So United, Was it Worth it?
I wish all the news orgs and people talking about United would stop saying United “overbooked” the flight. I understand United themselves used that term, but it is flat out incorrect. They didn’t overbook the flight, they wanted to kick 4 paying customers off the flight to let their EMPLOYEES fly. That’s not overbooking. It’s worse, in my opinion… but that’s certainly subjective.
First, I think the whole situation is horrible and I feel terrible for the man that was forcibly removed. I do think he should have complied when confronted by airport security, but from the videos, it appears they may not have even given him much of a chance. Whether or not he is actually a doctor is not as important as the fact that United was clearly not concerned with the man’s situation and did not make any attempts to understand it before simply escalating the situation further.
Second, this started out as a really bad situation for United, but could have been turned around (somewhat) had they showed some compassion. I think most people understand it was not United employees who assaulted the man, but rather airport security. Had United shown some compassion and expressed outrage at the treatment of this passenger, the outrage might have turned to the security company rather than just the airline.
Instead, the United CEO doubled down on the way they handled the situation by making a statement on Twitter apologizing for having to “re-accommodate customers.” Re-accommodate? Really? Then CEO Oscar Munoz sent an email to United employees further doubling-down on his position saying they had “no choice” but to forcibly remove the passenger from the plane.
As you can probably expect, EVERYONE is talking about this, and United stock is in a nose dive. Currently down 2.6% or $600 MILLION worth of value gone. No choice?
They could have put these four employees on the next available flight and boarded them first, instead of forcing customers off a flight they have already boarded with their luggage. They could have rented a car and driven these employees. They could have offered more money, up to $1300 according to FAA guidelines, or even more out of their own generosity. I guarantee you there was a point where customers would have volunteered to get on a later flight. And undoubtedly there are other options that I am not even thinking of right now.
The point is, United has built a company culture where their employees are not empowered to resolve issues in a way that benefits everyone involved, but rather hide behind “policy” and “procedure.” This toxic culture goes all the way to the top of the organization. It should be a lesson to every executive and business owner. Whether you agree with United’s decision and feel they don’t deserve this hellstorm of bad PR, or think they are the worst company in the world, the fact remains that their handling of this situation, from the incident on the plane to their statement and email to employees, has caused one of the worst PR situations of the decade. And it could just be getting started.
So United, was it worth it?