Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
It’s a public relations disaster of massive proportions. A self-inflicted wound that is going to take a long time to heal if it doesn't bring down the company. If you don’t know the story you’ve either been off-planet or isolated from all forms of modern communication. The videos of the incident have gone viral. So, United Airlines overbooked a flight from Chicago.
Then they asked for volunteers to leave the plane. None came forward. A random selection was then carried out. A Chinese American Doctor and his wife were picked to be off-loaded. He declined, stating he had commitments with patients. Enter the security guys.
The Doctor was then extracted and probably beaten up in the process. In a bizarre twist, this poor blooded guy came back on board the plane. Clearly, United now realised they’d messed up big time.
All this was avoidable. First, over-booking is dealt with at the gate. Experience shows that with the right inducements volunteers will come forward. It’s done everyday by all airlines and it works. So what went wrong here? Why allow the passengers to board, take a seat then request volunteers? Second, calling security to conduct the extraction was a big mistake. They over-reacted, whilst using excessive force in a punitive manner. Unprofessional and unnecessary. One officer is now suspended.
Twitter and the Internet have exploded in response. The scale of the coverage is unprecedented. In China alone, over 120 million people have viewed footage of the extraction. In outrage, the Chinese are calling for a boycott of United. They are threatening not to service United planes. Other options to disrupt operations are under discussion. Meanwhile, the incident has taken on a distinct racial tone. The inference is drawn that as an Asian, the Doctor was targeted for removal and picked at random. It doesn’t matter what United now says because minds are made up.
Assertions by the United CEO, Oscar Munez, that the passenger was ‘disruptive and belligerent’ are nonsense. Viewing of the footage affirms the guy is a victim of a terrible injustice. I suspect that Mr. Munez will come to regret that remark. Yet, no apology has come from United for the shocking treatment of the Doctor. This silence is feeding the frenzy.
On a lighter note, netizens have taken every opportunity to trash United’s brand. The TV networks have joined in. And again, it was all so avoidable. United staff and the companies bottom line are going to suffer. No doubt the staff will be under pressure from scornful customers. This will make for some unpleasant times ahead.
Also, Mr. Munez is probably for the chop. His handling of the fall-out has been textbook ‘how not to do it’. Either the man was badly briefed or he's incompetent. Either way, the poor Doctor deserves a full and frank apology, plus a great deal of compensation.
United are going to experience turbulence. Time to put on the warning signs, fasten their seat belts ... because it's going to get rough.
Addendum - United saw 4% wiped off its stock value. Meanwhile, the CEO has now issued a full-throated apology in the face of the storm he helped whip up. Without social media this incident may have gone largely unnoticed. So, the power of the internet asserts itself again.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.