Comment Of The Day: “More Ethics Observations On The United Flight 3411 Ethics Train Wreck”

Public discussion and media reports is finally waning regarding United’s cascading botch of a full and fully seated flight in which the airline wanted to get four seats back and had neither the law, nor policy, nor sufficient justification to acquire them. Thus its agents lied, exceeded their authority, mistreated a passenger, called in police, and they further escalated the fiasco, badly injuring the victim in the process. (Their conduct was similar in some ways to that of the police officers who killed Eric Garner.)

Even now, however, many people still believe this arose from an overbooked flight. Some misguided pundits are still blaming Dr. Dao. The news media has not taken responsibility for its terrible reporting on this incident, and still hasn’t done a good job explaining what really happened. Meanwhile, Delta has taken advantage of United’s pain by announcing that it will pay up to $10,000 to bumped passengers in the future. And Southwestern won itself an all time record for audacious cheekiness with the above ad, which United deserves. [UPDATE: Apparently this is a hoax, not a real ad. Too bad.]

Here is brian’s Comment of the Day on this ethics train wreck in the sky:

The I don’t think you’re being overly cynical here. I have seen multiple responses from media, politicians, and the CEO all following the basic pattern, propose solutions that do not address what went wrong. A handful of employees acted incompetently, and United (and probably most airlines) didn’t think through their carriage contract, police were ill trained, and the culture of United is horrible in general. But instead of addressing any of those issues, they all have motivated reasons to misconstrue the issues and offer ‘solutions’ to problems that don’t exist.

Things that could be done:

1) CEO comes out and says we are going to train and empower our staff to deal with more and varied types of situations as they arise. We also recognize that our current customer facing staff do not have the appropriate level of customer service training, which is entirely the fault of management. We are going to fix this starting now. We have pulled together XYZ resources and will be meeting weekly for the next 12 weeks to generate a comprehensive plan to begin changing our culture. You can expect an interim report in 4 weeks.

2) CEO says, we are going to set up a true reverse auction, paying cash, for all situations when we have to either remove or deny a paying customer due to reasons beyond their control. We will train all gate staff and front line managers on how to conduct this easy and straight forward auction. We should have been doing it already, because the value of the additional seats we can sell by overbooking far outweigh the costs we incur from the small portion of riders who we must justly compensate for any inconvenience.

3) Chief of police says, our police officer were not adequately prepared for this type of situation. We are reviewing our training material to make sure we address this situation, but are also conducting a wider review of our polices and training to look for additional blind spots in our policy. I feel it’s important to point out that this situation was not typical from our departments perspective, we are rarely called onto a plane to remove a passenger unless that passenger is being disruptive and the crew requires law enforcement help because most denial of boarding situations are handled at the gate. While the unique nature of the situation does not excuse our conduct and does not mitigate the seriousness of our officers deviation from our normal conflict resolution procedures, spelled out below, I hope some clarification along with our commitment to review our procedures will help the public understand and trust our police force to serve and protect them.

Instead, the CEO comes out and says we will never call the police to remove a passenger from the plane again. Thanks jerk, you are changing a policy that will only affect the most visible portion of this train wreck but does not deal with the systemic failures which lead to the event. How are you going to handle the other 10 mistakes your airline made prior to calling the police which are directly under your control and far more important to your general customers experience with United?

We are getting calls from politicians to ban overbooking. Overbooking is not the problem. Not only was it not involved in this instance, but even if it were, there is a simple, well thought out solution that does not involve banning, more laws backed up with the threat of more force, or more regulation. The whole premise behind overbooking was that you pair it with a reverse auction in the rare situations when you actually have too many customers. The amount of money that is paid to each 1 in 10,000 overbooked tickets to get them to voluntarily give up their seat pales in comparison to the extra revenue those other 9,999 seats generate. Customers can still go to the airport in the knowledge that if they must travel than they will travel, because they can set their reserve price to be bumped from the flight at a dollar value higher than everyone else. There is no way that a plane full of people will all say no to $100,000 in cash for a day’s delay.

We don’t need more laws, we don’t need more regulation, we don’t need more intrusion from the state. Overbooking combined with true reverse auctions are win-win situations that management should jump at the opportunity to take. Instead they kept the overbooking and watered down the auction because they are either too stupid to understand the economic principles, too arrogant to actually care about their customers, or so shortsighted that saving a couple bucks from the most inconvenienced customers at their exact time of maximum inconvenience sounded like a good idea.

Lastly, none of the proposed solutions coming from politicians or the media will address the cultural problems at United, but it more than any other contributing factor needs to change. Otherwise you will continue to have employees in positions of power that will abuse customers in one way or another. There is no set of rules, solutions from politicians, or rewording of contracts that will stop disgruntled employees from taking out their frustrations on their customers. What these employees need is leadership, and sadly they will not get it, which means the paying public will not get better treatment from this company.


10 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “More Ethics Observations On The United Flight 3411 Ethics Train Wreck”

  1. Sadly, from doing a little googling it appears that the southwestern slogan is fake.

    Not that it detracts from your point any, and it would have been well deserved, and effective ( I like it)

    Frankly I’m surprised they didn’t make it.

  2. I’m glad Southwest is having some fun with this at United’s expense. Let’s hope they never do anything as stupid as United did.

    • Hard to see how they or any other airline could. I believe United has achieved the ne plus ultra of stupidity in customer service. This will be a case study of how not to handle things for years to come.

  3. A faux advertising slogan sent me by a friend who works in NYC (the source of most good jokes): “United Airlines — No. 1 in Chinese takeout!” (Of course, I believe the good doctor is in fact Vietnamese.)

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