A US based stint of bad PR for today’s blog as a United Airlines passenger was knocked unconscious while being forcibly ejected from a flight.
He wasn’t some drunken lout on a boozy stag weekend, but supposedly a sexagenarian doctor whose only wrongdoing was having been sat on a plane that the airline had overbooked.
Apparently, having asked the full flight if there were any volunteers willing to miss the flight and get the next one (albeit with a reasonable compensation package and a free hotel stay), there were no willing passengers, so the airline had to choose a passenger to be ejected, allegedly selected at random.
The unlucky lottery winner, the doctor, refused to leave the flight as he said he had patient appointments booked in for the morning and couldn’t afford to let them down by flying the next day.
After repeatedly saying he wasn’t moving, the airline had to call airport police to have him forcibly removed. In the ensuing struggle, videos of the incident seemed to show him banging his head and passing out as he was dragged out of his seat.
Another video, filmed not long after, shows the victim stood at the front of the plane with blood on his head, clearly confused and mumbling the words ‘kill me now’, before then being taken off the plane for a second and final time.
It’s an appalling incident and one United Airlines will be extremely embarrassed to be associated with.
Overbooking on airlines is an ongoing problem and one I often struggle to fathom - from a customer service point of view at least (although I can appreciate it from an economic view). Essentially, it’s where someone has paid for a seat…and the airline sells it again anyway. Supposedly this is aimed at frequent flyers who regularly book seats but don’t end up taking them. The airline is effectively gambling that some people won’t make the flight, so are selling in the hope that they’ll make double the money for a seat, which adds up to a lot of money when taking in the amount of flights flown each day with empty seats. But, as with any gamble, there's a fair chance it will backfire so airlines should be prepared for the ensuing fall out when it does go wrong.
In this instance, United Airlines was looking to fly some standby staff which were required for the following day. So, whilst this wasn’t a clear-cut example of an airline profiteering, it still boils down to someone paying for something and making plans around it. They can’t just be expected to drop it all to suit the airline’s needs when they’ve paid a considerable amount of money for a service.
If I was a passenger in this situation, I'd be furious. It's not a case of ordering something online and then running out of stock. Usually, in that scenario, the repercussions are fairly minimal. But missing a flight and the subsequent knock on effects can be far more disruptive/costly to the passenger, which makes the airline's gamble all the more risky.
And, to make things considerably worse, the heavy handiness of the staff involved was utterly shocking, meaning yet more bad PR for US police.
United Airlines has been roundly slated in the States and didn’t help by posting an ill thought out, atrociously worded apology via Twitter, which only served to compound matters with some scathing replies evidencing the very poor approach at PR firefighting.
Having been lambasted for recently banning women from flying in leggings, this is yet another dose of terrible PR for a, seemingly, terrible airline.
While he takes time to recover from the trauma, I'm sure the, as yet unnamed doctor, can be expecting a hefty amount of compensation thanks to America's highly litigious culture. In this instance, I think it will be well deserved.