Fly the friendly skies? Not on United Airlines

Courtesy Getty Images

OVERBOOKING was not uncommon in the early days when airlines, concerned about no-shows, knowingly took on more passengers than there were seats. That started to change when the competition heightened as travellers would not want to risk being bumped off, and airlines got round the problem with imposing penalties for no-show and other terms of booking such as no change of flight that more or less guaranteed the revenue. Real time computer updates have also helped to manage a more efficient match between bookings and capacity.

However, in the United States today, it is still happening. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances may result in an overbooked position as when some seats may be needed last minute to accommodate urgent requests. The exigencies of work, business or social obligations, as well as the frequency of short haul hops, may encourage more people to make decisions at the eleventh hour. So, while waiting to board at the gate, you may hear announcements asking for volunteers to give up their seats, for which they will be compensated a certain amount of money for the inconvenience. Usually there are takers, whose travel plans are flexible enough to permit or encourage them to take advantage of an extended holiday or offer of some extra cash for the pocket.

United Airlines flew in a storm of anger on social media when videos surfaced of a man being violently removed from its flight before taking off from Chicago to Louisville. Apparently, the airline needed to accommodate four crew members to the destination for reasons of work, and this meant an overbooked situation. There was a call for volunteers to offload themselves from the flight, for which they would be compensated US$800. When this failed, it was reported that the computer randomly selected the passengers, and when a man said to be a doctor who claimed he had patients to attend to at his destination refused to budge, he was forcibly taken off the aircraft by enforcement officers. He was later pictured with a bloodied face.

The ugly scene horrified witnesses as they cried foul in horror of the way the affected passenger was treated, and others said they would not fly United ever again. While |United chief executive Oscar Munoz has since apologized for the incident, the damage to its reputation arising from a publicly visual representation is going to take some time to heal as travellers reflect on the same thing happening to them in a similar situation.

Mr Munoz said: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

Blame it on the over-enthusiasm of an enforcement officer if you must, but this is no way to treat a passenger. And who, you should ask, is responsible for overbooking a flight?

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About Dingzi
Writer by passion, with professional expertise in aviation, customer service and creative writing. Aviation veteran, author, editor and management consultant. Besides commentary on business issues and life-interest topics, travel stories and book reviews, genres include fiction, poetry and plays. Nature lover who abhors cruelty of any form to animals, and a tireless traveler. Above all, a dreamer.

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