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Posted on 11th April 2017
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Social media is abuzz with this story (reported here by the BBC) of the doctor being forcibly assaulted and forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight awaiting departure from a Chicago airport on Sunday evening.
The BBC report contains a shocking video of the man being dragged from the flight by three security personnel. He ended up with his face covered in blood (his own blood).
United's only explanation seems to be that the flight was overbooked, so they were trying to get 4 volunteers to make space for 4 members of United staff who needed to fly in order to work the next day. There were not enough volunteers, so they picked the doctor and his wife; a doctor who also needed to fly in order to be at work the next day. To me, that reason does not constitute an excuse.
I don't know how you see this, but I feel that getting a doctor to work is much more important than getting flight crew to work.
If you don't fly frequently, you may not realise that overbooking is common. A certain number of people don't turn up for their flights, and to avoid empty seats the airline often overbooks, and that sometimes means that there are not enough seats on the flight (more information on overbooking here).
United Airlines, however, is behaving as if the overbooking was something done to them by some third-party, whereas they did it to themselves.
Normal procedure is that passengers are offered compensation for not flying on overbooked flights (another flight, meal vouchers, a paid overnight stay in a hotel, an additional flight at a later date, etc.). If there are no volunteers, the offer is usually improved until passengers do volunteer. It is not clear from the BBC report whether any compensation was offered, nor whether the offer was improved when there were not enough takers (or none at all).
My take on this is as follows:
There is a lot of social media commentary, with many people suggesting not to fly United. To me, that is not news. I have flown them a few times, and they have always been rubbish: cramped seats, broken TV/audio systems and poor service (more attitude than service). When my girlfriend flies home to Chicago, she tries very hard to ensure that she flies with Lufthansa (difficult to ensure, since United is a code-share partner with Lufthansa); she pays exactly the same price for United as for Lufthansa, but the Lufthansa flight is much better all around. For me, United are in strong competition with British Airways to be the worst airline in the west (if you want to know what I have against BA, click here.
I suggest that people vote with their wallets, and fly with any airline other than United, even if it costs more, or involves a more circuitous route. At the end of the day, people (and especially companies) only pay attention when it costs them money.
I also hope that the grossly abused doctor sues them, and that criminal charges are also filed.