My two cents on the United Airlines fiasco

This post is coming a trifle too late probably, but you know the adage – ‘better late than never’ :D. 20 days ago (On Sunday April 9th late evening), in an atrocious case of violence by American authorities; 69 year old Dr. David Dao was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight bound for  Louisville (in Kentucky) from Chicago, because the airlines needed 4 seats for its crew. 

According to an eye witness Audra D Bridges,  passengers at the gate were told that the flight was overbooked; and United, offering 400$ and a hotel stay, were looking for a volunteer to board another flight to Louisville at 3 pm on Monday April 10th. According to Bridges, once the flight was filled; the passengers on the plane were told that 4 people needed to give up their seats to standby United employees who needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight.

The passengers were told that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats, and the offer was increased to 800$; but still no one volunteered to give up their seats. Bridges said that a manager then came aboard the plane and told them that a computer would randomly select four people to be taken off the flight. A couple was selected and left the plane before Dr.David Dao was confronted. According to Bridges, Dr.Dao became very upset and said that he was a doctor who needed to see patients at a hospital in the morning; and therefore could not willingly give up that flight. The manager, however; refused to listen to the pleas of the elderly doctor, and threatened to call security if he did not leave willingly.

Two security officials came and spoke with Dr.Dao, but he refused to leave. Then a third security official came and violently threw the doctor against the armrest, before dragging him off the plane; leaving him bloodied and disoriented. According to Bridges, Dr.Dao was the only person forcibly removed from the flight, and the incident severely upset many children aboard the plane. There were many more horrified witnesses, who screamed in disgust and filmed the incident on their phones.

Let us take a moment to reflect on this sordid incident. This is clearly an abysmal case of brute force used by American authorities (in this case Aviation security officers of Chicago), who treated a senior citizen doctor like a hardened criminal. If I had been aboard that plane and witnessed this atrocity, I would probably never fly an American airline again. Another thing is what was the need to  randomly force passengers (who had paid a truckload of money) out of the flight just to accommodate crew? An upset woman suggested that the pilots could have rented a car and driven to Louisville instead. Yeah. Or they could just have arranged another flight for the crew instead of denying passengers who had paid money and booked in advance.

What was worse was that Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines; blamed the 69 year old doctor for the incident, saying that Dr.Dao was “disruptive and belligerent”. Moreover, The Chicago Aviation Police Department released a statement calling the doctor “irate” and lying through their teeth that he “fell”.

Yeah really he fell? Does the Chicago PD think that the passengers aboard the flight are all fools, clearly having witnessed Dr.Dao being struck forcefully against the armrest? First they show primal urges of violence towards an elderly doctor, then they deny it saying that he “slipped and fell”. The authorities are supposed to be responsible for the safety of their people, but instead they abuse their power; and then come forward to defend their atrocity. I can’t blame the people if they lose faith in the American law authorities (particularly those of Chicago) after this incident.  Moreover, think of the trauma undergone by Dr.David Dao after this horror experience. He is an aged doctor  at a hospital – it will definitely be difficult for him to treat patients now given that he has undergone such physical (a concussion, a broken nose and two broken front teeth), mental and emotional distress himself.

According to Benedict Morelli, Founding Partner of Morelli Law Firm; United Airlines focussed on protecting the company and its public image rather than protecting its customers, and acted in a negligent and inappropriate manner in removing Dr.Dao from the plane; and also initially failed to accept responsibility for the incident.

According to Mr.Morelli, United could have easily chartered a small plane to fly their staff from Chicago to Louisville, instead of assaulting and humiliating a paying customer who also happens to be a veteran doctor. But the airline was instead only bothered about saving money and lacked humanity. To make it worse, the CEO brushed off the incident as a “re-accommodation” and sent a letter to employees describing the doctor as “disruptive and belligerent”, saying that the United employees “followed the established procedures”. Only after United’s stock price plunged and the customers expressed public outrage, did Oscar Munez come out and state that the company would accept full responsibility; and formally apologized to Dr.Dao.

Mr.Morelli here makes a very pertinent point that large companies often respond to such atrocious actions by protecting themselves and denying responsibility; instead putting the blame on the customer/client. Only when the entire public shows its outrage and the company suffers losses (mostly in stock price) due to the destruction of its image, does the company own up and take action against the wrongdoers; merely in an effort to save its own face and regain lost customers, or prevent loss of future customers.  Regarding Dr.Dao, there is a small consolation, though. He has finally received a financial settlement from United Airlines(the amount being “confidential”). However, according to his lawyer, the experience with the Airlines on that fateful day was more horrifying and harrowing than the veteran’s earlier experiences during the Vietnam War.

Well, well! If I were a friend or family member of Dr.Dao, I would forbid him from travelling on United Airlines ever again even if he wanted to(in a hypothetical scenario, that is). Even the change in booking policy of United Airlines(passengers will apparently now be offered up t o $10000 for giving up their seats) cannot, in my opinion; sufficiently compensate for this atrocity and the trauma it has caused Dr.Dao (not to mention many children who had the misfortune to witness this incident on the flight). In fact, this is not the only bad incident involving United Airlines.

On Sunday March 27th, United Airlines stopped 3 girls wearing leggings after boarding a flight, and defended this sexist decision by saying that it has the right to turn away passengers who are “not properly clothed’, even though one of the passengers’ fathers was wearing shorts and allowed on the flight without question.

A giant 10-month old and 50-pound rabbit (expected to become the world’s largest rabbit) died on a United Airlines flight from London to Chicago on Monday 26th April. According to its owner, Annette Edwards, the bunny was found dead in the plane’s cargo; though it had undergone a veterinary check-up just 3 hours before the flight and was found in perfectly good health.

Richard Bell, a passenger travelling along with his wife from Houston to Calgary on Sunday April 9th in a United Airlines flight; was eating when a scorpion fell out of an overhead bin and stung him.

These incidents (though figuratively small in comparison to the Dr.Dao fiasco) smack of gross mismanagement and a general indifference and lack of humanity from United Airlines. So much for calling themselves America’s “no.1 airline”.

4 thoughts on “My two cents on the United Airlines fiasco

  1. I have been a loyal customer of Continental and it was because of their great service and friendly crew. Ever since United acquired Continental, the arrogant culture of United has become the corporate culture of the combined company . It is time United starts to show its customers respect or this will be another airline in bankruptcy court soon.

    Ashwin great summary.

    Liked by 1 person

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