Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Citizens (against) United

Good morning to all.  Nice, warm weather here in central Kentucky is due to be interrupted by some rain throughout today.  But you know what they say about April showers.  My grass is a direct testament to that old adage!

Unless you've been completely sequestered from any news sources over the past couple of days, you are aware of the incident that occurred with a passenger on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville (not far from my home area in Lexington) over the weekend.

Anyone who flies relatively often knows that airlines routinely overbook some flights, largely because the no-show rate leaves valuable seats unsold and decreases profit.  The flight in question was such an example, and it was already overbooked when the airline also decided to make some room on board for some of its own employees to be shuttled to Louisville for a flight out the following morning.

I've been in situations where the airlines offered as much as $1000, but not in real money--this was money to be spent on other travel on the same airline, in my experience.  There are often meal or hotel vouchers included.  In a couple of cases where I was on my way home and had my bag with me, I've been tempted to accept such an offer, but the desire to complete the trip and return home generally overrides the willingness to be paid to be inconvenienced.

In any case, it's important to remember that it's legal for airlines to arbitrarily bump passengers at its own discretion, as long as they are compensated for the inconvenience.  This was apparently the scenario on Sunday.

But regarding the United and Chicago airport security employees involved, I am astounded at the total disregard for appearances, as three armed security personnel physically removed a 69 year old physician from a small aircraft, dragging him from his seat and up the aisle.  He apparently got away briefly and ran to the back of the plane, saying "just kill me," until he was reapprehended and removed from the plane.

We know of this because, in today's society, everyone with a cellphone and a social media account is potentially a journalist, and so video and audio of this spectacle was quickly posted and became viral online.

Let's go back a few days--this is the same airline that prohibited girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing LEGGINGS.  The gate agent claimed that she was enforcing a dress code for those flying on United employee/friend passes, but kids in leggings?  I don't know about you, but I marvel at what people wear onto airliners these days....pajamas are not unusual, even for adults.  And I have a granddaughter who fits that age range and I guarantee you that she and my younger granddaughter regularly wear leggings and no one even thinks twice about it.

My personal experiences with United date back several years, when I first began flying regularly.  Twice I was boarding a large and mostly full plane at Chicago's O'Hare airport, positioned in group three or four, and heard the gate agent announce that "all of the overhead bins are now full, so everyone must now check their bags to be picked up at baggage claim at [insert destination]."  The irony is that in both instances, group one had not even completed boarding.  After the second time that happened, I consciously avoided that airline from then on, and only when my employer required the lowest fare did I resume using United.

Airlines have such an overall poor reputation anyway, so it boggles the mind as to why they would risk their already shaky reputations on stunts like what happened Sunday or a few days prior with the little girls wearing their leggings.  United made things worse by releasing a couple of mealy-mouthed statements by their CEO, one to their own employees that contained outright lies about the incident with the removed passenger, and also inflamed things by referring to the process as "re-accommodation."

United's shareholders should "re-accommodate" this CEO while their shares still have some value, and should then hire Tom Peters or another well-known authority on positive customer relations and thoroughly train their employees, at all levels, on proper and positive customer service, so that no one is dragged from an airliner for such a trivial reason.

That last part will never happen, but United would be well served to at least consider it.

If given the choice, I won't fly United Airlines for the foreseeable future, and you shouldn't, either.

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