United Airlines and their $675 Million “Moment of Truth”
The internet is really upset with United Airlines. And they deserve it.
On Monday, April 10, 2017, a video went viral showing security personnel dragging a bloodied man off a plane. Shortly thereafter, additional video and photos surfaced from multiple angles elaborating on the scene.
According to several reports, here’s a summary of what happened on Sunday, April 9, 2017:
- United Airlines flight 1134 from Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY was overbooked.
- Passengers boarded the plane and were seated.
- United staff then needed four passengers to exit the plane to make room for United employees.
- United made several offers of compensation, to no avail.
- United staff then chose four people at random by computer.
- The first two were a couple, and they, reportedly, exited the plane.
- The bleeding man pictured above, a doctor, was selected but insisted he get to his destination to see his medical patients the next day at the hospital.
- Three Chicago Department Aviation personnel forcibly removed the man, who hit his head on an armrest during the altercation, and they dragged him off the plane.
When the internet blew up on Monday, United Airlines released this statement via Twitter:
To me, and apparently millions of others, this is not an apology. Naturally, an internet firestorm ensued.
To make matters worse, Munoz sent an email to employees and piled on by blaming the customer, calling him “disruptive and beligerant.”
I understand the theory behind Richard Branson’s concept that “making employees the top priority can bring benefits for both customers and investors,” but dragging a bloodied customer off the plane to make room for traveling employees is taking it a bit too far.
On March 16, 2017, PR Week awarded United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, the coveted “Communicator of the Year Award.”
Since that time, United has had to deal with major blunders like #LeggingsGate and now #ReAccommodateGate.
United’s PR nightmare continued as the internet blew up with Twitter users picking new slogans for United Airlines, and they weren’t very kind.
“While the competition beats our prices, we beat our customers” and “What happens on United, stays on United.” Several Twitter users shared a new seating chart with an area of rows dubbed, “Fight Club.”
Laura Begley Bloom, a travel writer for Forbes.com, recently wrote how she and her family were paid $11,000 “Not to Fly to Florida this Weekend” by Delta Airlines.
Imagine that. To some, that would be a waste of money. Many would call that an expensive mistake on the part of the airline.
I think everyone has a price, though. I’m confident United Airlines could have continued to increase the offering, and I bet someone would have eventually peacefully volunteered.
Would you have gotten off that plane for $500? How about $750?
The DailyMail reported that United offered $800, a night in a hotel, and a flight the next day. “When the appeal failed, United staff selected four passengers by computer,” continued the report.
The Facebook page, Asians Not Brainwashed by Media (Note: I’ve never heard of them prior to the research and this is not an endorsement for their page), made several great points:
- Overbooking is fraud.
- Airlines should not overbook (although, I believe the free market will dictate this, not a new law as they suggest).
- Bumping passengers for employees is wrong.
- Those removed from the plane should sue.
- The bloodied customer should sue harder.
- Criminal & Civil charges should be filed.
This mistake has cost United $675 million so far.
Rodger Dowdell, retired President & CEO of American Power Conversion Corporation (APC), took that company from 9 employees in 1985 to over 6,000 team members worldwide in 2006 as a $1.6 billion global operation.
I recently discussed United’s tragic customer service mistake with Mr. Dowdell where he shared his insight and vast business experience.
He immediately suggested it may be an issue of “corporate culture” which is the responsibility of the CEO and top management team.
Before joining APC, Dowdell worked for a company that had two 1-foot thick employee manuals that tried to cover every situation.
“A problem arises when a situation occurs that’s not covered in the manual,” he said. “Instead of being encouraged and supported by management to think on their feet — doing right by the customer, no matter the cost — employees oftentimes make bad decisions when trying to follow documented processes and procedures while in fear of losing their job.”
“That’s called the Moment of Truth, when an employee is thinking on their feet and making a decision that will represent the face of the company.”
In this instance, based on reports, I imagine the Moment of Truth occurred when United staff decided someone had to be “re-accommodated” AFTER passengers already boarded the plane.
FoxNews.com offered a paragraph from Rule 25 of United Airline’s Contract of Carriage Document (rules for passengers) regarding overbooking. The problem, though, is this entire section is about what to do BEFORE paying passengers board the plane and take their assigned seats.
Rodger added, “At APC, we worked very hard to instill into our culture that employees will be supported in doing whatever it took to make the situation right with the customer. Then, we would work tirelessly in a post-event audit to find the pain points and root causes that got us into the situation.”
Do you think United Airlines wished their employees would have offered that man $11,000 to take the next flight instead of dragging his limp and bloody body off the plane with recording devices everywhere?
Sure sounds better than losing $675 million for their investors.
Get Jason W. Hoyt’s book, Consent of the Governed — The People’s Guide to Holding Government Accountable on Amazon.