United Airlines Uses The Police To Punish A Customer For Getting A Great Deal

So, let’s review:

A private, for-profit company(United Airlines) and a customer entered into a negotiation.

The company agreed to provide a specific service at a specific time in exchange for a price both parties agreed to in advance.

At the time of the scheduled delivery the company realized that, due to its mistake, it would no longer be convenient for them to provide this specific customer his paid-for service at the originally scheduled time.

So they offered him an incentive to reschedule. But because of professional obligations scheduled for the next day, the customer declined.

So the company offered and even nicer incentive. Again, the customer declined.

So the company called the police.

The Customer Who Expects Nothing Is Always Right

Not surprisingly, neither the airline nor the police have taken responsibility for the unnecessary debacle that ensued after the cops arrived.

United CEO Oscar Munoz claims his employees were “left with no choice” but to call the police after the customer became belligerent.

Apologists on the business channels have been quick to point out that overbooking is a common practice in the airline industry. And usually it does not create these sorts of conflicts. Except that at the time of the disruption the flight was not overbooked. 4 passengers were enticed to reschedule so that 4 United employees could get to Louisville for Monday morning assignments.

That United had a logistical problem on their hands is understandable. Airlines are massive and complex organizations. They needed 4 additional employees in Louisville the following morning in order to be fully staffed.

Logistical problems are going to arise. No shame in that.

But let’s be clear about two things.

First, the logistical problem was created by United and it is their responsibility to resolve it. After two attempts at enticing 4 passengers to reschedule they called the taxpayer-funded security force to resolve it for them. (The taxpayer funded security force then blamed the passenger for the bloodshed claiming that he “threw himself into an armrest”.)

And secondly, United lied about the process. They claimed that a computer would randomly pick a passenger to be removed and rescheduled.

What the computer actually did was target the passengers who paid the lowest fare and had the least amount of seniority or points.

In other words: whichever customer had negotiated the best deal with the airline would be punished for that success.

Of all the passengers on that plane, the one forcibly removed by the taxpayer-funded security force is the one most like Donald Trump (at least if you believe Trump’s claims about this negotiating genius). He negotiated the best deal. (Industry insiders say they’ve “never seen anything like it.”).

Where is the outrage? Where are all those patriotic, small government, pro free-market, pro personal-responsibility conservatives when you need them?

While the video of the paying customer being dragged out of the plane by agents of the state is disturbing, the scariest aspect of this incident is the speed with which this private corporation resorted to calling the police.

Their responsibility to fix their own problem was not part of the equation. After two perfunctory attempts to fix their problem their only “option” according to their CEO was to call the police.

Did they try to reschedule 4 employees already in Louisville to come in and work on Monday morning? No. Instead they called the police.

Did they try to put the 4 employees on the first flight out tomorrow? Or on a later flight on another airline? No. They called the police.

Since their first two offers weren’t big enough to motivate 4 people to reschedule, did they up their offer? No. They cut off negotiations and called the government. They suspended the free market approach and went directly to the state to impose their solution.

And this attitude is immediately defended by many in the business press and on the Internet.

And think about this: by the time the confrontation broke out, the airline only needed one more passenger to reschedule. But their profit-centered computer program picked a customer who was traveling with his spouse.

Common sense would dictate that if you only need to reschedule one more passenger the computer would first identify passengers traveling alone.

But the airline programmed the computer to focus only on price. To seek out the least profitable customer.

If they had programmed the computer with logistics and customer experience in mind they could have first identified single travelers. Then tried to work something out quietly with one of those individuals.

But long before this flight was scheduled, United made the strategic decision to focus exclusively on that dreaded least-profitable customer. And as a result all of their customers on that flight suffered.

And when they didn’t immediately get their least-profitable customer to submit, they felt justified in calling the police.

According to the CEO’s statement, it seems they felt entitled to call the police. To use the state to impose their will on their customer who they had failed to serve.

The customer must reschedule or be arrested.

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