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The Unfriendly Skies

Via WaPo:  A man wouldn’t leave an overbooked United flight. So he was dragged off, battered and limp.

United Airlines says a man wouldn’t give up his spot on an overbooked flight Sunday.

So, according to witnesses and videos of the incident, he was pulled screaming from his seat by security, knocked against an arm rest and dragged down the aisle and back to the terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

The videos are rather unsettling.

One hopes that the passenger, who appears to have been knocked unconscious when he was forcibly removed from the flight, wins a substantial settlement from United.

Further, United will likely soon wish it had found a different way to get those four employees to their destination after the PR fallout from this event.

The whole thing is insane.

 

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Between this and the incident in March when it banned two ten-year-old girls from flying because they were wearing leggings and traveling on a courtesy voucher with an off-duty United employee (I am not making this up.) it’s been quite a bad month for United.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  2. Ben in RI says:

    I’m also going to point out that the flight wasn’t even overbooked. All paid passengers had a seat. They booted off paying customers because they had 4 employees they needed to get to Louisville and they apparently suck at staffing logistics.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  3. Pch101 says:

    I’ve been in situations in which the airline wanted to bump some passengers, but there were initially no volunteers.

    The solution is pretty simple: Sweeten the deal and offer the passengers more stuff. Why these idiots didn’t simply offer enough so that they would get four takers, I don’t know — give enough free stuff, and you’ll find them easily enough.

    I’ve generally had good service on UAL, but there have been notable exceptions (although nothing like this story.)

    I recall on one occasion that I had ordered a special meal (as I usually do) for a Transatlantic flight. First, they woke me from a deep sleep to give it to me. Then, I got attitude for eating it because they had apparently brought me a special meal that had been intended for someone else, as if it was somehow my responsibility to double-check their work. Not everyone who works there is smart, I guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: While I know that you’re not making it up, I will add that the adult in charge of the 10-year-old girls both needed to be aware of the dress requirements for people (even children) flying as employees and take responsibility for making sure that those children did not cause embarrassment to themselves by being refused transport for not coming appropriately dressed.

    Now having finished my “get off my lawn” rant, I will note that everything about flying on United has been so repulsive for such a long time that I avoid flying United to the point of paying extra money to avoid it. Sad. Pathetic. Worse than Trump Shuttle. Disappointing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  5. Slugger says:

    I was booted off a UAL flight about ten years ago. I was already seated and told to get off. I objected but left under my own power after being threatened with physical removal and a PATRIOT act violation. A guy sitting near me told me that he flies that route regularly and overbooking with valid passenger removal is not uncommon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. michael reynolds says:

    They could have kept raising the premium they offered people to voluntarily leave, but they capped it at $800. Bet they could have gotten what they wanted at $1000. So for the sake of saving $200 times four passengers they bought ten million dollar’s worth of bad publicity.

    I knew United’s nastiness would overpower Continental’s relatively pleasant corporate culture. Just as Alaska Air will ruin Virgin America. Each new merger makes things worse for consumers. I never fly a domestic airline when I’m going out of the country. In the US I only fly Virgin and Jet Blue. And as a rule if I’m heading down to LA I’ll drive rather than fly.

    You know, we have this category of ‘discouraged workers,’ we need the same sort of thing for ‘alienated flyers.’ How many billions of dollars are the airlines forfeiting by simply convincing people not to fly?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    You raise a fair point, but would a reasonable person have known that leggings for a ten-year-old girl were considered “inappropriate?

    Obviously, this incident is far less serious than what happened last night in Chicago, but it does give one an idea of how badly United is at handling bad PR.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: One reason why I hope a technological offshoot of one of my engineering projects will be Heavy Lift Zeppelins and we can bring back some of the glamour of air travel.

    As it is, getting squashed into a wretchedly uncomfortable seat and treated like a piece of meat in a tin can has made me avoid flying as much as possible. Gimme a Cessna prop and I’ll fly it myself.

    And yeah, what was United thinking? Hell, they could have flown a plane with only the four standbyes on board and lost less money compared to this PR disaster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. KM says:

    @grumpy realist

    Heavy Lift Zeppelins and we can bring back some of the glamour of air travel.

    That sounds interesting. For those of us that hate air travel (specifically takeoff /landing and turbulence) would you say it would be a better ride? I’d totally sacrifice more time for a smoother ride and you could work wifi into it, the “time lost” wouldn’t even effect workflow. I can just imagine a stately cruise with a relaxing view while I zone out of my latest meeting :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Robert in SF says:

    I believe that the US DOT has a limit on the benefit that is available to those passenegers who are involuntarily denied a flight (bumped…) depending on the accomodation the airline makes to get the passenger to the final destination.
    So the airline wouldn’t go above that reward amount to offer for voluntary bumpings…

    https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights

    Involuntary Bumping

    DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay:

    If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
    If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum.
    If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum).
    If your ticket does not show a fare (for example, a frequent-flyer award ticket or a ticket issued by a consolidator), your denied boarding compensation is based on the lowest cash, check or credit card payment charged for a ticket in the same class of service (e.g., coach, first class) on that flight.
    You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
    If you paid for optional services on your original flight (e.g., seat selection, checked baggage) and you did not receive those services on your substitute flight or were required to pay a second time, the airline that bumped you must refund those payments to you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. KM says:

    As noted above, I hate flying. If I managed to get into my seat sans freakout, the only thing getting me out of it is arrival at my destination or the goddamn plane on fire. It’s not my problem you overbooked, I’m paying for this service, no I’m not taking your damn bribe and if you attempt to remove me from my clutching-the-armrests seat, we gonna have problems.

    People are on flights for reasons ie they have somewhere to be. Forcing them to deviate from their schedule for your screw-up should require major compensation since they might be losing out on other, paid important things. Cheap out when asking for volunteers and nobody’s gonna volunteer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. KM says:

    @Robert in SF:

    Thanks for the info! This part here is what’s most interesting:

    your denied boarding compensation

    He was already boarded so they were essentially throwing him off the flight, not denying him boarding. A good lawyer could roll with that verbiage…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It’s appearing in several articles that the reason he wouldn’t get off was that he was a doctor and he had appointments to see patients at the hospital the next morning, and taking a later flight would mess everything up. (I’d link to some but it was in every article today so I think it’s standard copy now.)

    So he was the only guy in the altercation who understood the real meaning of customer service.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  14. Monala says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Exactly. My 11-year-old only owns leggings and jeans. She has one or two dresses for special occasions, but a plane flight is not what I’d consider a special occasion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @KM: That’s the idea. The top speed wouldn’t be what you get with an airplane, but the idea is to have something like an “ocean liner” of the sky, with libraries and little cafes and places with pool tables, etc. All the while you would be able to look out of the windows and see the countryside slipping past underneath you.

    In short, something that the steampunk community would die for (and if I were actually designing one of these things I’d crowd-design it with a group of steampunk artists and engineers.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. Tyrell says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: Yes, employees of airlines do have a dress code for their employees and there are consequences for not following it. As far as the general public goes, there used to be a time when air travelers wore suitable clothes that showed respect. Now I see air ports with people wearing shorts, t-shirts, and jeans. The continuing decline of culture and respect in this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  17. KM says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Take my money. I need this to be a thing.

    Moreover, *America* needs this to be a thing. Think about it, red states: be *actual* fly-over country. Charge high-altitude tours of your beautiful scenery or interesting landmarks (psst make some visible from the air if needed). Leafers can now see their foliage dreams without clogging up the roads. IDK how easy landing would be but those out of the way hollers would be lovely picnic spots if you make a zepplin clearing. Appalachia, get on this!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    They could have kept raising the premium they offered people to voluntarily leave, but they capped it at $800. Bet they could have gotten what they wanted at $1000. So for the sake of saving $200 times four passengers they bought ten million dollar’s worth of bad publicity.

    (((ding ding ding)))
    We have a winner.
    The very first thing I thought of was that the monetary incentive to give up the seat was too low. Now this poor guy, maybe he couldn’t give up the seat, but for a few dollars more there might have been 10 or 12 people who would have been willing to give up their seats. I personally have been tempted twice to give it up and take a later flight just for the promise of a discounted future flight. For the right price I’d probably sell out and wait 3 or 4 hours, what ever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. Not the IT Dept. says:

    There was a time when the customer was shown respect by companies eager for their business and proud of their corporate reputation for service. In fact, there was even a time when companies competed against each other based on their customer service. Amazing!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  20. Monala says:

    One of the most horrifying things about this are various commenters that I’ve seen on this story in other places who argue that it was the guy’s fault. He should have just complied! Companies have every right to tell you that you can’t stay on their property! Etc.

    I can’t tell if people are suffering from Just World fallacy (afraid to admit that something like this could happen to them, so they want to believe that in a Just World, the guy must have done something wrong), or if they’re of such an authoritarian bent that they no longer believe anyone but the strongman or the corporation has any rights or dignity.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  21. Pch101 says:

    I suspect that one of the issues is that unhappy passengers seem to be treated as if they are potential hijackers or violent criminals instead of customers who require service.

    Disgruntlement is not regarded as a chance to deliver service and sell the brand, but as a threat to the aircraft, and the staff overreacts accordingly. Instead of seeing the doctor as a professional who needs to get somewhere and is worthy of getting something for his money, the crew instead responds to him as if he is Mohamed Atta or DB Cooper.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Tyrell:..Now I see air ports with people wearing shorts, t-shirts, and jeans. The continuing decline of culture and respect in this country.

    Who are you? The fashion police?
    Thirty years ago when I was closing in on 40 I would fly from the mid west to the west coast and back on a regular basis. Jeans, a T-shirt and a light jacket were the extent of my wardrobe. I wore that because it was comfortable.
    Just who was I dissing in these duds? The cowboy sitting across the aisle with his sleeveless confederate flag shirt with his armpit hair hanging out?
    And no I never saw anyone in a tux.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  23. DrDaveT says:

    @Robert in SF:

    I believe that the US DOT has a limit on the benefit that is available to those passenegers who are involuntarily denied a flight

    I read the passage you quoted as establishing the minimum the airline must pay in compensation, not a maximum. There’s nothing prohibiting them from paying more than (the smaller of [X% of your one-way fare] and [$Y]), which is what they are required to pay (with different values of X and Y depending on how quickly they get you to your destination).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Monala:

    She has one or two dresses for special occasions, but a plane flight is not what I’d consider a special occasion.

    And as a very frequent traveler, this is part of the problem.

    I have seen people dressed in their pajamas, or come right off the beach dragging all sorts of crap that they plan to shove everywhere. A garbage bag does not qualify as a carry on bag, even if it can be squished. A king size pillow will not make your trip more comfortable.

    Yes, your personal comfort is important, but not to me.

    If you can afford to buy an airline ticket, grow up, buy some clothes.

    and get off my lawn.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  25. Monala says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: I’m not talking about beach wear or pajamas. I’m talking about jeans or leggings, along with a shirt. You know, the kinds of clothing kids are allowed to wear to school (unless their school has a uniform).

    And no, I wouldn’t put her in a dress to get on a plane. Planes are cold and cramped. Something that will keep her legs warm, and keep her semi-comfortable is much better. And unlike the issue of too much carry on junk, how does this affect you at all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: Maybe if the air companies treated the passengers with respect they would get it back.

    But when they make it obvious that they want to cram us into as small a space as possible and nickel and dime us to death, well, they get back what they get.

    Also, I challenge you to try flying any intercontinental flight wearing a girdle and high heels in a present-day economy seat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. Robert in SF says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I read the passage you quoted as establishing the minimum the airline must pay in compensation, not a maximum.

    I was referring to the ‘auction’ like offerings that go on to get volunteers for being bumped. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    Once the airline gets to the value set in regulations, they would be better off to just pick people based on some internal formula (perhaps based on the fare and status of the passengers?) and then perform an involuntary bump of those persons. Then they would pay out the compensation as directed by the regulation.

    But I cannot imagine a situation in which the airlines would offer more than that, when it’s in their power to just perform the bump and pay out the regulated amount.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Mr. Bluster says:
  29. Pch101 says:

    @Robert in SF: I was once on a flight that asked for volunteers. I can’t recall what was initially offered, but it wasn’t particularly generous.

    After seeing that there were no takers, I said something along the lines of “Come on, you can offer more than that.” The flight attendant gave me the look of death, but then she started upping the offer and eventually got the seats that they wanted.

    It’s not the flight attendant’s money, so she had no reason to care. If you’re going to inconvenience your customers, then at least make it worth their while.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: If you’re going to Asia, I recommend Asiana as my first choice and Korean Air as the second. I’ve done ok on Delta and did a thousand on a bump from them. Still got home the same day, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Since United claims that it’s in the dress guidelines, I would have to say so. For girls, it’s also easy to play it safe and put shorts or culottes on over the top. In our school district, we don’t allow girls to wear only leggings until middle school–and probably shouldn’t there when they come wearing ones with t-shirts tucked into underwear waistbands.

    But what does an old man know from fashion? The boys like the look and the girls apparently like the attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: I used to pay extra to make sure I was on JAL or ANA. 14 hours is too much to take of the “cram ’em in the seats and treat them like crap” technique that is now distressingly common for U.S. airlines.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Tyrell says:

    @grumpy realist: The last time I flew was on Eastern Airlines.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. michael reynolds says:

    @Robert in SF:
    Thanks for the facts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:
    Clothing is all about signaling. When I visit schools in the UK where they are all in uniforms, the signaling continues in skirt height and Windsor knots. Our little teenage signalers just have a broader palette, but the signals are identical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @Robert in SF:

    But I cannot imagine a situation in which the airlines would offer more than that, when it’s in their power to just perform the bump and pay out the regulated amount.

    I can. We just saw it.

    Seriously, there’s no way United saved money by assaulting this physician and dragging him off the plane, no matter who was technically legally in the right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  37. SKI says:

    Let’s not lose sight that United never actually offered any money at all.

    They offered $800 in a “travel voucher” with limitations and which could only be applied to full price fares. Actual value is a small fraction of the $800.

    If they had offered $800 cash, I’m pretty sure they would have gotten some takers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0