The thoughts of a writer.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

United Airlines Incident is a Wake Up Call

Because of the nature of the service and the security measures involved, airlines have long been able to treat their customers poorly, get away with it and still turn a profit. When United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz praised his staff for "removing a belligerent passenger," the view from his "ivory tower" apparently didn't afford him the realization that public opinion would overwhelmingly be against him. In fact, this is why most companies hire a public relations/communications person—to do the speaking for them. In my own work history, I had occasion (years ago) to write for a division director because in spite of his advanced degree, he wrote only slightly better than my preschool-age son.

So after the airlines caused the problem by overbooking the flight (which is standard operating procedure for airlines in the U.S.A.), a man who clearly didn't want to miss his flight was forcibly removed and bloodied in the process. It is accepted by authorities, by airlines, and by law enforcement, that individuals can be singled out and treated this way. However, as police departments around the nation have realized, with the ease that ordinary citizens can place video streams of these unfortunate events onto social media, the days that this will continue unchallenged are growing short.

Why are airlines routinely allowed to breach contracts of paying customers by overbooking flights? The reason they do it is because they want to make sure the seats are all filled. It is about money. Even if they have to offer money to those who are "bumped" from the fight, they are still ahead. Still, if you have paid for a ticket and arrived on time for your flight, doesn't the airline have an obligation to give you a seat on the airplane?

Perhaps most of us would not have resisted to the extent that this passenger did. I have been on overbooked flights and have never accepted the "incentives" to volunteer to miss my scheduled flight. It is my belief that no one should be forced to do so—and the airline should be held legally responsible to provide the service that was paid for.

So the public reacted; and realizing (albeit too late) his position as CEO of United Airlines did not "fly" with the general public who had seen the shocking video of a passenger being mistreated—which he had earlier condoned, Munoz had to try to salvage the public relations disaster that he had just helped to ignite, by suddenly reversing his previous statement and apologizing for the "horrific event."

So hopefully, the public will continue to be enraged by how airlines treat them. Maybe the airlines will finally be forced to handle things more ethically. Maybe they won't be able to treat paying passengers like criminals and say it was to "remove a security threat." So Oscar Munoz, do you know (now) that this would never have happened if your airline hadn't caused this "horrific event" by being greedy and by not respecting your customers? It's time for all the airlines to wake up.

—KJC

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