United: I am disappointed in how you forcibly removed a passenger from a flight

By now, most people have probably read about United Airline’s recent incident with denying boarding to a passenger and removing him by force.

The passenger is supposedly a doctor who needs to get home on Monday, though his profession doesn’t really matter to me. The story is simple from the customer’s perspective. He needs to get somewhere, and he didn’t want to give up the seat he paid for.

There are two sides of every story.

United has their side too, and much of it is in the fine prints. United has every right to deny boarding to passengers as they so desired. At least that much is clear.

I certainly can see both sides of the coin, though I think United mishandled and manhandled the situation, and propelled a minor operational issue into the national headlines. There are some particulars of this incident:

1. The passenger boarded already. Does it make a difference?

United’s mistake #1: United has the right to deny boarding before boarding and even after a passenger has boarded. However, they must know that it is easier to get people to give up their seats prior to boarding than after everyone has settled in. Why couldn’t they figure out how many seats they still need prior to boarding?

2. They couldn’t get enough volunteers.

United’s mistake #2: If they couldn’t get enough volunteers, increase the compensation payout.

Believe me, some people will eventually take up well-compensated offers for the inconvenience. Otherwise, you should expect some resistance as people paid for their seats and deservedly expect a seat on the flight.

3. How security forcibly dragged the passenger off the plane.

I don’t want to link to the video, but the passenger was a paying customer and not someone who has committed any wrong-doing. Even if he is to be involuntarily removed from the flight, they shouldn’t drag him off that way. Yes, United can enforce the rules of carriage, but it was horribly unfriendly to a paying customer who had every right to expect a seat on that flight.

My Take as a Customer

  • If I book a hotel, I expect a hotel room when I arrive.
  • If I book a flight, I expect a seat on that flight.

Yes, it is possible that that circumstances could result in oversold seats or rooms. I get that unexpected things happen.

Still, as a customer, I expect that I would be compensated fairly for the inconvenience or be provided other acceptable solutions. I expect the company to be apologetic about the inconvenience. If the incident is clearly causing distress to the passenger, the staff should recognize the signs and look for ways to de-escalate the situation. This could be in the form of increasing compensation to get other volunteers or coming up with agreeable solutions with the passenger. Maybe guaranteed first flight back on Monday?

Instead, United decided to kick customer service out the window.

I think how this situation was handled is a major disgrace. United: I am incredibly disappointed in how you handled this matter and the way you treated your customer.

You should know better.

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