By now, unless you have no access to any media of any kind, you are all aware of the incident that happened on the United Airlines Flight 3411 on Sunday. For those unaware, a man was forcibly removed from the aircraft due to what was assumed to be an overbooking situation. Many cell phone videos of the incident went viral prompting worldwide attention to this matter and leaving us wondering where to point the finger. What went so wrong to make this situation happen and more so, which party is at fault?
We have three different parties to look at. Was one to blame over the other? Could this situation have been avoided? And most importantly, how did it escalate to this level? Here we have United Airlines, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the man dragged from the plane David Dao.
It’s important to note that I was not present at this incident and am basing a general overview of what actually took place simply by my opinion of varies articles and videos.
Let’s take a look into United Airlines first as they are standing front and center of this controversy. Flight 3411 was departing Chicago on it’s way to Louisville. While waiting to board, United asked for passengers willing to take a bump for a flight leaving the next day in exchange for a $400 voucher and hotel stay. Now, usually when I fly people are jumping at the chance to take a bump in exchange for a voucher and get on another flight. Sometimes, I don’t even have time to stand up to volunteer before they announce that they have found enough volunteers. Looking closer into this one, I found that this was the last flight into Louisville that day and the people taking a bump would get on a plane the next day. That makes a big difference. Spending an extra few hours people watching in the airport for a free plane ticket and having to spend the night somewhere with only your carry-on bag is a bigger deal. Not to mention it will take another complete travel day. As I think we are all aware of by now, the world doesn’t stop turning for an overbooked airplane.
Now here is where the water starts to get a bit muddy. According to the Department of Transportation, there are clear guidelines about passengers involuntarily being denied boarding or in the event that they are seeking volunteers to take a bump when there isn’t one. But is it really so clear? Is it consistent? In that case, United’s Contract of Carriage says that they will give preference to those traveling with disabilities and unaccompanied minors, but besides that, preference for those who won’t get bumped doesn’t really have a concise set of rules. They can base it on the person’s itinerary, fare class, or even when they checked in for their flight. All these rules are written, but in the small print where most people just hit “accept” and go. We are all guilty of that sometimes.
Now with these sets of rules and guidelines, it may seem strange that the water is muddy, but that’s because usually these situations are avoided by the airline raising the price for the voucher high enough that someone bites and the issue is resolved. This was not the case on Sunday. United only raised the voucher to $800, not enough to entice someone to take a bump and leave the next morning.
There is also the confusion of the plane being overbooked versus sold out and why the passengers were allowed to board and then “at random” asked to leave so their crew members could catch a downline connection. As I don’t work for the airline industry, I can’t say for certain the ins and outs of the term “downline connection” only that it generally means these are crew members who are working and need to move to a different location to catch the next flight they are working on.
So let’s stop for a moment and think rationally. By the time the incident was over with security and people getting on and off the plane, there was at least a 2 hour delay in the flight. The drive from Chicago to Louisville is only 4 1/2 hours. If these crew members didn’t have to catch a flight until the next morning, could they have rented a car and drove to Louisville? Could they not have raised the voucher price higher until someone volunteered? Could none of this happened before the flight boarded? Us rational folks know the answers to these questions, but unfortunately the gate attendants or anyone working for United that day really thought the answer was no, and the bottom dollar was more important than customer service, and so the PR nightmare began.
Now, let’s talk a minute about the other party involved. Dr. David Dao. A seemingly innocent passenger returning home and to his medical practice. Is he really so innocent? When United Airlines asked him to leave the plane, he refused. When security asked him to leave the plane, he refused. And then when they dragged him out (I am not saying that this is okay by any means) he goes running and screaming back onto the airplane. I mean…what? Be an adult. You can be pissed off, you can deal with United’s fine print and legal team later, but don’t be an idiot. If security is asking you to leave the plane, you LEAVE THE PLANE! And in a post 9/11 world, you definitely don’t go running and screaming back into an airplane saying “someone kill me.” Over-dramatic much? And since he brought it all up and his name into the limelight, I had to take a peak into the good doctor’s past. Seems like he’s not quite the guy everyone is making him out to be. He once lost his medical license for trading narcotics for sex. Not a doctor I would want to go to or have children go to, but I digress.
I know what people are saying. United forced him off the plane and into the public eye where he is emotionally victimized by the world and judged by the mistakes of his past. While that might be true, if he would have just left the airplane when asked, his dirty laundry would have stayed hidden at the bottom of his laundry basket like everyone else’s.
We are now looking at two separate parties. Each with a handful of mistakes and bad decisions, so let’s bring in the Chicago Department of Aviation. Security. The Police. Suddenly it becomes a power struggle. Who has more power? The right of the airline to remove a paying customer or the paying customer to be removed by the airline? I think we all can agree on this next point. In no way, shape, or form should anyone be treated, forced, or handled the way this man was unless he was a direct threat to the security of himself or those around him. David Dao, while overdramatic and crazy, was not a threat, and deserves more than to be beaten and treated like a piece of garbage over an airline seat. Everyone does. So why was this handled so aggressively? And how did it spin so wildly out of control?
That’s the story. A huge PR nightmare, a suspended police officer, and a beat up doctor blew up social media leaving everyone talking about where to point the finger of blame. Where do you think?
In the days that have followed the incident, it looks like United is taking the fall from grace. Fine print or not, they did start this downward spiral and while the CEO took his precious time and fumbling words to admit fault, he did manage to somewhat apologize. All the passengers on that plane were refunded their money, the security/police guy is suspended and under investigation, and United is changing their policies and doing their own investigation. And the overdramatic, crazy doctor? Well, he is somewhere in Kentucky doing whatever it is he does. I don’t think this will be the last we hear of Dr. David Dao though, I’m sure Dr. Phil and Judge Judy are drooling over this incident. So, if you do see him in passing, it might be a good idea to tell him not to wear leggings if he is going to fly United either. Word on the street is that doesn’t go well….