It’s bad. It’s really bad.
United Airlines is America’s most hated company at the moment.
By now, you’ve seen the viral video of the Asian man yanked from his seat on the plane, screaming, then bloodied as he hit his head on an armrest, and officers dragging his limp body along the aisle with other passengers filming, and others watching in horror.
The social media backlash was swift. The internet trolling has been hilarious.
The airline’s Twitter page has been hounded with #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos, such as “Fight or Flight? Let us surprise you!” and “Board as a doctor, Leave as a patient.”
All kidding aside, because there was nothing funny about an elderly man — or anyone — being treated like a subhuman, did United really pick passengers randomly?
Was Dr. David Dao chosen because he was an Asian male and perceived to be meek and compliant? Another passenger overheard Dao saying he was picked because of his race.
Blogger Phil Yu, better known as Angry Asian Man, wrote, “If the ‘randomly selected’ passenger had been a blonde white lady, and she refused to give her seat, there’s no way in seven hells that these cops would have dragged her ass out kicking, screaming, and bloody. Such indignities are apparently reserved for 69-year-old Asian physicians.”
Federal law allows airlines to boot a passenger involuntarily if a flight is overbooked and nobody volunteers to give up their seat. But was excessive force really necessary?
In this day and age where virtually everyone has a smartphone or device that can record video, how can any company allow this kind of thing to happen? Everybody at United failed that day.
Aviation attorney Arthur Wolk who read all 45 pages of United’s Contract of Carriage believes the airline violated its own contract and that they “had absolutely no right to remove that man … Absolutely no right to forcibly remove him from an airplane.” According to Wolk, airlines can deny you a seat, but once you’re on board, that’s a different story.
The whole concept that you can be taken off a flight because the airline overbooks is just wrong. And booting passengers just so your own employees can fly — even worse!
Anyone involuntarily bumped must be compensated, according to Department of Transportation regulations. United offered only $800. They could have upped it to $1,350.
Instead, United invoked the rules allowing them to bump passengers. That might have saved some money in the short term, but it also earned them a public relations nightmare.
And speaking of PR, United’s CEO Oscar Munoz violated one of the biggest rules. When you mess up on a monumental level such as this, you apologize — immediately!
The statement released on April 10 — “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” was a lame “apology.”
Later that day, in a leaked email to employees, Munoz praised his staff and blamed Dao, calling him “disruptive and belligerent.” Blame the victim much?
On April 11, Munoz sent another message to United employees in which he finally admitted, “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
In a bizarre footnote, PR Week last month saluted Munoz as its “Communicator of the Year for 2017” for the way he “transformed the fortunes of the beleaguered airline, galvanized staff, and set the business on a smoother course.” The smooth ride is over and turbulent weather is ahead.