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Joe Crumley
Joe Crumley
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United Airlines Fiasco – Wrong on All Counts

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There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle overbooked flight.  United screwed up in almost every way imaginable.

First, overbooking.  Overbooking is the practice of selling morUntitlede seats than you have on the airplane.  What!? That sounds crazy to inexperienced travelers, but it’s legal, and fully expected in the airline industry. Why?  Because not everybody with a ticket shows up for a flight.  They might be delayed on a connecting flight, the might be stuck in traffic, they maybe just overslept.  Some customers buy tickets that are fully refundable (which was the standard 20-30 years ago, when the rules were developing). Wouldn’t you be mad if you missed your flight by five minutes and the airline didn’t give you credit and try to put you on the next flight? So something like 46,000 people with tickets get bumped very year in the US alone!

So the law and the rules haUntitledve always allowed airlines to overbook flights in hopes that they hit the sweet spot where 100% of the seats are filled and no one is bumped. Sometimes they come up short, and a few seats are empty.  Those empty seats are pure lost money, because it doesn’t really cost any less to fly the plane with ten empty seats.

So federal regulations were established after Ralph Nader won a lawsuit forcing airlines to compensate people for being bumped.  This article lays out the history.  United has their own rules and Contract of Carriage, based on the federal regulations.  Turns out they violated their own Contract by having Dr. Dao dragged off the plane. He had a contract and he was seated, and he wasn’t drunk and disorderly.  Find someone else, and up the offer.  Someone would have taken $1000, or $1450 to get off the plane. (Note: After posting this story, news leaked that Delta has increased their supervisor’s authority to pay up to $10,000 per seat to avoid this sort of problem!)

More than all that, as a common carrier (legal mumbo jumbo for airlines, buses, trains and other such paid transporters) they are held to a higher standard than other businesses.  They’re actually required to protect their clients…. Not assault them!

But even if they had followed the rules, it’s a public relations nightmare!

There’s NOTHING in any story or video that justifies assaulting this guy in this manner.  Here’s all the bad things they did:

  • Didn’t offer more money,
  • Bumped him for United employeees,
  • Bumped him involuntarily,
  • After he was seated,
  • Forcibly removed him while people videotaped the assault.

So the good doctor has personal injury claim for the physical assault, the concussion he received, emotional distress, and other inuries.

But the most valuable part of the claim is the horrible publicity for United.  Every time there’s a story on this, news outlets are going to go to the video of security officers dragging that poor screaming doctor off the plane.  A smart comapny pays now, and every airline should be training their staff on how to handle these situations.

CNN has an excellent video summary of the entire fiasco here.