Backlash erupts after United passenger gets yanked off overbooked flight
First, the shock. Now, the fallout.
An officer is suspended, United’s CEO is under fire, and customers are outraged after a man was violently removed from an overbooked flight.
“If they had just tried some diplomacy, none of this had to take place,” passenger John Klaassen said Tuesday.
By now, most everyone’s seen the cell phone footage: Three security officers dragging the man down the plane’s aisle by the arms and legs while other passengers shout in protest.
Anyone can be kicked off an overbooked flight against their will. In 2015 alone, 46,000 customers were involuntarily bumped from flights, according to the Department of Transportation.
What prompted the backlash is the way United Flight 3411 apart is the way the airline and officers handled the situation aboard United Flight 3411.
Passenger: The man initially volunteered to leave
After passengers already boarded the plane, United said it needed to clear some seats because four members of another flight crew needed to sit down. If those crew members didn’t get on board, a United spokeswoman said, their flight would have been canceled.
The man who ended up bloodied and screaming Sunday night had initially agreed to get off the plane, passenger Jayse Anspach said.
“Him and his wife, they volunteered initially,” Anspach said. “But once they found out that the next flight wasn’t until (Monday) at 2:30 p.m., he said, ‘I can’t do that. I gotta be at work.’ So he sat back down.”
The harder the officers tried to get the man to leave, the harder the man insisted he stay.
“He was very emphatic: ‘I can’t be late. I’m a doctor. I’ve got to be there tomorrow,’ ” Anspach recalled.
His pleas didn’t work. Moments later, the man was getting dragged down the aisle. At one point, passengers say, the man hits his head on an armrest. Video shows blood starts streaming from his mouth.
During the ordeal, the man claimed he was being profiled for being Chinese, passenger Tyler Bridges said.
Chopped credit cards and tumbling stocks
The incident disgusted United customers across the country. Some protested by cutting up their United credit cards.
“My new #united card. Not planning to fly them any more after this,” Josh Perfetto tweeted.
United also took a hit on the stock market. Shares in United Airlines slipped by 4% Tuesday, and the company’s market value plummeted by $1 billion.
Yes, this can happen to anyone
While the United incident is more dramatic than most, the truth is anyone can get booted from a flight — even if you’re a paying customer who hasn’t caused any trouble.
Overbooking is legal, and most airlines do it in anticipation of no-shows, the US Department of Transportation said. If no one volunteers, the airline can select passengers for removal based on criteria such as check-in time or the cost of a ticket, according to the US Department of Transportation’s Fly-Rights.
It’s an often-overlooked policy that you agree to it when you book your tickets.
But on the United flight, no one volunteered to leave, so the company was forced into an “involuntary de-boarding situation,” airline spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
United employees explained the situation to the man several times, Hobart said. When he refused, they followed Department of Transportation protocol and called local law enforcement to forcibly remove him from the plane.
But at least one of those responding officers is now under investigation.
Security officer suspended
Bridges said two officers tried to calmly talk the man out of his seat before a third approached him aggressively. That officer told him he had to get off the plane, and when he resisted, the officer grabbed him out of his seat and carried him out with the other officers.
The Chicago Department of Aviation, said the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure, and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department.”
That officer has been placed on leave pending an investigation, the department of aviation said.
CEO gives no apology, praises employees
In an internal memo, CEO Oscar Munoz defended his employees, saying the passenger kept trying to resist even after he was removed and ran back into the plane.
“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” Munoz wrote. “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
“I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident.”
Last month, the Munoz was named U.S. Communicator of the Year by the magazine PRWeek. But now many are criticizing his handling of Flight 3411
Rupert Younger, a PR expert and director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, said Munoz’s response was a big disappointment.
“The apology by the CEO was, at best, lukewarm or, at worst, trying to dismiss the incident,” Younger said. “The CEO should make a better, more heartfelt, more meaningful and more personal apology.”
Ed Zitron, another PR expert, said United might not be offering a full apology because of fears over a potential lawsuit.
But Bridges said he hold United responsible for the fiasco.
“I think United messed this up on the front end,” the passenger said.
“It shouldn’t have gotten to the point where there’s a man on the plane or four people on the plane that have to be removed after they’ve already taken their seat. If they were overbooked, they should have only let people on the plane that were going to be able to leave on the plane.”