TL;DR – It’s just so wrong.
You probably would have heard of the United incident by now.
A passenger, Dr David Dao, was violently dragged off United Airlines flight 3411. As a result of the violence, Dr Dao suffered injuries including a concussion, broken nose, injury to the sinuses, and two lost teeth. He will likely need reconstructive surgery.
United tried to explain why it needed to remove Dr Dao. Initially, it said that the flight was overbooked. Then it turned out that that was a lie. United had to remove passengers from the flight because all 70 seats on the plane were filled, but they had to make space on the plane to accommodate crew members who were “needed” in Louisville the following day.
As more details of the incident unfolded, it seemed that United just kept digging itself deeper into a hole. Beyond the obvious violence of the act, here are three other things that are horrendously wrong with this United incident.
Forcing passengers off plane is completely illegal in this case
Many people tried to defend United, saying that United was well within their legal rights to ask passengers to leave the plane. That’s wrong. According to United’s own contract for carriage,Rule 21 of the contract for carriage. Those reasons don’t include needing to make space to accommodate crew members.
At best, United could have relied on Rule 25 and denied boarding to some of the passengers. BUT! They can only do that if the flight is oversold. Flight 3411 wasn’t oversold. There were 70 seats on the flight. 70 tickets for that flight were sold. It means that United couldn’t even rely on Rule 25 to deny any of its passengers the right to board the flight!
In other words, United’s move to force passengers off Flight 3411 was illegal. Completely illegal. We hope that people would stop saying that United had the legal right to force passengers off Flight 3411.
It didn’t do enough to get passengers to volunteer leaving the flight
If it can’t force people off the flight, what could United have done to ensure that its crew needed for another flight on the day after reach Louisville? Perhaps it should learn from Delta. When Delta overbooks a flight, they let their passengers decide how much getting bumped is worth.
Delta started that practice in 2011. When passengers on overbooked flights check in online or at the check-in kiosk, they’re asked what the dollar value of the travel voucher they would accept as compensation for volunteering their seats. They also highlights that “Delta accepts lower bids first”.
So if they need to bump people off the flight for whatever reasons, they have a ready list of people and how much they need to offer to get the people to voluntarily give up their seats. If your bid is low enough, you will be on that list. And you would be compensated based on how much you think your time is worth. It’s a win-win situation. And the system works. Delta has saved money and time because of this system.
Delta implemented this system in 2011. Surely United have had enough tie to study the system and could have adapted it for their own purposes. If they did, they could have well prevented this PR fiasco.
Dredging up Dr Dao’s coloured past
This isn’t something that United is responsible for. But it is something that is horribly wrong with this incident. Some news media decided to report on Dr Dao’s coloured past, even though nothing in Dr Dao’s past has anything to do with this incident. The report on Dr Dao’s coloured past adds no journalistic value at all to this whole story. Details about his family were also splashed across some news outlets.
And in Singapore, the Straits Times, displayed questionable editorial standards (or maybe it was just bad taste) by parroting those reports about Dr Dao’s past. Why? What purpose did that report serve? We can’t think of anything positive.
Instead, it makes us wonder whether the Straits Times supports the principle of the Yellow Ribbon Project. Does the Straits Times not believe that once a person has paid for his mistakes, we should move on and not keep harping on those mistakes? Does the Straits Times not believe in helping people who have made mistakes move on and beyond their mistakes?
Lessons to be learnt
As a result of this fiasco, United’s shares fell as much as 6.3% the day after the incident happened. That wiped out up to $1.4 billion of market value.
The incident has also sparked outrage. Amongst those outraged are the Chinese. Many people in China are calling for a boycott of United. Put together, these will hurt the shareholders of United. So there is real incentive for United, and indeed, all airlines, to learn from this incident.
Hopefully, this incident will result in airlines reviewing the way they plan their flights, manage situations where people have to be bumped off flights, and improve their staff training. Let’s hope we don’t see something like this again.
Guess what? That’s not all.
And oh, just when the world is probably thinking that United Airlines cannot do worse than what they had already done, you read this. They apparently did NOT take his bags off the plane after he was dragged off. And then they proceeded to send his luggage to the WRONG address hundreds of miles from where he was hospitalised.