Yesterday United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight and other passengers captured the incident on video. You can watch it here.
It is hard to overstate how bad this is for United. Let’s review what happened:
– The airline boards too many people and won’t offer enough money to entice someone to take a later flight.
– The gate agents randomly pick passengers to bump, and when someone protests, they arrange for him to be dragged from the place. He is bloodied and bruised.
– The company did this in order to accommodate crew members; it wasn’t to provide space for other passengers.
Airlines disappoint people every day: flights are late, customers get bumped and luggage vanishes, but this is different. It is difficult to think of another corporation physically assaulting a customer in such a manner. Have we seen something like this from McDonalds? Walmart? Starbucks? Delta? No.
United drags a passenger from a plane to make room for an employee? Really? This has sparked some remarkable comments on social media.
The incident raises all sorts of tough questions.
What sort of company culture led to this? Why would anyone think this was the best way to manage the situation?
Were the front-line employees really out of options?
What sort of pressure are they under?
United CEO Oscar Munoz responded this morning, and while the prompt statement was good the wording was tone deaf. In particular, Munoz wrote, “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” That is a terrible statement. United didn’t “re-accommodate” the passenger in the video; United arranged for him to be physically dragged from the plane.
Munoz needs to quickly apologize for the incident and state that United will try very hard to not leave passengers bloodied and battered. Well, perhaps it should skip that last part. The airline should announce that it is conducting a thorough outside review of its culture and policies in an effort to understand how something like this happened, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
This a rough day for the United brand.