Don’t Blame Overbooking for This United Mess

Remember how bad last week was for Delta’s operation? If you do, you’re the only one. As of yesterday, Delta’s problems were forgotten. Once the video surfaced of a man being dragged off his oversold United Express flight, bloodied and battered, the public moved on to its next fascination of the moment. This looked really bad, without question, and the uproar was fierce. I received inquiries from more than half a dozen media outlets, and the tidal wave of emails and texts from friends was more than anything I’d seen in a long time. As bad as this may be for United, there is something that’s unfairly getting dragged through the mud: overbooking. The two issues are completely and totally unrelated.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this incident itself, but I will go over a few points. The United Express aircraft operated by Republic was full and boarded. Republic crewmembers showed up at the gate saying they had to get on or a subsequent flight would have canceled, stranding dozens. If it’s not clear enough, I’ll say it. This wasn’t an overbooking issue, despite some earlier reports that may have come from United itself. There was just an operational need to get crew on the airplane.

United tried to get volunteers (arguably not hard enough) but couldn’t, so eventually, United’s customer service reps identified the people who would have to be pulled off. One person repeatedly refused to obey the requirement that he get off the airplane, and the police were called in to remove him. You’ve seen the video of what happened next.

We can talk about whether this could have been handled better or not, but it doesn’t matter. United is getting skewered regardless, and it’s a runaway train. The memes are spiraling out of control, and I can’t help but laugh. Here’s one of my favorites.

I originally thought this would hurt the airline for maybe a day… until the next person with a camera phone caught something and the world moved on. But this one may have some staying power, some of it thanks to United’s response. So be it. Debating the details won’t change anything, but maybe I can at least help salvage the reputation of overbooking.

JetBlue continues to be the lone straggler that refuses to overbook, but for everyone else, it’s a regular part of doing business. And airlines have invested a ton of money and effort into developing systems that have made them smarter and better at this. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this table from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. For travel within the US on reporting carriers, the percentage of people denied boarding fell to a mere 0.09 percent in 2015, the last full year of easily accessible data. This is even more remarkable when you consider how much more full airplanes are today. Look here.

Since 2003 (the last year of easily accessible load factor data), airlines have filled a much higher percentage of seats while seeing their denied boarding percentages drop.

It’s a solid achievement, but maybe you think that still sounds like a lot. After all, it amounted to a total of 552,000 people, or 1,512 people a day in 2015. But what you have to remember is that the vast majority of the people being denied boarding are really, really happy about it.

There are two kinds of denied boardings. More than 90 percent of the people who were denied boarding in 2015 did so as volunteers. The airline made an offer to get them to take a later flight, and the travelers accepted. They walked away with a slight inconvenience, but they got vouchers for future travel and were almost definitely happy about it. The airline was happy too, because chances are it was able to take an expensive last minute booking that it otherwise would have had to turn away.

It’s that other sub-10 percent that’s the problem. Specifically in 2015, 46,000 people, or about 126 a day, were involuntarily bumped off airplanes. That means the airlines tried to get volunteers and they couldn’t, so they were forced to pick and choose which people would get bumped. While the travelers undoubtedly weren’t happy, federal rules ensure that an involuntary bumpee gets a big payday; up to 4 times the value of the ticket capped at $1,350. Oh, and she still gets to keep the ticket to go on the next available flight.

Everybody hates those situations, because they’re terrible. When people don’t want to get bumped but are forced out (preferably not physically forced, mind you, Chicago Aviation Police). And the airlines have to pay out a ton of cash, so they aren’t happy either. But the number is so miniscule, at 0.008 percent of passengers in 2015 that it’s really just a rounding error. (No, it doesn’t feel that way if you’re impacted, but it’s the truth.)

On the whole, the airlines make more money overselling flights than they lose paying out compensation. And this actually does help keep fares lower. If airlines couldn’t oversell flights, they would generate less revenue overall and have to find a way to recoup those costs. You can connect the dots on what that means. Of course, if enough people were impacted that the pain was too great, then either the airlines or the feds would do away with overbooking. But considering how many people benefit from being on an oversold flight and volunteering to get paid (over 550,000 in 2015), it’s not something that a lot of people WANT to go away.

Feel free to jump on the “United sucks” bandwagon if you must (don’t forget to drag the Chicago Aviation cops down with you), and you won’t be alone. But stop dragging (get it?) overbooking’s good name through the mud. (And to the media, please stop reporting that this was an overbooking issue.)

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260 Comments on "Don’t Blame Overbooking for This United Mess"

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ChuckMO
Guest

2 years ago I was called to the UA podium in STL and was offered 2 $600 vouchers to take a later flight (on DL) to Burlington, VT. I was travelling with my Mother for her birthday trip and gladly took the 2 hour delay. Much like this incident, they needed to get crew to EWR for a TATL flight.
I can imagine some clueless group of politicians messing up the whole voucher proess over this incident. Yes, its a publicity nightmare for UA, but on the whole the voucher system works well, especially earlier in the day.

reddy2go
Guest
Not sure how this situation is categorized as an overbooking issue. Aren’t we talking about about UA employees having an operational issue? I don’t see how this is the same as the airline overbooking a flight that has paid passengers being asked to voluntarily be delayed with compensation. Typically, I have seen the airline ask for volunteers prior to boarding, not involuntarily kicked off a flight (just may not have been my experience). Would the UA CEO share the same sentiment if it was a Middle Eastern airline treating an American citizen the same way on one of their flights?… Read more »
Miss Informed
Guest
Let’s add another level to the blame. Whose employees are the gate agents and dispatchers for Republic flights at O’Hell? It seems like there’s enough blame to go around to just about everybody involved in this incident. I suspect United’s contract with Republic probably specifies that passengers will be treated in a manner consistent with United’s own practices. (You can interpret that any way you like). At least United never did anything particularly vile to me that they didn’t do to everybody else on the flight. That being said, if I were a gate agent at O’Hell, no matter what… Read more »
kevinaalexander
Member

Gate agents are mainline UA. Republic has it’s own dispatchers.

JoEllen
Guest

The agents that handle Republic (UAX) are United agents (not outsourced as previously).

Guest
Guest

Spoken like a good little Nazi.

Matt D
Guest
Perception versus reality. Which do you think has more staying power? You can argue the facts with Power Point slide shows till the Rapture. It doesn’t matter. In the Court of Public Opinion (which I’ve long argued is as strong if not stronger than any judicial one), if it’s bad, it’s bad. I do agree that this will likely blow over and be forgotten. Of course if it isn’t, then this is the type of PR debacle that very well could put UAL out of business. Ask the folks who were at Valujet if you want a second opinion. United… Read more »
David M
Guest

I think ValuJet did just fine in the end. Sure, the brand was trashed, so to fix that they just went out, bought AirTran, and took AirTran’s name.

I agree that the threat of public boycotts is mostly smoke, there’s no fire there. At worst people might try to book away from United in the short term, but as soon as United is a couple hundred bucks cheaper than American/Delta/Southwest/Alaska, they’ll be back.

Eric Welch
Guest

The problem that makes this situation very different is that the video has gone viral in China. Even though the Dr. was of Vietnamese ethnicity, he was seen to be Asian and you can bet that will have a huge impact on United’s ability to get landing and gate rights in Asia even though the incident may not have been racially motivated. It was that fear that resulted in the abject apology from UA, finally getting it about right after 3 tries.

Matt D
Guest

-Except that….they weren’t, which was why they had to ditch the ValuJet name and image in the first place, which you admitted to. The brand was damaged beyond repair. They were facing certain liquidation because of the fallout from #592 and the subsequent crucifying from the FAA. And it was the reasons for the crash and company culture that were to blame, not the crash itself.

Guest
Guest

Whatever happened to all the little lefty lovies who threatened to leave the USA if DJT were elected? Yep, still here, still yapping, still looking ridiculous. They haven’t done jack because they are too comfy here, and just like to whine and seek attention.

Davey
Guest
Cranky, you nailed it. United and its partner didn’t offer enough to induce the fourth person to leave the airplane, whomever he or she might be. I recognize that the actual fare would have been far less than the denied boarding (which, knowing the thin margin airline industry, was all that mattered) but so what. The cost to United in public relations problems far exceeds any denied boarding compensation that would have been paid to bumped passengers. You nailed it again in alluding to what became a comedy of operational errors. Someone at the podium goofed by allowing the plane… Read more »
Eric Welch
Guest
United totally ignored economics. The agent should have waived cash – not those ridiculous and useless vouchers – and kept upping the amount until the cash value overcame the disruption value for a passenger. $1500 cash would have been far cheaper than the mess they are in now. Not only that, but given that ORD is barely 4.5 hours from Louisville by car they could have hired a limo and had the crew there almost as fast as the plane – much faster in this case given how delayed it became. I think a big problem is that 9/11 and… Read more »
loehlert
Member
United seems to have a penchant for this kind of publicity. Without knowing the departure time of the flight the crew was to take out of SDF, it is only a 4.5 hour drive from CHI to SDF and were there not AA and WN flights on that segment? This on top of their previous faux pas (there was the 2014 stranding of a Benedictine monk in Malawi and the broken guitar in 2008 ) you’d think that the organizational memory (and training) would better serve UA. Kind regards, Larry “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those… Read more »
JoEllen
Guest

Were it that easy. This was the last flight of the evening, maybe no time to rebook them on another airline (given the size of Ohare to get to AA or go to Midway to WN). 5-6 hours drive to SDF you say ? Maybe they had to crew an early morning flight, when would they have gotten the required sleep ?

cpagan2
Member
“On the whole, the airlines make more money overselling flights than they lose paying out compensation. And this actually does help keep fares lower. If airlines couldn’t oversell flights, they would generate less revenue overall and have to find a way to recoup those costs.” I wholeheartedly disagree that the purpose of overbooking is a way to recoup costs. Let’s call it what it is and it is nothing more than the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. I do agree that this is not an overbooking issue and the media has explicitly discussed it… Read more »
sam
Guest
It’s one thing to bump folks from a flight for overbooking (or whatever the hell this was) when people haven’t boarded yet and they don’t have the emotional/psychological investment in being “on” the plane – it’s a lot easier for someone to give up a seat that they aren’t literally sitting in at the moment. I think most folks are aware that overbooking exists, but to the extent that it happens, the “fairest” way for it to happen is for the people who show up last/late to get the bump rather than the people who are already seated on the… Read more »
Southeastern
Guest

Full agreement. Cranky look at your own post. You are annoyed people call it overbooking and restate it’s more of an issue of “denied boarding” this guy had already boarded the flight!

The United/Republic mistake was letting the passengers board in the first place. Had they done the correct thing and not allowed the passengers to board before re-assigning flights this would have never happened.

Matt B
Guest

By extension, the real problem was the deadheading crew’s apparent lack of communication. The way I’ve read it (correct if wrong) it seems like they just showed up at the gate 15min before departure and expected to be seated. It could have been incompetence by the crew, just some emergency that legitimately occurred 15min before the flight (unlikely?), or lack of company policy (employees at other airlines I talked to said that sort of thing requires notification >1hr in advance),

Shane
Guest

At any point if for any reason the airline have more butts than they have seats, they are required by federal regulation to follow their own pre-established priority list (after attempting to find volunteers). This is true regardless of whether or not the lowest priority tier has already boarded, and it is called involuntary denial of boarding even if they have.

Billy
Member
Reading this has provided me with a different view of the when situation and allowed me to understand the importance and benefits of overbooking by airlines. The statistics of volunteers to the issue surprises me. However, I still fail to see how this is headlined as “not an overbooking issue”. This entire incident was created from overbooking – that is a fact. Many other factors like you have said have really blown this up to be bigger than a public viral one-day bonanza. The response from Oscar Munez has only dug himself and the airlines reputation? a much, much bigger… Read more »
David M
Guest

I think the distinction here is that this overbooking situation wasn’t caused by the practice of selling more seats than the plane physically has. The plane was only overbooked when the decision was made that the four crew members needed to be on the flight.

Joflyer
Guest

Does that distinction change how United would have tried to entice volunteers or remove the passenger?

Mark Skinner
Guest
I think the distinction is this: If booking is closed, and at that time the plane isn’t overbooked, then it’s no longer covered by the overbooking rules. Rather, it’s determined by the contract of carriage. On that, there’s a limited list of things the airline can bump you for. Bad weather, force majeure, drunkenness, aggression etc. However, if those things didn’t apply, the United may have breached the contract. That might still have been cheap to do. BUT, add in physical force to breach a contract? That’s a whole world of difference. Use of force to enforce a contract might… Read more »
J
Member

Well. . . I am guessing that the UAL pass riders were utilizing Positive Space passes, that are high priority. One of the first things that Leo Mullen & his cohorts at Delta did after the Ron Allen era was vote themselves lifetime first class positive space passes that were bankruptcy proof. & I bet people were not boarded on Delta because of this slick undeserved benefit.

Nick
Guest

It was a deadheading crew. It wasn’t someone on the passes you are describing.

J
Member

I am not crystal clear, but company business could be positive space

Hey
Member

If you are unaware, in this instance, deadheading crew members were “must rides,” then seems to me you should be asking questions – not making statements.

J
Member

Please do not skip taking your medications. They are prescribed for a reason.

janet E
Member

So, if it was Republic, it was a crew of 4. Why didn’t one of the pilot’s take the jumpseat and reduced the number of needed seats to 3. Pretty damn brazen of the pilots to deplane a paying passenger when one of them had an option. As an airline pilot, I would NEVER bump a revenue passenger or even a stand-by trying to get on when I had the option of the flight-deck jumpseat. Just good etiquette and professionalism!

Hey
Member

More than likely contractually prohibited. Question may seem reasonable, but it is NOT! During deadhead segments, crews are permitted to rest/sleep – on jumpseat, they are NOT, as jumpseat rider automatically become member of working crew.

Thats airline 101!

Besides, can you imagine backlash if pilot took jumpseat, then on subsequent working flight had incident and investigation revealed United permitted/insisted he/she take jumpseat instead of cabin seat where they could have rested their eyes and quited their mind?

janet E
Member
I’m glad you know so much about the airlines since I’m an airline pilot myself. It IS permitted to sit on the jumpseat as a deadheader and I do it if needed to get more folks on. Republic’s contract stipulates that they don’t have to sit in the jumpseat but they can if they want to. I know this because my husband was trying to fly stand-by on a flight that just happened to have a Republic deadhead crew on board. The CA from my airline knew there were non-revs/stand-bys trying to get on and asked the Republic Pilots if… Read more »
Hey
Member
Actually, taking jumpseat “to get more” non-revs; standbys boarded is quite different than being assigned jumpseat during deadhead segment. Besides, considering extremely long work days at regionals, it may be unwise to politely ask deadhead crew members to take jumpseat – which you somehow believe is “courteous” act, but may, in fact, prevent a much needed break, which is a safety issue. If deadheader volunteers, that’s a different story – but they should NEVER EVER EVER be asked as you do not know the type of work day they are enduring, or have yet to endure. I suggest you read… Read more »
janet E
Member
I never said our airline assigned the jumpseat for deadheading. It’s our option and especially for a short flight like ORD to SDF, I would take the jumpseat to get a non-rev on or definitely in the case of a revenue passenger! I believe this crew was going into crew rest in SDF so if that’s the fact, why worry? It’s a DH into a rest period. I’ve been a pilot at the regionals as well with those long days and I made prudent decisions about my rest with regards to a DH leg and my own personal factors. You… Read more »
Hey
Member
Oh my! Janet, Janet Janet, just because you, while deadheading, would opt for jumpseat does not mean you should ask or otherwise suggest the same for another, EVER! Nor, for that matter, should you create environment whereas another crew member feels compelled, implicit or implied – for WHATEVER reason(s), to forgo cabin seat for jumpseat, EVER! If you choose to opt for jumpseat, you are commended. But never ever ever pressure deadheader, and the way you avoid appearance of doing that is to never ever ask, ever! Did I say NEVER even for those heading for layover because they may… Read more »
janet E
Member

Please delete your comment ASAP. I don’t want my name used in the comments!!!

janet E
Member

We just don’t see things the same but we both care about safety. PERIOD!

Shane
Guest

deadheading crew movements do qualify as positive space (and must ride). As soon as they are slated for that flight the airline is required by law to ask for volunteers, and then if they find none to use their own predefined priority list when determining who to bump. This federal requirement does not change if the low priority passengers have already boarded.

Itami
Guest

Uncle Sam calls it denied boarding because people should be bumped before they board, emphasis on before. While they obviously should have upped the compensation before removing someone, I’d be curious to see why they didn’t know about this crew issue before the people started boarding. That would have probably nipped this issue in the bud.

Oliver
Guest

Or you might have had one or more irate passengers in the gate area.

Itami
Guest

There’s 99% chance that it would’ve been resolved much more favorably at the gate then on the plane.

Shane
Guest

Uncle Same requires you by law to follow your published priority list if you have to bump someone, even if the lowest priority tier has already boarded.

matt weber
Member
United did this the United way, and never bothered to think through the problem. The correct solution (and usually used by other carriers) is you auction off the seats. You keep raising the offer until you have enough volunteers. If that costs more than $1350, so be it. It avoids this kind of nightmare and keeps the customers happy. This is in fact a cost of how United elects to do business. Since this was an involuntary, those involved are in fact free to decline the airline’s offer, and sue (as Ralph Nader did many years ago). This was incompetently… Read more »
Phony Bob Crandall
Guest

Cranky,
Since when does a paying customer’s livelihood take a back seat to an operational blunder. I say put those 4 in a car and have them drive to Louisville. And I heard (I can’t say that it is true) that their flight was scheduled at 3 PM on Monday. SO by driving they can arrive and still get their 10 hours.

Davey
Guest

They can’t drive the crew to SDF. First of all, it’s closer to five hours without the time change. Secondly, they probably would have been illegal the next morning due to lack of rest.

Eric Welch
Guest

A limo would have worked just fine and they could have slept all the way to KY. If you have a creative staff that starts with the premise of wanting to avoid a problem, it’s easy to find solutions. If you don’t give a sh*t about the outcome then you just always fall back on force and coercion and hang the consequences.

Hey
Member

Interesting comment that reveal a lot about direction of this country.

I don’t know about you, but I want Captain and crew to be rested, well fed and happy! A safe operation should always take these into account over “paying customer’s livelihood.”

janet E
Member
Wish it was like that “Hey”. Crews have to fly up to 14 hour duty days and up to 9 hrs of flying as well as red-eyes that get in at 5 in the morning and turn around and require flying 2 or 3 legs that evening and then flipping the clock back to mornings for day 3. We get no crew meals at our airline and we are paid 40% less for flying the same equipment as our competitors so the pilots aren’t happy either. We fly safe and stay safe but we have to rise to the occasion… Read more »
Steve
Guest
“Hey” – You make it sound like United was handcuffed and forced to reduce their crew ranks to the lowest they’ve been since the inception of the airline, thus producing the very situation we are discussing. Everyone keeps skipping past the part where United had all the choices, and the passengers had none. Don’t try and make this about anything other than what it is: Poor planning on United’s part coupled with bad luck that caused them to lose their bets on the number of passengers willing to give up their seats when bribed to do so. I think the… Read more »
Hey
Member
Get a grip! Since when does pax have any “choices” other than which airline to fly and price willing to pay. Flying has always and will remain at pleasure of Mother Nature and airline operation – to include, cargo (weight and balance), manning, federal and int’l regulations, labor contracts, etc. I would suggest; save yourself the heartache, if you want more choice then there’s always the private option, or like JFK Jr, fly yourself and have all the control you desire. In the interim, despite purchasing a ticket and issued seat assignment, when airline personnel, for whatever reason ask you… Read more »
sfcarl
Member

If “They are doing it for a reason you may not understand,” then they (the airline employees) have an obligation–at least a moral and ethical obligation, if not always a legal obligation–to explain the reasons fully and and to convince you that the reasons justify the action.

Hey
Member
Absolutely ridiculous! Since when does airline need “to explain the reasons fully and and to convince you that the reasons justify the action” for weather cancellation/delay, mechanical, late arriving aircraft/crew, change your flight due to weight restriction, to change seat due to weight/balance, etc? Nevermind, I can envision Type A control freeks asking to review maintenance logs, etc. If you need that much control, I suggest flying private. I’m constantly behooved how many trust a total stranger with their lives to fly them from point A to B, yet absolutely distrust the same to provide reason for delay, cancellation, rebooking,… Read more »
sfcarl
Member

Since when? Since the origin of the airline because ethics and the responsibility of a business to treat its customers properly are older than the airline.

Hey
Member

Seemingly – but not surprising, you’ve missed the point.

That is, Type A control freeks never ever ask airline to verify/view an unknown pilot’s license, to verify academic credentials; to view his/her flight records, etc, yet when they learn about “delay, cancellation, rebooking,” etc, there is little trust, so proof is demanded.

Fascinating!

Pilotaaron1
Guest
While I’m not a fan of overbooking and take the stance of Jetblue. I understand why it happens and how it saves an airline money and allows good load factors. That being said this is a crew scheduling issue and I believe (like many others from what I read) that the incentive was just not enough. Honestly in the lost revenue for pr and other effects, they should have kept going in offering more. I’m sure if it would have gotten to the point of 2 domestic first class round trip vouchers, someone would have taken it. I know that’s… Read more »
Paul Thomsen
Guest

It is an overbooking issue in that the user was “forced” off. If the airlines up the ante until someone accepts freely then there’s no force involved.

Jr Flyer
Guest
Don’t forget that another ‘piece of work’ from United, Charlie Hobart, the United spokesman, who said “we had asked several times, politely,” for the man to give up his seat before force was used. “We had a customer who refused to leave the aircraft,” he said. “We have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there. “Since that customer refused to leave the aircraft, we had to call” the police, and they came on board, he said. Unbelievable the… Read more »
Guest
Guest
How cold can one be? “We followed the right procedures,” Hobart (a United spokesperson) told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations, and when one gentleman refused to get off the aircraft, we had to call the Chicago Police Department.” I can not believe some people are trying to defend these actions. This gentleman refused to get off the plane and United had no right to demand he do so. He is a PAYING CUSTOMER, HE BOARDED AND TOOK HIS SEAT and deserves to depart on… Read more »
catherine.burnett
Member
“United had no right to demand he do so”. Well, actually, United does have a right to do so. I think the issue is how this happened, not that it did happen. As Cranky’s article suggests, involuntary denied boardings do occur, whether we agree with them or not. And, as angry as many are right now about this, I would venture to say that people will fly United (they’re flying them today) if/when the fare meets one’s expectations. People can’t drive to Honolulu or aren’t willing to drive 18 hours for a weekend trip to the beach.
Steve
Guest
That a very sad statement against society. “Well, actually, United does have a right to do so.” Well, actually, they shouldn’t. It should be illegal. Laws are created to ensure those who would do harm to others in order to increase their position / wealth, which is exactly what United did here, and that the four major airlines in the US to 46,000 times a year: Remove a seated passenger in order to accommodate themselves. People can claim “It was for the greater good of the other passengers on that plane the next day!” and “But it was for safety… Read more »
Mark Skinner
Guest

I suspect the upcoming lawsuit will examine whether or not the airline had the right to bump this passenger. The right to bump is not unlimited. There are rules. For example, the bumpee has to be given certain information in writing. Did he get that? If not, they breached the rules…violently. Break rules violently? Expect courts to crush the rule breaker.

Patrick
Guest
Arguing about whether or not this should be talked about as an overbooking issue is silly. The average traveler doesn’t care about the difference between a denied boarding due to overbooking vs a denied boarding due to operational issues. What’s important here is that either United or Republic created a situation where there were more people on the flight than there were seats, and their handling of this was completely incompetent. The proper solution was to continue offering more money until they reached the point where it was worth it to people to give up their seat. Supposedly the next… Read more »
Matt D
Guest
Touché! United hasn’t learned the very basic truism when it comes to Public Relations and social skills. Even if you’re “right”, you’re still “wrong” if the result is animosity, grief, or bruised egos. Try being the one person in a group of guys sitting in a bar telling stories about the size of the fish that one guy caught. It’s the one who calls BS that will be socially exiled and ostracized, not the ones telling the fictitious stories. Same logic applies here. Facts only matter in the courtroom. Everywhere else, it’s perception that matters most, not who is factually… Read more »
Aunt Bee
Guest

I am glad the 4 who caused this incident were jeered during the flight. Serves them right!

Anon
Guest

I will bet that Cranky will support the 4 Republic employees who had to fly to Louisville over paying pax.

catherine.burnett
Member

Anyone who works in an airline operation would.

Leslie in Oregon
Member

Catherine, you are absolutely wrong, as I can attest.

catherine.burnett
Member

“Serves them right?” Wow, what a stupid thing to write. They were working crewmembers who had nothing to do with this! They don’t control the gate agent’s actions or the law enforcement response. They were on the plane so that they could get to their jobs. That’s all. Would you appreciate being jeered during your morning commute, for absolutely no reason? What a callus response by you.

Aunt Bee
Guest

Catherine, why are these 4 Republic employees more important than paying passengers who have to be in Louisville? If someone could have postponed their lives for a day they would have taken United up on their offer(s).

catherine.burnett
Member

Well, without pilots or flight attendants, there is no future flight, so these crewmembers are important passengers, especially to those 300+ passengers who are flying on the flight they are travelling to work. Even though their employer didn’t pay a price for their tickets, those four seats were probably the most expensive ones on the airplane. And whether you agree with the concept of deadheading crewmembers, airlines position their crews in this manner all the time, and the operation continues to, well, operate.

Jim@CVG
Member

330+ passengers on the flight they’re protecting? Since when has UA been flying wide-bodies out of SDF?

JoEllen
Guest

@ catherine burnett — LOL, Actually REPUBLIC, to Tokyo I guess ??(eye roll).

Kyle
Guest

Did you no read that they were on their way to SDF to work a different flight? Had they not been, it subsequently would have cancelled another flight. Lord knows how many would be affected by that..

Aunt Bee
Guest

Kyle, So when a doctor says he has to see patients in the morning is ignored that is OK? According to what has been written the crew was not going out until the following afternoon.

sfcarl
Member

It does not matter that he is a doctor. This United passenger/customer (never again, perhaps) is a human. United and the police never should treat a human that way, regardless of the work he chooses to do.

Oliver
Guest

So I have an important business meeting. Someone else has to write an exam. A firefighter has to save lives or put out fires. A teacher has to teach classes.

Get it?

Everyone has a reason for not being the one left behind. Unfortunately the laws of physics and the FAA doesn’t allow 54 people to be squeezed into 50 seats, so someone will have to be left behind and “take one for the team.” Usually money is used to let people self-select.

Steve
Guest
Well said! But you forgot the most important point: Federal law should ensure that the 50 people **already on the plane** cannot be removed to accommodate 4 different people, because, as you said, we all have valid and important reasons to not be left behind. If you want self-selection to succeed 100% of the time, then don’t give the airlines the “out” of physically removing people from the plane. Their options will suddenly become crystal clear: Offer more $$. If they don’t like it, then hire more pilots/crew so they don’t keep coming up short, and/or reduce the level of… Read more »
Steve
Guest
Lord knows there were at least 11 other airplanes traveling to SDF that night from that same airport! United offered to put those four passengers on those other flights… they couldn’t put those DH’s on them instead? And how did the airline find itself in a situation where it didn’t have fresh pilots for that flight the next morning? Oh, yes, check the news about a year ago and see the slew of pilot layoffs they performed in order to increase their profits. United had options. They chose poorly. Don’t make this about the other flight – this was about… Read more »
janet E
Member
Have a charter plane available for deadheaders if no seats are available? When hell freezes over would be the availability on that concept with the airlines. Never an option. Maybe an occasional taxi between two airports in close proximity but NEVER a chartered air service. Deadheading is usually proactively planned. Something happened here to cause the no notice “must fly” situation and it would be interesting to know if they could have put them on another flight. Someone dropped the ball BIG TIME. It was Republic Pilots and a Republic RJ with UAL gate agents BTW. Not sure if UAL… Read more »
Yo
Member

Say what!

Just because “no notice “must fly” situation” may have occurred, that does not mean “Someone dropped the ball BIG TIME.”

Disruptions and “no notice” changes occur hourly, and perhaps more often than that at large carriers – and aIrlines have “standby/reserve” personnel at bases to react to projected and unforeseen human/weather/equipment, etc, events.

So, seems to me, a “no notice “must fly” situation” means an unexpected event took place and immediate deadheading of personnel was required – period!

But then again, any “airline puke” should know this. Hmmm!

janet E
Member

In my 18 years as a pilot at the airline, I’ve never been or seen a deadhead bump a revenue passenger after they’ve boarded. So it’s my speculation that someone dropped the ball or didn’t think outside the box enough.

Have a fabulous day! Aloha!

Yo
Member
“18 years as a pilot…” I seriously doubt that, seriously! If crew of 4; “must rides” show up at gate last minute, that means an unforeseen event took place – that if crew did not make the flight, hundreds if not thousands of passengers on other flights may have been/would be adversely affected. Perhaps it is very very rare occasion “a deadhead bump a revenue passenger after they’ve boarded,” and quite an annoying/disruptive experience for passenger(s) sacrificed, I’m certain. But when, and if it does occur, seems to me a seasoned pilot/airline employee would INSTANTLY understand/know that an “unexpected event… Read more »
janet E
Member
Ha ha ha yo, Actually 18 years as an airline pilot, not just a pilot. It took years of getting licenses and ratings and then flight instructing for a few years, then flying corporate/med evac before I had the experience and hours to fly for a regional airline. Was at the regional for 4 years before my present airline job for 14 years flying the A320 family. Don’t insult me please. And Newsflash: Women are airline pilots! And yes, someone most likely dropped the ball, like crew sked not booking them on that flight when it was on the flight… Read more »
Yo
Member

“… someone most likely dropped the ball, like crew sked not booking them on that flight when it was on the flight crew’s schedule.”

Absolutely not! A normal procedure would have caught and corrected this scenario approx 24 hours before departure – something any airline crew (pilot or flight attendant) knows and would not have uttered.

No! I will not tell you what it is – so, dream on, and nice try.

Auf wiedersehen

janet E
Member

You are just enjoying jerking my chain. It does happen at my airline so that’s the facts Jack.

Have a fabulous day! Aloha!

Matthew
Member

Yo, no need to insult airline crew. They’ve experienced this first hand. You sit behind a keyboard…unless you happen to work for crew scheduling or flight planning, don’t be a d*ck.

SandyH
Guest

Do you seriously believe these employees had a choice? No, they did what they were told to do by their supervisors. Unbelievable!

Sunny
Member

I will admit up front I don’t understand…. why didn’t the airline have booked seats way ahead of time for the four airline employees??

Dianne W
Guest

The must-ride crew was probably a replacement for another crew that couldn’t get to SDF due to cancellation of an upline trip. Or, a crew already in or en route to SDF might have been illegal due to not enough crew rest overnight.

Steve
Guest

Solution: Hire more crew. Barebones staffing is a major factor in the sharp increase in “must fly” crew members bumping paying customers.

SandyH
Guest

Take it out on the crew that had no control over the situation they were put into. Nice.

Oliver
Guest

Yeah, because they did what exactly?!

janet E
Member
The only think I can say as an airline pilot myself, is that I’m told to fly from here to there and that includes deadheading. So, dumping on that deadheading crew isn’t fair whatsoever!!!! However, with that said, there was a jumpseat that was available and that should have been taken by one of the pilots and reduced the number of cabin seats to 3. I do have that option as a pilot and I would have volunteered gladly to sit in that stiff hard seat for the short flight to Louisville. The late need for those seats for a… Read more »
A Fler
Guest

It wasn’t the crews fault. They were to told by the company to get on the plane. If you refuse your company’s orders you would be fired at your job. Booing them was also rude!

Tim Dunn
Member
thanks for dealing with the issue. A couple additional notes. First, there simply were/are no videos of Delta passengers being physically assaulted as a part of the weather event… the United issue isn’t even close to being in the same camp. The impact to UA will likely be very severe. As bad as DL’s operation was, weather happens and people clearly understand the difference between an Act of God – even if the aftermath and cleanup was not handled well – than from seeing a person who already boarded a plane being dragged from a plane. Second, Mr. Muñoz’ employee… Read more »
SandyH
Guest
Peter
Guest

Well, that lady cause trouble and wasn’t even checked in. The situation was completely different.

Jeremy
Guest

We didnt see the whole film, but good cops could have ( most likely) de-esclated that situation.

“Sir, I understand that you need to get home. This whole thing sucks, but I have a job to do. You can get off the plane, or we will remove you. If we remove you, you ate going to jail. Sir, would you like to get off the plane now?”

This is de-esclation 101. Not, hey, fuck you get off, ok we will drag you. It never should have gotten physical.

Or maybe the dude should have just given the cops aPepsi.

catherine.burnett
Member

Dear Pepsi,
Here at the Chicago PD, we’ve revised our training procedures. What do you think?
Ha ha! Good one, Jeremy!

Steve
Guest
They could have simply been honest: “Sir (and fellow passengers that are overhearing this), the airline that contracts with us has informed us we need to remove you from your seat because two years ago they laid off 25% of their pilots and never hired them back, so now they are operating with a skeleton pool of pilots and crew. For the safety of everyone involved, and because this airline doesn’t have anyone else in the entire United states that can fly the plane tomorrow afternoon, we must insist that you submit to our demands and give your seat to… Read more »
Foxthomasb
Member
I think that a big part of the issue was that they weren’t able to get volunteers out until the next day at 3pm. Volunteering and leaving the next Morning and the next day at 3pm are two very different things–Especially Sunday night. I’m sure that the Monday morning flights were full. They might have more luck with volunteers if they push volunteers on to overbooked flights and hope to get volunteers then when they aren’t overnight. Of course this is potentially more expensive. Anecdotally I’ve seen United less willing to do this post-merger. I get why they don’t want… Read more »
sam
Guest

One other thing that I’ve read is that there were other flights the same day on other airlines (southwest in particular), but that the airlines will no longer accommodate people by booking on other airlines the way they used to. This seems to be part of the problem as well. Imagine how much easier this would have been if they had been able to offer people flights out later the same day, even if on a competitor?

Mdawg
Guest

Southwest doesn’t have agreements with other airlines, Read the cranky post about DL & AA. I do believe AA & UA still have an agreement.

Steve
Guest
Agreement? You don’t need an agreement to call AA and buy a ticket. Folks are stuck in this mindset that the United is the victim here. They CHOSE to do what they did; no one forced them to move that crew on that plane. United CHOSE to do that instead of putting their crew on some other flight (one of the 11 other airplanes that were going to that same destination) in the exact same way they were going to “reaccomodate” those 4 passengers. United holds all the cards and makes all the decisions. Don’t pretend for a minute they… Read more »
Matthew
Member

actually, federal law did. FAA says that the crew needed to travel to avoid a series of cancellations and delays the next day.

janet E
Member

Hi Matthew, Can you site that regulation since I just saw this on the net regarding changing the policy at UAL for must-rides. Of course this is mainline coming up with their new policy and not Republic.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/united-policy-crew-displace-seated-passengers-46830554

David M
Guest

Southwest in particular would have been tricky because the passengers would have to get from ORD to MDW. So American would be preferable, but a cab to Midway on United’s dime would still likely be preferable to most people than waiting until the next day.

Steve
Guest

Which is where United should have put those crew members in the first place. Not standing at the gate awaiting the results of the lottery to see which paying, already seated customer’s seat they would be allocated. I feel bad for the crew to have to be the “face” of United CEO’s ‘customer last’ mindset.

Joflyer
Guest

While not relevant to this situation, you don’t check your Constitutional Rights at the curb. We live in America, not Russia, China, Syria, Turkey, Argentina, or take your pick.

Steve
Guest
Actually, you leave your rights (Constitutional or otherwise) when you step into the plane. United had the legal right to drag that guy off the plane, even in a way that hurt him, because the law actively permits it. Listen closely the next time those nice people in those mild uniforms say the phrase: “Federal requires all passengers to follow all crew member instructions.” In this case, the instruction from the crew member was: “Sir, you need to get out of your seat and leave the plane.” When he refused to follow that crew member instruction, United simply marked him… Read more »
SEA Flyer
Member
Hi Brett, Thanks for writing this column so quickly. I immediately wondered what your take would be when I heard about the incident. The tv news story I watched on the CBS affiliate in Seattle correctly identified this situation as a flight crew operational issue rather than a standard overbooking issue. The included an interview with an aviation legal expert who reinforces that distinction. There are many culprits to blame here before overbooking. The Chicago Aviation Police top my list, followed closely by Republic’s gate personnel. The airline personnel could easily have gone down to the next person on the… Read more »
NICK
Member

Let’s look at this from a different angle. Involuntary denied boarding happens, I’m sure it has happened before on the aircraft where passengers have had to have been DB. So the question is how many of them have been taken off the aircraft using force. As this is the first case to come to light and 75% of the other IDB on that flight got off with no issues. So the remaining factor is the guy who didn’t follow instructions that he wasn’t departing on the flight, however unfair it was.

sfcarl
Member

“So the remaining factor is the guy who didn’t follow instructions that he wasn’t departing on the flight,” No, let’s not shift blame here. The guy never should have received those instructions to get off the plane after he boarded. This incident is all on United–the airline’s incompetence and inability to treat customers with respect and failure to put people before profits–with an ugly assist from the Chicago police.

Oliver
Guest

Gate agents at ORD are UA, not Republic.

SEA Flyer
Member

Thanks for that clarification, Oliver. That’s actually a good thing from a brand consistency perspective.

Scott
Guest

Ditto Catherine. Those four crew members were not at fault. They did what they were told to do,and are in no way personally responsible! Jeering at them is ignorant to say the least.

Wild Bill
Guest

Something that I am wondering about and maybe Catherine can answer (I am thinking that she is an airline professional?); would it have been possible if one of the 4 to sit in the cockpit and one of the others (if they are a FA) sit with the working FA’s?

catherine.burnett
Member

Wild Bill, I’m not sure what the Republic collective bargaining agreements (pilot and flight attendant) stipulate, but *in theory*, yes, if jumpseats were available in the cockpit and in the cabin (I’m not sure what type of aircraft this way, and how many extra jumpseats it had), this might have been an option for authorized crewmembers’ deadhead travel.

David M
Guest

Aircraft was an Embraer 170.

Sunny
Member

Catherine I am lame so I don’t know…why didn’t Republic have seats purchased/blocked on this flight?

IO
Member

CF – I disagree with “We can talk about whether this could have been handled better or not, but it doesn’t matter”. I think it does matter. Now, that you did not want to discuss here is another matter and in my opinion would have been more clear and not distract from your point.

Finally, imo, you have much factual points but it comes across very coldly.

rogerdcox
Member
Hi Cranky, I respectfully disagree. While your numbers are worth knowing, such treatment of passengers is disgraceful and the United CEO should not be defending it. Even though picking random passengers for deplaning works most of the time, when it doesn’t it is a nuclear bomb. I think there will be serious fallout. If it fades in the short term, it will still be part of the rationale for more drastic reaction from the public, and by proxy, the politicians, in the long run. When and if the post-mortem of this event becomes public, the actions of the ground agents,… Read more »
David M
Guest

It shouldn’t have been a random process, either the airline employees were wrong (again!) when they said this, or it’s been misinterpreted and re-reported. If it was a random process, then that’s yet another problem, since per the United Contract of Carriage, Involuntary Denied Boarding selection is based on fare paid, Mileage Plus status, check in time, and possibly other factors.

sfcarl
Member

Proper approach would have been to continue to increase the financial incentive until it was high enough to achieve the needed number of people giving up seats, not to call the police. United screwed up big time. United deserves every video and every tweet of condemnation it gets here. Doesn’t matter now whether this incident was due to overbooking or to a need for moving crew members. The distinction is irrelevant to what happened.

TimH
Member
Brett – you’re the only one that I know that’s likely to have any real knowledge of this, but is there any reason that Republic didn’t just get the crew to rent a car? It’s not like the crew had to cross an ocean to get from Chicago to Louisville – it’s a 5 hour drive, maybe. Even if duty hours may have been a factor, it’d seem that a 1 hour flight, plus 2 hours of delays, would put them in the same range time-wise as just driving (particularly if they’d figured this out early and had just gone… Read more »
lt
Guest

union contract wouldn’t allow it

Kevin
Member

Seems like a good opportunity to add a *benefit* to Basic Economy. You’re the one who gets the IDB.

David M
Guest

Basic Economy passengers probably would be near the top of the IDB list, since fare paid is one of the factors used.

iahphx
Member
It’s pretty clear that one of UA’s problems here is that everyone thinks they are an “expert” about aviation even if they take a couple of flights a year. They immediately think UA is evil because they see a video of a guy being dragged off a plane. I think people in the airline industry have to understand and appreciate this reality. Optics can matter more than facts. Here, the two people most to blame for this incident are the individual who didn’t listen to the police officer, and the police officer who seems to have used excessive force to… Read more »
Joflyer
Guest

You are right in the legal sense but morally United has an obligation here, they are the ultimate authority when it comes to the policy these personnel relied upon and if they had good polices, this would have been impossible.

Steve
Guest
“iahphx” I disagree because the “reality” you speak of was shaped and forged SOLELY by United. No passengers made the decision to lay off 25% of their pilots over the past 7 years to increase profit margins, leaving them with a skeleton crew pool from which to chose to fill their flights. No one forced United to tweak the very reasonable overselling/overbooking practice so far that it has become a liability instead of an asset. United’s choices are their own. Don’t blame a customer for refusing to be forcefully removed when that forceful removal shouldn’t have ever happened in the… Read more »
Scott
Member
Whether it was an overbooking or operational issue is irrelevant. But what is the problem is that the passenger did not have a right to remain on the plane once he was told to exit. While the CPD aviation folks probably didn’t handle it so great, they also can not be expected to walk away. The passenger, whether he was a doctor or not, was told to leave. He defied the airline rep orders. Technically at that point was trespassing after warning. The CPD aviation folks were called and he wouldn’t budge for them. Disobeying authority figures is not an… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
The passenger didn’t have a right to remain on the flight by United’s conditions of carriage which are not law. United can be completely right based on its own internal rules and completely be wrong in the eyes of the public because UA’s internal rules are completely inconsistent with what people around the world understand as the norms of public transportation and civilized. People do not understand how UA can board a flight and then decide they need people off of it. A Chicago Alderman says it should have been handled in the gatehouse which most of us can agree… Read more »
Scott
Member

Yep that’s true too. There once was a world where we watched a whole report. Not 30 seconds of video coupled with 140 characters and a ton of hastags.

NW
Guest

You nailed it. When a cop lawfully tells you to do something, you need to do it. Whether it’s “keep your hands in plain sight” or “get off the plane,” you can argue about it later.

NICK
Member
If the passenger wasn’t willing to get off, what was security to do, wait there while the passenger had his tantrum and gave in. Or was he hoping that they would turn on someone else, but then all the other passengers would have to do would be to do the same. IDB was not fair but at the end of the day it would have served the greater good in that the deadheading crew could have got to transport their passengers. A doctor’s cry of I have to get to my patients, do doctors not have sick days, do they… Read more »
Bob Schilling
Member
I think we¹re getting distracted. This wasn¹t a legal problem. It was a customer service problem. UA no doubt had the RIGHT to take the passenger off the aircraft. The issue is the customer service and public relations disaster they caused by enforcing their rights with force. I¹m confident that the cost of the fallout will far exceed the cost they would have incurred to buy someone a first class ticket on another airline and take them from airport to home in a limousine. On an organizational level, most airlines, including UA, focus their terminal operations entirely on cost. Station… Read more »
cpagan2
Member

That still does not give the right to the cop to assault the passenger. Especially, when the passenger was not breaking any law. If he was, please tell me which law he broke.

Mark Skinner
Guest

Correct. However, it’s likely that the law suit will hinge on the word “lawful”. If United missed one teensy itty bitty step in the process, and it becomes “unlawful”, reasonable force quickly becomes assault. United did hand him a written copy of his options, didn’t they? Wouldn’t have wanted to miss a step like that, would they?

SEA Flyer
Member

From what I heard from an aviation legal expert interviewed last night on Seattle’s CBS affiliate, the airline would have been within its legal rights to call Security to deplane the passenger for an overbooking situation, but it’s far less clear they had that right to deplane him to seat deadheading crew.

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

Scott
Member

He might be right to some degree. But that is an argument for off the plane. But if the Captain who has final decision says to exit the plane (I haven’t see if that’s the case here) tells you to leave, you leave. Again, it’s all an argument at the podium. Not on the plane. The situation is not going to get any better arguing on the aircraft.

Mark Skinner
Guest

I am not sure. If he gets a few million, he might beg to differ.

Joflyer
Guest

Scott, taking your point to it’s logical conclusion you sound like you support the policy of, “Get off our plane or get beat up.”

The cop that pulls you over for a moving violation doesn’t get the right to beat you up because you argue with them about the ticket while sitting in your car. Your analysis seems to ignore the implications and the idea of appropriate response.

*United’s policy should be to avoid beating up passengers (or having cops do it)*

Unless you’re saying there was NO other reasonable alternative to bumping this specific passenger?

Hey
Member

Well put! By most comments, I’m ammaazzed at total lack of knowledge about airline protocols and rules for deadhead crew, et al.

eseuc
Member

Your long post defending or clarifying overbooking doesn’t matter.

The human factor and handling is the HOW of this issue while you on about the WHAT. The cops did a horrible job, and how they beat up this man is so authoritarian that I ask myself what is happening to our world. How you handle a problem is often more important than the problem itself. Were there any more on the random list that could be asked to leave?

PF
Guest

The Customer doesn’t always come first, but they should. I understand the need to position the crew, and assume the crew was deadheading to work a flight and not positive space discretionary leisure travel. Was this the last flight of the day on any airline? Was this a Republic or Mainline UA crew? Could they have chartered a plane to move the crew? Most likely yes, but would they justify the cost? It would be a bargain compared to this PR fiasco. Are the lawyers lined up yet?

Bobber
Guest

This whole episode is depressing; United’s behaviour, the passenger’s behaviour, and especially the Police (if you have to resort to aggression and violence, then you’ve already lost). But most depressing of all is the huge numbers of people making judgements from a single, Tweeted video – that’s why you have who you do on Pennsylvania Avenue, that’s why we have Brexit, that’s why integrity and respect are worthless these days. What’s the word for it, these days? Oh, yeah, #Sad.

Scott
Member

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein. He probably didn’t imagine that it would be started with a 140 character Tweet.

mandel.jerry1
Member

They could have handled it at the gate before boarding.

Oliver
Guest

If they (the GAs) had known they needed to IDB someone. But apparently they didn’t.

southbay flier
Guest
1) It seems like the Republic crew showed up to the gate late and then demanded they need to be on the flight. If they got there prior to boarding, they could have resolved this prior to boarding. That seems like poor planning. 2) I’m glad to have seen that the officer who beat up this passenger has been suspended. This incident really wouldn’t have gone viral without that video. I think it was on the front page of every major news website. 3) I’ve only seen one flight in my life get close to being IDB after boarding and… Read more »
SandyH
Guest
Do you know why the crew showed up late to the gate? hmmmm could it be that their inbound was late? I hope the officer does not lose his job. He did not throw a punch. The customer was fighting him. If he would have left the airplane as directed, none of this would have happened. Including his horrible history as a Doctor. Drugs for sex, 98 other drug counts, hmmm.. Stand up guy. If we are going to speculate on what led up to this incident, maybe we can speculate that this Doctor was on drugs and that is… Read more »
iahphx
Member

The drug angle seems to be an under-considered factor here. Why did the “good” doctor resist the police? It’s not something that 69-year-olds typically do. And then we see his “spaced out” behavior after he apparently got free of the police. This obviously isn’t normal. The doctor also had a history of belligerence in his medical files. It would not be surprising if one of the reasons he got hurt in the incident with the police was his own mental state.

sfcarl
Member

No, we don’t need to speculate on which drugs this customer was or was not using. Drugs are irrelevant unless you’re just grasping at straws in your shameful efforts to defend the actions of United and the Chicago police. The man’s behavior was normal human response to the attack upon him.

Oliver
Guest

I have been on two flights just this last year where people had to be taken off after boarding. Weight and balance makes that a fairly common problem with Barbie jets.

southbay flier
Guest

Even if the crew was on a late inbound, someone who does scheduling for Republic should have notified the gate that they were going to make room for four crew members. If this was done at the last second, that’s poor planning.

Digging into a person’s past to say that he deserved being dragged off the plane is really low. The neanderthal airport security folks didn’t know that. Republic didn’t know that. United didn’t know that.

I’ve seen VDB after boarding for weight/balance reasons on barbie jets. It’s fairly common.

iahphx
Member

Southbay — Digging into his past is obviously relevant to see if there are reasons this incident happened the way it happened, and to see how culpable the doctor was in his own predicament. The history of drug felonies and belligerence seem very relevant to me.

Paul Ferdinand
Member

A “must ride” employee on compamny business is just that. This is nothing new. I was an airport gate agent 35 years ago. Nothing has changed, except service levels, incident management techniques, and a lack of common sense!

matt.traynor
Member

And social media!

Jake
Guest

Please retract this POS factually incorrect article.

The stats you push are for INVOLUNTARY denied boardings. Airlines bump hundreds times as many poor passengers, but have gotten better to make it look like the “voluntarily” gave up their seat.

The reality is that I know of no other industry where a contract is worthless. As this hero showed us, the airline can break the contract at their will and even call the cops to make sure you don’t get what you paid for.

Overbooking.is 100% the issue here. Airlines CEOs should go to jail for this.

southbay flier
Guest

Tell that to the lady who collected $11,000 in VDB compensation from DL for her, her husband, and child this past weekend.

David M
Guest

The airline didn’t break the contract. VDB and IDB are covered in the contract. Section 25 of United’s. https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriage.aspx#sec25

Ultimately, an airline ticket represents a contract to take you from A to B. Exactly how, when, and where are all up to the airline’s discretion.

Joflyer
Guest

“Exactly how, when and where are all up to the airline’s discretion.” Not quite. The outrage over being locked on a plane on the tarmac changed the laws and regulations. The airline does not have unlimited discretion and if Airlines abuse the discretion they do have the public can encourage their Representatives to change the regs.

Jeff cacy
Member

United Airlines has self inflicted another body blow. Millions lost in market value, terrible brand damage…it doesn’t matter that Polaris is the new star in their hard product offering (which is over promised and under delivered), they are failing in brand behavior. United breaks guitars should have been an example for change, but alas, no. Their management continues to be inept at creating a customer focused culture. Until they get it, their future is grim!

TDJ
Guest

Cranky,

I want to give you kudos because this is the first place I have seen the actual airline running the flight mentioned. And this also goes back to what you have said about how flyers don’t actually know who is running their flight 99% of the time if its a regional carrier.

TomT
Member

Every time I’ve seen airlines make offers for people to take a later flight in response to overbooking it’s been before the plane boarded. I’ve never encountered this after the plane was boarded, that part of the situation is completely nuts, and is the airline’s fault. The only thing I’d agree with is that it’s not strictly an issue of overbooking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t some other form of gross operational stupidity.

Nathaniel
Member

It’s rarer but does occur. I had a VDB a few years after I sand everyone else was seated a few years ago. I got 500 buck voucher, food coupons for O’Hare, and bumped from coach on a regional to first in mainline to a nearby airport. Sure it cost me a little extra to get home from this other airport, but well worth it to me.

Oliver
Guest

As mentioned upstream, I have seen it happen twice in the last 12 months alone. Not because of crew having to fly or oversold seats, but because of weight and balance. End result was the same: GA comes on board and offers carrots and threatens with stick if not sufficient volunteers (incl. security in one case… on an AA branded regional carrier, BTW).

Jeff
Guest

The really looks bad for United. It should have never come to the point where a passenger is already on a plane and is asked to leave, with the exception of weight balancing.

But with four passengers each being offered $800 plus hotel/meals, it would seem that United could have found an Uber or some service to drive them down to Louisville. It would certainly have been cheaper and the two cities are not that far apart. And those passengers would have been home that day.

TomT
Member

The only time I’ve encountered a weight-balancing issue was Penn Air, from King Salmon to Anchorage, and they simply moved passengers around within the plane rather than having anyone leave the plane.

southbay flier
Guest

Heck, you could have taken that $800 voucher and then rented a car one way to SDF and still come out ahead. You would still be home that night, though late that night.

Tim Dunn
Member
if the voucher was actually cash, then perhaps. If it was United vouchers, then it was worthless as far as any other transportation options. The value of the hotel and meals is meaningless to the equation because the passenger never wanted them in the first place. The only compensation that has value to the customer is actual denied boarding compensation and then only if it is in a form that the customer considers acceptable. Everything else – hotels and food – were consequential expenses from the denied boarding situation that airlines offer to try to placate the inconvenience. Also, I… Read more »
southbay flier
Guest

It depends. For me, I would use the voucher within a year. I’ve done that on DL a few times and I walked away happy. In my case, a voucher is as good as cash.

I do understand that you are responsible for paying for your rental car or alternate transportation, but if the cost is $150 for an $800 voucher, I come out ahead.

TC
Guest

Quote “Also, I do not believe (CF can confirm) that airlines will not use private cars as backup for service irregularities because of the liability that is involved”

I work for a Ground Transportation company in South Florida. We have on many occasions taken an airline’s passengers to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Key West, Orlando or Tampa because of either a flight cancellation or overbooking. It becomes a liability of the transportation company that accepts the passengers whether it be in a form of a ground transportation voucher or actual cash.

Tim Dunn
Member

and again you are a common carrier. My comment was about rental and private cars.

DougYWG
Guest
Yes, overbooking makes more money for the airline. But there’s another major reason for doing it. I had a conversation many years ago with an airline senior manager. If somebody got bumped, he could do something for them – get them to their destination and give them compensation. What really bothered him was when somebody was desparate to get on a flight but was told it was fully booked. When the passenger found out later that the flight went out with three open seats, he got very upset and there was nothing my friend could do for him. Too late.… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

This was already said but it seems to me, United had to know way prior to boarding that crew members needed to be on board and they should not have allowed passengers to board to save room for the crew members that needed to travel. This man was not a criminal and should not have been treated the way he was, United needed to offer more money to get somebody off the plane, and it should have been in cash not some voucher.

IO
Member

something that occurred to me is that none of the other passengers offered to be involuntarily bumped (no pun intended) once the Dr. started to be roughed-up and he could be at his destination as well. I hope I’m not blaming the passengers for United’s and the cop’s terrible acts. I’m simply highlighting what I wished I as a passenger would have done when seeing a fellow human being being roughed up.

SEA Flyer
Member
My guess is the other passengers were either so shocked or not necessarily aware of why he was being removed. The time to volunteer was before the police arrived. Once they were on the scene, any attempt to volunteer could have been misinterpreted as interference. One of the mistakes I still maintain the airline committed was not going down to the next name on their list (however derived). They should have had a couple of alternates identified in case a passenger refused. If that did not work, then they could have explained they either needed a volunteer or they would… Read more »
IO
Member

“passengers were either so shocked…not aware” and ” could have been misinterpreted as interference” by the police. makes some sense. however, I would have still said that I’d volunteer. the rest of your comments is a sensible approach…thanks for sharing

Nathaniel
Member

The only problem I see with going down the line is that once one says no and sees there is nothing the company will do, so can everyone else, so stuck in the same situation they began with.

Davey
Guest

I smell a coveted Cranky Jackass coming!

IO
Member

the first one for cranky?

tongue in cheek people.

IO
Member

I’m certain there won’t be a need to drag it out of him.

Yo
Guest

Well written article Brett! Yes, United/Republic screwed up, but this is not overbooking. And they should have offered more $$ and not even seated the pax until they had the seats for the deadheading crew.

Nicholas
Member

The situation was bad enough, the response from the CEO just added fuel to the fire.

IO
Member

agree with you. the external & internal (which went external) was poorly done. imo, it would have been best for Mr. Munoz to take full responsibility.

I recall one of the first messages to the “troops” when he took over, imo, seemed overly canned by simply and robotically reading the prompter. I wished he would have been more personable.

IO
Member

I read that he’s changed his tune and “we take responsibility”.

That, imo, should have been part of the initial response by Munoz.

hansplickert
Member
Cranky: I totally agree with your comments. But there is another issue that noone has mentioned so far. Where the four Republic crew members just going from their home to their first duty place? In that case, they used to be responsible for getting there and should have been standing by, like everyone else. Since they could easily have determined the aircraft passenger load, why did they show up in the last minute instead of standing by for an earlier flight? If they actually were on duty (and in uniform, I think they would normally fly positive space. Clearly they… Read more »
IO
Member

agree. by the internal communication to employees I’ve seen it does appear to be so.

SandyH
Guest
False. They were deadheading crew members. Told by the company that they would deadhead on this flight and work the downline flight out of Louisville. Most likely their inbound was late and they had to put them on this flight or they were drafted at the last minute to deadhead to Louisville work the other flight. Airlines don’t all of a sudden just decide to put their crews on an airplane without a good reason. They certainly don’t like the idea of having to pull customers off of an airplane. It amazes me that you people think they wake up… Read more »
Bob Schilling
Member
I think this incident has such resonance because it reminds us forcefully of just how awful United¹s customer service can be. Thousands of fliers have United stories. Mine is being lied to about where my seat was in an equipment change, dropped into an interior seat, and then given the opportunity to watch United put a standby passenger in the aisle seat next to mine. I was outraged about that, and wrote the airline. That was maybe 20 years ago. I¹m still waiting for a response. And no, I still don¹t voluntarily fly United. Not that they need to hear… Read more »
IO
Member

it’d be interesting to see what effect his has on United’s implementation of bare bone air service (i.e. no seat assignment, no meal). The other legacies are implementing the same but I wonder if United can take more negative situations and social media perceptions.

A
Guest
I for one think the big mistake was letting this person board and then have to “remove” him from the flight. I’m not sure the exact verbiage of the conditions of contract but I bet it says you can be “denied boarding.” This man was boarded and then they reneged on that. I’m sure UA’s lawyers wrote things such they are in the good but it’s perception. Once I cross that threshold from jetway to aircraft I’ve boarded in my opinion….AND public opinion for what it seems. In hindsight UA would’ve been better off to cancel the flight out of… Read more »
IO
Member

interesting point you raise about “I wouldn’t tell my clients that someone else came along who is “more important” so I am going to “bump” their project delivery to a later date and for the “inconvenience” here’s a credit towards the next job I do for you.” imo, you may be in the minority as this choice, as with the airlines, corporate America probably does use overtly or covertly. probably the latter.

Suzie Alcatrez
Guest

I thought those denied boarding statics did not include voluntary rerouted??

jaybru
Member

Now if Kentucky Senator McConnell and his DOT secretary wife had been on that flight, wonder how UA/Republic would have handled this. I admit that a year or so ago I actually flew with a hard-copy of UA’s contract of carriage. Was looking for the definition of “Direct flight.” Couldn’t find anything. I was referred to Wikipedia, and something about the flight number being the same through all 6 stops and 5 plane-changes! I trashed my copy of contract of carriage in the “garbage only” receptacle.

Yo
Guest

It’s not hard to find UA contract of carriage, it took me a few seconds on the interwebz. https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriage.aspx#sec25

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