My gosh, United just keeps digging themselves a deeper hole. This is sort of unbelievable.
If there’s one thing United should have learned from their leggings incident a couple of weeks ago, it’s how important having a quick and coherent response from upper management is. That situation could have been largely diffused if they corrected themselves on Twitter quickly, and also issued a high-level explanation and apology within a short period of time.
Now, just a couple of weeks later, United once again finds themselves in the midst of a viral news story, as a customer is dragged off a plane by police while bleeding, because he didn’t want to give up his confirmed seat. This time around United responded to the incident more quickly, all the way from the top.
Oscar Munoz is United’s fairly new CEO, and he’s a really well liked guy. He seems to want to change the corporate culture of the company, and he’s loved by employees, customers, and shareholders. It’s rare that’s the case at an airline. As a result, his responses (or at least the responses that have his name attached to them) leave me terribly disappointed.
Earlier today the following statement was released, signed by Oscar Munoz (bolding mine):
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.” – Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines
Look, I understand from a legal standpoint they probably don’t want to apologize that they called the cops on a customer, rather than working harder to diffuse the situation. But to apologize for having to “re-accommodate a customer” is horribly insulting. Just pathetic. C’mon Oscar, aren’t you ashamed to say that after watching a video like this?
Unfortunately it gets much worse. This evening United sent out a letter to employees explaining the situation, which reads as follows, per @jonostrower:
Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clear picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, the situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed stablished procedures for dealing with situations like this. 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 and above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. 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.
- On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agent were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight
- We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crewmember instructions.
- He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.
- Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.
- Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials
First of all let me say that all the reports I’ve seen from other passengers suggest that the passenger in question wasn’t aggressive or belligerent. He was frustrated, but that was it.
Second of all, what a horrible, horrible, horrible response that only makes this situation worse. How incompetent is the team running United? I really don’t get it. I’d be disappointed if this came from a typical disliked CEO, but from Oscar Munoz it’s even more disappointing.
Surely they know a letter sent to employees would also be made public, so do they really think this is the right response after their second major snafu in just a couple of weeks? Here are a few of the most ridiculous quotes:
- “While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did.” REALLY?! Those are the facts and circumstances that are most significant in this case, rather than how you couldn’t get your gate agents to solicit volunteers, and that they had to call the police to have this passenger removed? That says a lot about the focus of United’s “investigation.”
- “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 and above and beyond to ensure we fly right.” I get he doesn’t want to put down employees, but is this really the time to thank employees for going above and beyond? While they’re calling cops on customers because they’re either not significantly empowered or too lazy to work harder to find volunteers?
- “Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are.” Well, Oscar, it seems you could learn that lesson as well, because when a passenger on your airline is ripped off a plane by police bleeding because you couldn’t accommodate his confirmed reservation, and when the best you can apologize for is that he was re-accommodated, I don’t think you’re living up to the “core” of who you are.
- “Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight.” They were left with no choice, really? Then what’s the point of the investigation, even? It seems this was United at its best, apparently.
This is just beyond pathetic on so many levels. I’ve had a lot of respect for Oscar Munoz. Clearly United made an effort to have communication from the top this time around (unlike last time), but as it turns out, that makes the situation even worse.
This is just appalling. He could at least acknowledge that they should look into their procedures surrounding denied boarding, how they interact with customers, and if the situation could have been avoided.
Speaking of Oscar Munoz, he was recently awarded PR Week’s “Communicator Of The Year” award. Oy….
This has been a quickly-moving story with myriad updates. The full coverage of the United incident from the One Mile at a Time team is as follows: