Tuesday 11 April 2017

United Airlines...oh deary me.

I really struggle to find this whole United story believable; not so much the over-booking, but the idea this guy was 'disruptive' when they tried to pull him off the flight..

Who would not be angry at being asked to get off the flight they had booked and paid for? Of course the guy resisted....then being USA, things tend to get a bit heavy from there!

Worse for the company to say that this is because we need to transport our own people, up yours customers. Now the CEO has written, saying the same thing. It is all the customers' fault for resisting being thrown off the plane by 'not co-operating'.

Basically, as things go, this is bad enough to make Mike Ashley look like a good guy when it comes to business and people management.

On top of all of this, it was only a short flight, United could have had their staff catch a bus or train with no problem.

The company will really suffer for this and deservedly so - I can't see a single part of the argument they can win on.


Lord Blagger said...

And Pepsi are saying thank the Gods.

United have saved us from our own cock up.

Electro-Kevin said...

If the staff were displaced because their own plane had developed a fault then they may have been told to continue their work schedule by travelling as passengers to a point where they were rostered to takeover another plane later. If they hadn't then there would have been a cancellation elsewhere, inconveniencing 100 passengers instead of 4.

I doubt very much these staff were off duty and travelling for leisure purposes.

If you get told by staff to get off a plane you get off it. Aviation laws are draconian and need to be.

Steven_L said...

Basically, as things go, this is bad enough to make Mike Ashley look like a good guy when it comes to business and people management.

Just you keep on using "Mike Ashley" as another word for "horrible ***t", meanwhile the buyback continues and one day Mr Market will realise my SPD shares are really worth at least a fiver.

Electro-Kevin said...

Clearly a bus journey would not have got them there in time. Then the knock-on effect on the next crew, because their plane was cancelled... then the knock-on to the next... and at the end of the day aeroplanes failing to get to agreed servicing points.


david morris said...

The whole scene slips very nicely into the media promoted meme of the Trumpian Abyss that the US of A has fallen into since Nov last.

Flagwaver said...

Always sticking up for the customer, EK. Tell me which competitive consumer industry you work in?

The whole thing is a disaster. Reams of analysis from broadcasters and so on. Another straw after leggingsgate not long ago. The whole thing caught on camera and shared instantly. Welcome to the connected era.

The rules are draconian and need to be in case of a real problem. However in this case the problem was caused by the firm and not the customer who suffered. Apparently they did not increase the offer for voluntary "re-accommodation". Apparently the guy said he is a doctor with appointments to keep. Why did they not try and kick someone else off instead? Why did they not try to arrange a swap?

No, in this case the airline is clearly and unambiguously at fault. And United will no doubt lose custom at the margins.

andrew said...

a) Couldn't they just stand at the back or something?

b) To those who say the staff needed to be on the plane to prevent potential knock on scheduling effects, the passenger who got bumped was a doctor.
The potential knock on effect of him not getting to work is someone dies.

c) As I am a less frequent poster than EK, does my comment get bumped

d) there was a simple way of solving this with nothing nasty happening, just keep increasing the compo offer until 4 people stand up.

Electro-Kevin said...

Andrew - D) is a good point but they did not know it was going to kick off like this. The selection method was probably a pre-planned contingency.

800 dollars, a hotel and the next flight seemed generous to me.

They guy 'says' he was a doctor. I don't think so. Not by his conduct.

Electro-Kevin said...

The point is the way it is being reported. The severe disruptions would not be being discussed had I not raised them. (I am involved in these sorts of decisions all the time.)

Electro-Kevin said...

Flagwaver: I am sticking up for the customer. Clearly at least one plane load of customers in Louisville was going to suffer a cancellation (and possibly more if this resulted in further displacement of crews and planes not reaching their servicing hangers later on.)

The body-slamming incident is unfortunate but this chap, it seems, had got hysterical and played the race card on an aeroplane and you just don't do that these days. I expect the security guard to be exonerated.

As usual it's the press omitting to report the full facts - or explain the big picture - they do this for sensation.

Fortunately I won't have to compete much longer, nearly 30 years. 1am starts this week with a switch-back to 9am on Friday, almost 60 hours. Yuk.

Flagwaver said...

EK you are being deliberately obtuse. The passengers are not responsible for knock-on delays, the airline is. If it was worth the airline's while to kick passengers off the airline should have made it worth it. Nobody volunteered at first, suggesting that the $800 was not enough.

I wonder how much less a bigger incentive would have cost compared to all this negative publicity?

dearieme said...

"And Pepsi are saying thank the Gods.

United have saved us from our own cock up."

I must have missed that: what have Pepsi been up to?

Electro-Kevin said...

And finally - of the 800 dollars being raised to the point that people accept.

This will, of course, not have been the first time this offer has been made. One expects that a bidding war has taken place before and they were trying to avoid this.

Yup. A misfire this time but you simply do not struggle against airline staff on an aeroplane.

What was to happen ? A sit-in airside at an airport ?

Electro-Kevin said...

FLagwaver - Ooh. Imagine it. They get one, maybe two get off at 1000 dollars - then another at 1500... the whole plane gets swept up in this game of poker to see which passenger cracks first... How high does it go ?

One suspects the scenario has happened before and a silly amount has been paid. This day happens to be the one where the airline says 'enough !'. It would be interesting to know.

Some of the culpability is on the passengers themselves, and certainly the guy who resisted official requests whilst in an aeroplane, airside at an airport.

Airline officials are not there to negotiate nor play games and did not have to offer a bean.

Nick Drew said...

love the whole American internal flights thing. How people buy tickets on Friday evening flights in the sure knowledge they'll be overbooked, then go to the airport where they can participate in the great game of how much will they pay me to be bumped off this flight? True afficianados even make their own bids.

(you can get even bigger rewards for intercontinental flights on a Friday - but it's a helluva bluff if they actually let you on)

I was once on a flight with one of the US airlines that was in Chapter 11. It was in the days when onboard meals were still pretty universal and included in the price. We all got one of those foil-sealed plastic beakers of water with a little printed slip, which said (I paraphrase):

we know and you know that you are only flying with us because we're f****d and consequently offering rock-bottom prices. So be grateful we're even giving you water

on one of my many Friday return trips from Dublin (ticketed to LHR) Aer Lingus couldn't find one of those long Airbus jobs and were about 24 seats short accordingly. I got paid EUR 120 cash to go to LGW instead, on an earlier flight to boot - and that was actually much better for me!

andrew said...

EK, there is a clear upper limit to the possible compo

That is the cost of chartering another plane to fly the 4 staff to where they need to go.

It leads to some interesting auction strategies, but as others have stated, this is not the passenger's problem.

In other news, doctors are people and are not always saints.

Steven_L said...

So who are all these people that book seats on planes then don't use them? It seems a bit of a mad thing to do if you ask me.

Blue Eyes said...

Agreed. Some are likely to be people with open tickets, others missed connections maybe? Less likely to be people on single-leg journeys who bought tickets and decided on a whim not to fly, I suspect, as that would be bonkers.

Electro-Kevin said...

Nick's 12.49 confirms that I'm not wrong on this being a familiar scenario, Flagwaver and Andrew.

The airline has an alternative to unreasonable payments and that's to cancel flights altogether.

That's what a company that doesn't care about passengers would do.

"In other news, doctors are people ..." It will be interesting to see if he is a doctor.

Blue Eyes said...

Andrew it must be lovely to be able to see the world in monochrome. Bankers, lawyers, politicians: evil; nurses, doctors, train-drivers: holier than holy. The MP who went to try to give first aid to Keith Palmer was - I was shocked to read - a Tory!

Electro-Kevin said...

So was the woman who gave shelter to a homeless man who killed both her and her son (a Tory)

And... wait for it... so am I !

Electro-Kevin said...

All I'm saying... we've a guy who's 67, says he's a doctor and has patients to see (presuming they work more weekends than ours)

He squeals "You're picking on me 'cause I'm Chinese" then bursts out crying going "Kill me, kill me !" on an aeroplane.

All I'm saying (given that all we have is his word) is the odds are against from the evidence thus far.

It may be monochrome - but the lense is in landscape.

Anonymous said...

How is it possible the Airline didn't know it needed four seats for it's crew ( or whatever ) before it boarded the pax?

That is the first error. Then bodily dragging the pax off the plane - pretty damn stupid too.

Electro-Kevin said...

Because technical faults happen at the most inconvenient and unexpected times, Anon.

Charlie said...

Mrs Charlie and I were waiting to board a JFK > LHR flight several years ago. We were stopped at the gate and offered $1600 EACH plus a hotel room if we'd fly the next day. Of course we accepted what we saw as a freebie extension to our trip.

Then, at the last minute, they announced over the Tannoy that we could board and should proceed to the gate. I instructed Mrs Charlie to retire to the toilet for an extended period of time while I went to the gate and did my best impression of a flustered person desperate to find his travelling partner.

We arrived home better off than we left :-)

Anonymous said...

EK: "Because technical faults happen at the most inconvenient and unexpected times."

That wasn't a technical fault, that was a competence fault.

You're sitting *in* your seat, they've allowed you to board - at the very least there is an implicit contract.

But they drag you off because they have four **non paying** pax to accommodate.

That's utterly f***ed up.

Electro-Kevin said...

It's not incompetence - over-booking is widespread airline policy. That's why there are cheap tickets and part of the agreement for cheap tickets is that you are at risk of being bumped.

Add to that four essential passengers being added to the list at short notice.

Sure. We can have allocated seats that no-one can snatch - but fares will have to be a lot higher.

hovis said...

The customer is always right even if they are an arsehole, especially when it comes to publicity purposes.

I rather like it whenever BA have bumped me down a class on work trips because of overbooking, luckily been less than 6 hours and gives me some pocket money to splurge aimlessly.

Sobers said...

"800 dollars, a hotel and the next flight seemed generous to me. "

Its not $800, its $800 worth of United Airlines vouchers. Which have probably got all manner of small print conditions which effectively mean they're worthless. If they'd wandered down the aisle with $800 in folders they'd have gotten takers, for sure. And the hotel, probably some sh*thole that you wouldn't put your dog in.

UA are taking the p*ss - chucking paying customers off the flight for no good reason other than they've f*cked up their staff rotas somehow, and offering SFA in compensation. I hope they go bust.

Anonymous said...

EK: "It's not incompetence - over-booking is widespread airline policy."

Yes it is. But when you've been allowed to board and are sitting in your seat, is not the right time to get you off the aircraft.

Sobers: " And the hotel, probably some sh*thole that you wouldn't put your dog in. "

Yep, happened to me once or twice. At Copenhagen airport, rather than accommodate me at an hotel at the airport they got a taxi and drove me three quarters of an hour down the coast, the hotel wasn't exactly a shithole but still too far away when you're knackered and anticipating getting home to your family.

Anonymous said...

EK: "Sure. We can have allocated seats that no-one can snatch"

We are obviously on different wavelengths.

The pax was already sitting in his seat! I've no objection to being told I can't board the flight, so long as they make a decent fist of trying to accommodate me in reasonable comfort.

And so what they needed the seats for another crew? They didn't know that until they'd boarded all their fee paying passengers?

The sensible way to do this was to deny boarding to for fee paying passengers because the flight was full. Not assault paid passengers off the flight.

Electro-Kevin said...

Anon - The 'assault' happened after the passenger became physically angry. The press would have it that security went in, beat the guy up and dragged him off without any sort of preamble to the incident. In disobeying an order issued under the aegis of the Captain the passenger broke aviation law.

Clearly a last minute technical emergency happened after the passengers had boarded and so the gateline option was unavailable.

OK. Have it your way.

Four empty seats reserved for displaced crew on every flight henceforth. See what that does to prices.

I got a Scotland return for £40 and the deal was in small print which said I should have minimal expectations. I was under no illusion that my paltry ticket price was covering the cost of my flight - the over-booking system is what makes flying cheap. My ticket was subsidised by no-show flyers (calculated remarkably accurately by algorithm.) and all that is asked of me - the one thing I must not do - is become obstructive when they tell me that I must cooperate at my inconvenience.

This is the price of cheap, bargain bucket aviation. If people don't like it then they should be prepared to pay the full cost of their seat. I wouldn't mind - but the offer to get off was generous enough to the point that an air ticket is a guaranteed bargain and what the Captain decides on an airplane becomes law. To resist in anyway is an offence.

Blue Eyes said...

EK is completely right on one point: choose your airline carefully.

I had a horrendous experience on Ethiopian. I got onto the plane to find someone in my allocated seat. After a bit of pidgin English and handwaving it became clear that the offenders knew exactly what they were doing. Eventually staff arrived to find out what the problem was and the prceeded to do nothing. Not even suggest another seat for me to use.

It was highly embarrassing and everyone on the plane was watching, tutting, blaming for for perceived delays and so on. I kinda lost my rag a bit trying to get the staff to move the offenders and persuade the offenders. In the end I gave up and was hacked off for much of the flight.

It was the lack of support from staff which angered me most. Never again Ethiopian.

Electro-Kevin said...

I'm right on lots of points, BE.

How do we imagine cheap flights became so cheap ?

The alternative to bumping seated passengers would have been the cancellation of at least one whole flight. If air is anything like trains are then they are due mandatory inspection at a certified point after so many hours of service.

tolkein said...

EK - Agreed that overbooking keeps fares down. But the denied boarding should have been before boarding, not when passengers were on board.
I hate flying American airlines. The staff palpably hate their customers, apart from Jet Blue who seem OK. But American, United, Delta - I'll never forget a trip from Orlando to Salt Lake City with Delta. The staff were awful. They should open up the domestic market to non US carriers.
No sympathy at all for UA.

Electro-Kevin said...

Tolkein said "...denied boarding"

Thou shall not pass !

(Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Electro-Kevin said...

I notice 'Doctor' is absent in BBC news reports.

Anonymous said...

EK: "The 'assault' happened after the passenger became physically angry. "

So would I be angry, public humiliation, victimisation, and physical assault! You'd have to be a saint not to get physically angry.

By the way, there is no, as yet, accusation that the pax assaulted the security staff. It seems to me he just refused to relinquish the seat the airline had already allocated him.

Anonymous said...

EK: "Four empty seats reserved for displaced crew on every flight henceforth. See what that does to prices. "

Well that's just silly.

The airline knows they have a crew that has to be at another airport to crew another flight. That wasn't a surprise - or I'd damn well hope they weren't surprised!

They also knew this last flight was full. The computer tells them so. So they regretfully advise the wait-list pax, sorry you won't be able to board this flight - then they advise four paying passengers that they will unfortunately be unable to fly because the flight has been overbooked. Compensation will be paid and we'll fly you to your destination at the next earliest *available* flight.

They do this all the time.

Electro-Kevin said...

I'm sure that full explanations will be given in due course.

(Turns out he was a doctor but one who'd been struck off for corruption and had attended anger management sessions.)

Nick Drew said...

if we're telling our amusing US airlines stories ...

was once on the upper deck of a 747 (one of the old small ones), flying across the pond with AA : the ingratiating stewardess came up in "I'm your host for this flight" mode and asked me my name

to which I replied "Drew" (and, to be fair, that's a perfectly usual given name)

so she's calling me "Drew" at every opportunity, as they do

anyhow, bizarre but true, during the flight someone on the ground wanted to get a message to me (and it wasn't a family emergency) and, yes, I'd have thought this was impossible but, lo! it happened

so there she is, walking down the aisle, saying "Is there a Mr Nick Drew..?", when her eyes fall on me and the ghastly truth dawns on her ...


Wildgoose said...

@Nick Drew

I have this all the time. "Wildgoose" is my surname, a very old English name from when people were given animal names after their associated attributes, wariness in the case of geese. (Think of the geese who saved Rome from a surprise night attack). So my distant ancestor had a reputation for watching his back.

But just try telling people asking your name that it is "Wildgoose". I have had flat out refusal to believe me and demands to see official proof in the past. (It is a very local name, concentrated in Sheffield and North Derbyshire).

Dick the Prick said...

Not in the same vein as Nick but we were coming back from my best mate's stag do in Munich (awesome town - highly recommended)and one of my chums sat down in between 2 men mountain German type chaps and instantly vommed all over himself. Thus having to sit there like a vom covered scumbag all the way back. Totally disgusting and incredibly low class but I still chortle about it to this day. Not perhaps the best airline story!

tolkein said...

You can't buy this kind of publicity

Nick Drew said...

DtP - oh no, we just can't go down that anecdotal path ...

(well we could, but ...)

I feel Comment Moderation coming on (just after I tell you an even worse story of my own - - No! No!)

tolkein said...


Reading the American blogs the reason the passengers didn't take the $800 on offer was because it was a credit towards a future United flight. Would have been riddled with blackouts and restrictions. If they had walked down the aisles with $1,000 in cash for each passenger that deplaned they'd have got them in short order.
Virgin offered cash to us when we agreed to go next day. We could afford to defer as we had a bit of spare time in the Easter holiday.
The thing is, United should never have allowed the passengers on board, and once on they should have paid cash. But the United staff didn't care about the passengers, because that's the lead they get from their management.

Electro-Kevin said...

OK. I now get that, Tolkein.

$1000 in cash would have done it, I'm sure. Perhaps the person in charge wasn't of sufficient authority to make that decision - in which case United's culpable in it's management.

So the incident escalated in category to an ejection, which was met with a passenger with a history of behavioural problems - and social media...

I would hate to see this incident as being the end of cheap aviation. Something has to give and that's: a) a bit of uncertainty, b) a bit of discourtesy from work-a-day staff, C) passengers wearing elasticated clothing

I still find flying special on the rare occaisions I do it. I heard some underachiever in the seat behind me complain of our plane's 30 min late arrival "This airline's a joke. They can't do anything right."

We'd just crossed the Atlantic. Something that took sail passengers weeks to do in often perilous seas.

I still marvel at air travel. Us oiks should consider ourselves to be lucky to be able to do it at all let alone so cheaply.

Electro-Kevin said...

"We'd just crossed the Atlantic. Something that took sail passengers weeks to do in often perilous seas."

And I'd had a window seat, coffee and tea served at my table with a passable meal on a plastic tray - by an extremely pretty young lady I might add.

I can't believe what people take for granted in the jet age.

Anonymous said...

"Turns out he was a doctor but one who'd been struck off for corruption and had attended anger management sessions."

Nope, that is a doctor who has the same name as the affected passenger.


... still to be confirmed though.

Electro-Kevin said...

"David Anh Duy Dao. The doctor on the plane was David Thanh Duc Dao."


An easy mishtake to make.

tolkein said...


Agree with you about flying. Competition and deregulation has worked wonders on pricing. Flew up to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago for a seminar I was chairing - out by Ryanair, back with EasyJet. Fuss free and very cheap. Car Parking was v expensive, though.

My point was about the United management. And other main carriers. The staff seem to hate the customers and they take their lead from management. That's why I always avoid US carriers. I like Virgin, but BA is fine, as is EasyJet and Ryanair is cheap and not nasty.

And if the doctor is smeared this is going to go very badly indeed for United.

Did you see the video about United Breaks Guitars. 17 million views!

Lord Blagger said...

hen they advise four paying passengers that they will unfortunately be unable to fly because the flight has been overbooked


It hadn't been overbooked.

It was standby passengers pushing out people with booking

Lord Blagger said...

Under United’s Contract Of Carriage (COC) rules (which follow federal rules), a passenger may only be bumped from a flight before they board (Rule 25). After they have taken their seat, Rule 21 is in effect, which would allow security to forcibly remove the passenger for many reasons — none of which includes accommodating last minute needs for a seat for other airline employees (or even overbooking).

Anonymous said...


It wasn't exactly standby passengers. It was the cabin crew scheduled to operate next day's early morning flight.

The cabin crew would have arrived at 9pm, been bussed to a hotel and then expected to get back to the airport at 5am to start work. Now, perhaps the same was true of the doctor, but as it is, the crew didn't arrive till midnight (which probably delayed the flight they were meant to operate), and the doctor didn't arrive at work at all.

If this guy had agreed to get off the plane, he would have probably been put on the same flight 1 hour later, or possibly 3 hours later.

The cock-up is that the person working at the airport gate forgot that they had 4 colleagues needing seats and boarded the flight full of passengers. If they had not let him board then he wouldn't have fought back.

Then after she made a mistake, instead of being apologetic and contrite about it she decided that she would treat the passengers with contempt.

Agreed there was no security issue, as he had been through what passes for security at US airports.

Electro-Kevin said...

Lord Blagger -

Rule 5 (COC) states this: "All of UA’s flights are subject to overbooking which could result in UA’s inability to provide previously confirmed reserved space for a given flight or for the class of service reserved. In that event, UA’s obligation to the Passenger is governed by Rule 25."

And rule 25 goes on to give obligations to passengers 'denied boarding' and (a) outlines to process for selecting involuntary cancellations for 'oversold' flights.

Nowhere in that document is defined what 'boarding' means and (to Anon) 'gate' is not mentioned in the document at all.

As the ground representatives had control of the aircraft doors and were able to board it then I venture that they were still in the process of boarding.

Rule 25a describes the process of selecting involuntary passengers for 'oversold' flights but not for making space for displaced crew.

To be legalistic I think the issue of 'boarding' and 'departure gates' ("Once seated the passenger will never be defeated !") argument is baseless.

Where United may be on a sticky legal wicket is the definition of 'oversold'.


I think I've proven to CU that United do, in fact, have a single part of the argument they can win (at the very least a *single* part of the argument.)

These definitions would need to be settled in a court.

My own view ? You do not struggle against officials on an aircraft - period ! (As they say in the USA.)

CityUnslicker said...

EK - I will concede that one point, however, for them the war is lost.

Electro-Kevin said...

This could be the first toll towards the end of cheap flights for US passengers. The victory is phyrric.

Social media will also affect officials everywhere from using their innitiative.

Bill Quango MP said...

CU - It certainly is.
In the phonecamera age don't punch your passengers.

Electro-Kevin said...

BQ - Which means don't assert authority over passengers in any time of difficulty, for fear that it might turn rough.

Expect more delays and expensive flights. It's the only alternative outcome.

Bill Quango MP said...

The surprising thing for me, EK, was the passengers saying to the security guards to leave the passenger alone.

If I was on a US flight and some homeland types told a passenger to get of the flight, and the passenger was refusing, I'd hope they would shoot them.

Could be a shoe bomber. Or a chemical bomb mixer. Nerve gas spray. Could be anything and the plane passengers do not know why the person is being forcibly removed.

Electro-Kevin said...

Well - I think they gathered what was happening from the announcements and requests.

On the railways trains are delayed or cancelled because of our hands-off policy towards passengers. A single passenger can wreak havoc on a network and frequently do. Police are rarely available and when they are they can be prone to taking a lengthy negotiating stance too.

As far as the previous commenter's (to me) "What uncompetitive industry do you work in ?" I don't think we've seen passengers being bloodied by train staff. So we can expect airlines to become less competitive and follow our lead henceforth.

Blue Eyes said...

I am fairly sure that UA have accepted that this whole thing broke their own rules.

In the EU the minimum compo is set by legislation. Thank goodness for the EU.

Electro-Kevin said...

I don't think it did break their own rules. The CEO has said there will be a review of policy - which is a different thing entirely, and then goes on to say an employee breached policy... in which case why review the policy ???

The staff involved in the alleged manhandling were aviation police officers, not UA airline employees. The UA employee who was involved in this incident has been put on 'leave' which is not the same as a suspension. No police officer has been suspended or put on leave as far as I can gather.

This is trial by social media.

Anonymous said...

Blue Eyes: "I am fairly sure that UA have accepted that this whole thing broke their own rules "

It certainly broke the rules on how to encourage repeat custom. Except for the niche masochist market.