United Airlines- Hit the Road, Jack
It appears that United Airlines management was acting within the law when it effectively told Dr. David Dao, “Hit the road Jack” (apologies to Ray Charles). For whatever reason, Dr. Dao thought, “No, I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” (apologies to John Denver). Further, Dr. Dao probably didn’t expect that the Chicago police would “Hold me like you’ll never let me go” and drag him off the plane.
Without question, Dr. Dao’s refusal to comply with United’s mandate to deplane was foolish. He did not choose wisely, and paid a price. United Airlines management also did not choose wisely and also paid a price.
What’s most disturbing, is not that a passenger was physically dragged off a plane, but that United management was incapable or unwilling to figure out that if a passenger were physically dragged off a plane, someone would shoot a video of it and it would become a publicity nightmare.
Monday morning quarterbacking is always easy, so I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I do, however, have a number of questions.
Although doctors aren’t more important than people of other professions, there is a very real possibility that a doctor’s timely arrival at his or her destination could be a matter of life or death. Did United ever consider that in establishing its passenger removal policy?
The passenger who was removed was traveling with his wife and an assortment of children. Did United management ask if another member of the group would be willing to take a later flight?
Does United management consider choosing a different passenger if the one who is “randomly chosen” to be forced off a flight is enroute to a critical appointment for medical care?
Has United management ever considered instituting an intelligent policy for handling passengers who refuse to give up their seats? (Surely, this isn’t the first time this has occurred.)
Did Oscar Munoz (United’s CEO) really believe that branding the passenger who was forcefully removed as “disruptive and belligerent” would quell the uproar- considering that the video circulating on the internet showed him as being anything but?
United management’s first response was that the flight was overbooked. Subsequently, it stated that overbooking wasn’t the issue, it needed four seats for a flight crew that had to get to work in the flight’s destination city. Which is it?
In the aftermath, the overriding response is, “We’ve all learned a lesson from this.” That may be true, and in the future, passengers may literally run off a plane when they are selected to give up their seats. However, right or wrong, for many more airline customers, the lasting lesson will be, “Don’t fly United.”