Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Flying “So Sorry” Airlines

Like last Sunday's overbooked United flight 3411—delayed for two hours after a blameless passenger was unceremoniously dumped from his flight like rejected, oversized luggage—the overdue apology from United's beleaguered CEO Oscar Munoz finally arrived on Tuesday:

“I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”

Due to this self-inflicted public relations nightmare, United's stock is plummeting—and a boycott is being threatened. The recent loss of 1.1% of its value means $255 million has evaporated into the thin air of their less than friendly skies. Therefore, given Mr. Munoz's Johnny-come-lately epiphany, one is left to wonder whether he suddenly prizes his customers' welfare or just the corporation's shrinking bottom line.

Many on O'Hare's April 9th flight to Louisville are justified to remain cynical. Still, it's a relief that their “standard operating procedure” doesn't include heavies with badges manhandling a shrieking elderly doctor while dragging him from his seat and forcibly expelling him from an airplane. The married victim is identified as Dr. David Dao, 69, an Elizabethtown pulmonologist. (Interestingly and coincidentally, this physician also has a long criminal history of fraud, and trading prescription drugs for sexual favors with a male patient). In any case, the reality that he protested due to next morning hospital duties didn't dissuade the militant airline or jackbooted airport authorities. Did the three harassers wear brown shirts—and forget this is America—when they roughed him up?

The logistical problem started not from one doctor's resistance, but from the airline overbooking the flight. Four spots were needed for airline employees of an extra flight crew—so paying customers' needs be damned, right? Reportedly, an airline supervisor walked onto the plane and brusquely announced: “We have United employees that need to fly to Louisville tonight. … This flight’s not leaving until four people get off.” When the usual inducements such as $800 vouchers failed, four passengers were chosen at random. Only three complied. For the fourth, the police were called after Dr. Dao “refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily.” Unfortunately for the instigators, several passengers' cell phone videos of the incident have gone viral.

For example, witness Tyler Bridges posted his video to Twitter. Based upon his observation, “He said, more or less, 'I’m being selected because I'm Chinese.'” Educated in Vietnam, who would blame this traumatized doctor for having flashbacks of authoritarian thugs? From his window seat, two of the officers yanked him into the aisle while several passengers' “My Gods” reverberate. Dr. Dao goes limp when hitting the floor, his cell phone grasped in one hand. (Apparently, in the struggle he passed out after his nose impacted an armrest.) His glasses dislodged, his lip looking bloody, one of the officers pulls his dead weight by both arms down the aisle and out of the plane.

“No, this is wrong. Oh, my God, look at what you did to him!” exclaims one enraged female passenger over the din. Unfortunately, United CEO Oscar Munoz initial reaction did not concur. At the time, he demonized passenger Dao as “disruptive and belligerent”. Likewise, in an earlier statement Monday, he backed United employees, writing:

“While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right. ... Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”

Frankly, one would expect this two-faced recipient of PRWeek U.S.’s Communicator of the Year for 2017 to do better. Speaking of seizing hands, they should confiscate Munoz's March 16 award. Likewise, Dr. Dao's attorneys should collect his yearly $6.7 million salary—and demand this CEO's immediate removal as the head of a now disgraced airline.

Twitter: @DavidHunterblog

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