The saga continues: United Airlines CEO promises no repeat of David Dao incident

Courtesy Getty Images

The saga of the United Airlines PR disaster in forcibly removing a fare-paying passenger from a flight because of an overbooked situation continues (see Fly the friendly skies? Not with United Airlines, Apr 10, 2017 and United Airlines flew deeper into a PR storm, Apr 11, 2017).

United CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial statement of the “upsetting” incident was decried by netizens as being non-apologetic when he followed up with a letter to staff stating his support of their action as being procedural, adding that the passenger now identified as Dr David Dao was “disruptive and belligerent” which might suggest his mistreatment was justified. According to witnesses’ accounts, Mr Munoz had been misinformed.

The backlash on social media with calls to boycott United led to a more formal apology that in the words of Mr Munoz “no one should ever be mistreated this way.” In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, he said he felt “ashamed” watching the video and promised to review the airline’s policy and procedures. He promised that “this will never happen again on a United flight” with the assurance that the airline would no longer ask police officers to remove passengers from an overbooked flight.

The US Department of Transportation is also reviewing to see if United violated rules on overselling flights.

If you had been rudely awakened to the reality that even with a fully paid-up confirmed seat you could still be bumped off a flight, hold your horses. It can still happen, hopefully the occasion will be few and far between and that it will be handled fairly with civility and respect. In the said United incident, when no one volunteered to give up his or her seat, the decision was relegated to a random selection by the computer. That became a matter of chance, although one never knows how the selection was programmed.

Customers are more likely to be receptive to a more predictable system with some logic attached to it. Some airlines adopt the LIFO protocol, denying boarding to those at the end of the line. So, you can reduce the odds by checking-in early. Other airlines may be guided by a priority list, taking into account the status of the traveller as to whether, for example, he or she is a frequent flier, a fare-paying passenger as opposed to a complimentary ticket holder or staff passenger; the type of fare (there are many tiers even within the same cabin); the nature of the travel such as end-point or with connections, and if visas are involved; and the way you dress. So you take your chances, knowingly.

On the question of attire, United ran into a bad PR patch in another incident when two teenaged girls were denied boarding because they wore leggings. There was a time when Qantas frowned even on tees. Then, travellers dressed more formally, and there was the odd chance that in an overbooked situation in coach, you might be upgraded because you were in tie and suit. But these days, the manner of attire, unless it is deemed indecent and provocative, is a touchy issue. As social standards keep changing, so it is necessary to continually review and update the protocol.

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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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