was going on, might very well have escalated this to higher management who could have rendered a better decision. In any event the Captain has the authority to over-rule the decision to bring on-board Airport Security police and use them to force the passenger off the a/c and he also has the authority to order the police – or indeed anyone else - off his aircraft if he sees no valid reason for them to be there. I was on an Air Canada DC-8-61 which landed at Manchester during a general strike in the UK during 1972. A bunch of union goons carrying crow-bars tried to board the aircraft and the Captain drew a pistol and warded them off, indicating that if they boarded he would shoot them. Maritime law gives the Captain the right to repel boarders. The situation is different here, but the Captain still has almost unlimited authority over what happens on his aircraft and I: think that in this case he should have used it.

5. Had the Captain been invited into the discussion he would most likely have convinced the supervisor that getting authority to offer a bit more money (and doing so quickly to avoid losing their window for push-back, taxi and take-off) would make far more sense than delaying the flight and then dragging off a passenger or two.

6. The gate crew really bungled this from start to finish – and all of them should now be fired - as they should never have permitted the passenger to board in the first place if they were going to need his seat for crew transfer.

7. As happened with the railroads after World War Two, the airlines have now become so finance-dominated that they can hardly see past their own noses. Clearly the best solution was to offer enough money so as to budge a total of four passengers and the next best was to fly the four crew members, if possible, on another UA flight or on another airline. Now, to save a few hundred or thousand dollars, UA has brought upon itself an even bigger crisis than the "United Breaks Guitars" fiasco, during which they lost tens of thousands of bookings per hour and allegedly had to hire a Madison Avenue PR firm to help bail them out. They look like complete fools and this will make anyone - me included - think twice before booking my next flight with them.

8. Airlines are becoming less and less concerned about what passengers think of them or of how uncomfortable they make the passengers. My new favourite complaint – if I happen to be flying in Economy - is that now whenever the progress of “boarding groups” leaves all the aft bin space filled up early on they try to forcibly take my dispatch case away from me and check it against my will or else demand that I put it under the seat in front of me which, if I do, leaves me no place to put my feet. Truly, they really do not care if they make me miserable for an entire transcontinental flight as long as they get my money.

9. Canadians like me are sometimes critical of America as being an unduly litigious society, but it seems to me that in this case the passenger has a really strong cause of action and so I hope he wins enough money (and fame) to make United think twice before ever doing anything like this again.

10. Truly, United screwed the pooch on this one and it will be a while before the cell camera video which we all saw leaves the collective consciousness of the American air traveller.

Dan Perley
Costa Mesa, CA

on Apr 13, 2017

United personnel handled this situation with virtually no thought to the well being of the passengers. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Should I have to travel in the future you can bet that I will not even consider flying with United.
Fly Southwest. They beat the competition. Not you.

on Apr 14, 2017

[Comment deleted as intended for subsequent article but placed here in error]

on Apr 14, 2017

The comment that the gate agent likely did not have the authorization ("power") is a large part of the problem. It is a basic principle that if you give people the responsibility to get something done, but not the power, things will go badly. The decisions are made 1,000 miles away by managers who do not have to face the passengers.

on Apr 14, 2017

United Airlines has been on my personal do not fly list for over 20 years.

This recent event should make many seats available for crew positioning

on Apr 14, 2017

This litany of comments has made for an interesting read. Regardless of all the viewpoints, my primary reaction to this event was informed by just one thing - the visceral reaction of surrounding passengers as this whole situation played out. It could be summed up as one of utter disbelief.

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