Fly The Friendly…Never Mind. Instead: Drag Your Butt Offa My Plane.

Overbooking is a way of life in the hotel and airline industries. Statistically, it’s about 100% sure that not everyone who has a reservation will show up. Empty rooms and empty seats mean potential revenue lost. Do that often enough and people will be doing Google searches for Braniff & (insert name here) airlines.

Consequently, and you’ve experienced this if you fly very often, the airlines overbook flights all the time. Most of the time, it means that the standby passengers get to go to Cleveland like they want, and nobody is the wiser. Occasionally it means that the gate crew asks for volunteers to skip the flight in return for a voucher for another flight (often just a few hours later), meals, hotels if it’s overnight, and a big smile. I’ve contemplated the offers on occasion, but have never been asked to do so/taken up on my offer to do it for a higher fee. (Hint: if you hold out a while, the price goes way up. I usually am very quiet until we approach the $500 bonus round. Never been taken up on it, but someday…)

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I’m usually reluctant to leap into the fray before all the facts are in on an incident. Today, however, I will combine two of my pet peeves and do a blog.

Pet peeve #1 is the sophisticated manipulation of customers the airlines carry out to maximize their profits. I’m good with it right up until the point where my purchased ticket is no longer good because they have to shuffle crew. I have a couple friends who are crew. Great folks. But if the airline isn’t able to jump-seat them, they shouldn’t be kicking paying cargo off to make it happen. And, yes, I have been impacted by this in the past. I was a finalist in a competition a few years back and chose to fly in for the awards that morning, instead of the night before, for the evening banquet. The airline didn’t have a crew for my airplane – because they were bringing them in for the flight from Chicago. So I sat in airports, and missed my pre-paid shuttle in the bonus round, for 5 hours. I found out on Facebook who won the competition while I was still 20 miles from the banquet hall.

The second hot-button issue is the increasing proclivity of law enforcement agencies to act as corporate goons, or as para-military forces. If you can tell me how that poor man on the United flight broke any LAW, I’ll apologize to the airline and the police involved. Yes, they have a right to tell you to get off their plane. But it’s a good thing for them to have cause. Poor logistics scheduling is not a valid reason to drag a customer from their seat and off the plane.

“But Joe, you defend this kind of thing all the time!” I defend righteous police action. I defend righteous corporate action. IN this case, from what has been released so far, the airline failed to observe the market economics I mentioned above. I don’t know what value they put on getting their crew to Louisville, but it couldn’t possibly be the amount that this bad publicity will cost them. Given the number of flights that they could have moved the passengers to, I’m guessing that they would have spent no more than $1500 per passenger to move those 4 crew. Quite the bargain, as I’m now on the “no way I’m flying United” list, and I’ve taken the time to write a blog about it.

Perhaps the doctor was a jerk. I have seen no indication of that, but it’s possible. He may have had to go for some other reason. But United has feet of clay if that’s the case, and they have lost the publicity round.

The police. Point 2 – there has to come a point where Law Enforcement simply says, “No. That’s not a crime. You need to resolve it civilly.” The cops then back away and force the airline to spend money to fix the problem, instead of putting the cops into the role of corporate thugs. Sounds harsh even to my ears to say it, but sometimes we get into the habit of using the militarized police forces in a way the Founding Fathers would have found to be the equivalent of British Redcoats – a permanent standing force.

My brothers and sisters in blue will understand, if they’ve read this blog before, that I’m in their corner. I am not in the corner of cops who use excessive force, or who blindly follow orders. Lawful orders. They have to be lawful. There was no terrorist threat here. United could have put those people on a competitor’s bird and got them to the destination. They could have rented a van and driven them to Louisville. I checked. I’ll double the price, just to be safe: $800. Throw in another $500 to pay someone to drive there and back, and a meal (it’s only 5 hours driving time) and you’re still under $1,500.00 to move those four crew to where they need to be.

So, for the sake of under $1500, United has garnered a ton of bad publicity, the airport police look awful (and will undoubtedly be investigated and sued) and the good doctor is traumatized.

United, I have just one question: Was it worth it?
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Fly The Friendly…Never Mind. Instead: Drag Your Butt Offa My Plane. — 2 Comments

  1. I may be mistaken but it seems to me they picked on a guy who was unlikely, based on physical description, to resist. I can think of several people the police would have been more polite to. I wonder how I would have reacted to the police manhandling me if I found myself in the same situation. I watched that poor guy and was even wondering what I would have done had I been on that flight. Maybe some of the customers assumed the guy did something to earn this brutality. Because this is such a strange incident to say the least. I mean, four cops to take down a small Asian doctor who screamed like a stuck pig when they manhandled him? If they did that to my wife or sons I would have been arrested for assaulting an officer. Crazy. Hopefully this doctor will become a very rich man at the airline’s expense. Rich enough to OWN his own airline. Lawyer up, dude. You won’t lose after the jury sees these videos.

    • One school of thought begs for your warrior soul to fight and do it then and there.

      I’m of the school that would agree to get off the plane, and then announce my website and ask that the other passengers send me the video. I’d also be spreading the word to everyone I know just how badly United sucks.

      Physically, it’s a fight you can’t win. It’s folly to fight with the cops. I ought to know. But it applies in the Airbus as much as it does in Compton: wait your day in court, don’t take a beating. It’ll stink. It will outrage you. But you will lose physically, and probably criminally.

      Better to go after the pockets from the comfort of your seat on Delta.