“We wanted to get our customers to their destinations…”

I cannot be alone in feeling incredulity at the above statement. Not ALL passengers, apparently.

It was issued by a spokesman for United Airlines to justify the violent extraction and ejection of a passenger from one of their flights. This passenger had paid for his flight, had been boarded and seated, and was being bumped so that an airline employee could fly in his place. Setting aside any issue of whether he was selected for ejection on the basis of his race (not impossible), and further setting aside the subsequent lurid revelations about his past (irrelevant to the case in point), let us compare the spokesman’s statement with what actually happened. Saying they wanted to get ‘the passengers’ home was ludicrous. Clearly this passenger wasn’t going to make it home for quite a while. He was removed with totally unnecessary violence by police, injured and made a public spectacle, denied the flight he had paid for, and as far as I can tell from the newsfeed I’ve seen, so far has been denied the grovelling public apology from the airline he so richly deserves, quite aside from the fact that no compensation for his flight appears to be on the table any longer. The airline feels this action was justified in order to get its employees (oh, and the passengers) to their destination. No destination for Dr Dao…

He had committed no offence, he had not violated any rules of behaviour, he refused to get out of a seat he’d paid for because he needed to get home and see his patients the next morning. If correct airline procedure mandates the violent extraction and beating of an elderly man in this situation, I would not care to fly with this airline now or at any future time. And the police involved in his extraction from the aircraft are equally culpable for their quite excessive use of violence and their willingness to be used to serve the airline’s defective policy. Uploaded video footage shows quite clearly that the man was neither drunk, nor abusive, nor screaming (not until he was forcibly dragged from his seat), he offered no violence or threats of his own.

Other passengers were horrified and protested. Some went to the extent of staging a walk-out. In a vain attempt to manage the situation, United then evacuated the rest of the passengers so they could ‘tidy up’ the plane. Oh dear me, we can’t have it too obvious that the pax are unhappy with us, can we? Eventually, the plane left 3 hours late, and without Dr Dao, now in hospital and not in very good shape.

If United was able to offer large incentives to encourage passengers to get off to make room for the 4 last-minute United employee-travellers, why couldn’t it simply book its own people onto another flight or carrier? So they were a flight crew needed for another aircraft. Someone failed in the scheduling department, I think. And how is it that employees get priority over paying passengers? This has the stink of a company run for the benefit of employees rather than the paying customer. It seems the public is not entitled to what it has paid for, after all, and can look forward to being bullied if it dares protest… Another nail in the coffin of United’s already abysmal reputation.

United Airlines: Beating our competitors on price, and our passengers on non-compliance

This opinion is based on newsfeed currently available. Subsequent events may provide further information which renders the opinions I have expressed inappropriate. I reserve the right to my opinion based on the information to hand, but will retract any opinion subsequently shown by the facts to be at fault. 

58 thoughts on ““We wanted to get our customers to their destinations…”

  1. craftycreeky says:

    Which ever way you look at it, this was appalling treatment of a customer, apparently the Captain has the right to turf any passenger off and if they refuse they are then considered disruptive! I don’t agree with the staff taking priority particularly when as you say, it’s due to bad scheduling, but even if they decide to, it should be sorted at the gate, not on the plane!! I’ve since heard it happens a lot as they always overbook seats.
    I certainly wouldn’t be choosing to fly with them!
    It’s worth remembering though that they could offer up to about $1300, just in case we’re ever in that situation!

    • katechiconi says:

      I feel it should only be discretionary, not mandatory. People book a particular flight because they want to be somewhere at a particular time, usually, and compensation doesn’t cover for the inconvenience of having to rearrange stuff… It’s like the airline saying “we’ll carry you… if we feel like it”. Sadly the law on this subject is very loose and unclear in Australia, compared with Europe. I’m rather lucky it’s never happened to me!

  2. anne54 says:

    It was an outrageous display of violent ejection, and, as you pointed out should have and could have been solved in a couple of different, less traumatic ways. I didn’t know that he had been hospitalised nor offered compensation…..the outrages continue.
    However it is another example of the positive use of video phones and social media.

    • katechiconi says:

      Apparently the CEO of United is ‘reaching out’ to him. What this consists of is still anyone’s guess, but it would be a reasonable assumption that it will involve hush money, thinly disguised as compensation. I’m guessing their PR person will be invited to fall on their sword pretty soon…

  3. Years ago somehow in making changes to a return flight from the US the travel agent put me on a UA flight instead of the requested Air NZ… worst flying experience ever.
    Unfortunately upon uptaking the services of an airline for the safety of others you hand over a lot of rights… but they should therefore have an escalated duty of care not carte blanch…

    • katechiconi says:

      I agree totally. The idea of forcibly ejecting someone is irrational. If you get no takers, offer more money. Someone will go for it in the end. The cost to them in inverse PR far outweighs the possible increased cost of compensating bumped passengers.

    • katechiconi says:

      By the time they’d finished dragging him out, he was barely wearing trousers… I saw that previous one. It’s a bit of a hook for attention, since the background is that the girls were travelling on ‘family/staff’ passes and there’s a clear dress code for anyone doing that, as they represent the company. They changed, and were put on a subsequent flight. A bit of purposeful ignoring of the background by the reporter…

      • tialys says:

        Yes, I used to work for an airline so I know there are different rules for staff and you needed to dress more carefully when using staff travel – if only in the hope you’d get an upgrade. I was just being flippant really. Mind you, you would have to make a real effort to ‘dress down’ more than some paying customers these days – some of them look as if they have just come off the beach – probably have.

      • katechiconi says:

        The dress code seems reasonable, and all this hoo ha about ‘airlines policing women’s dress’ is nonsense, but I agree with you that a degree of smartening up wouldn’t go amiss; you can wear what you like in your own home but I don’t want to see you in what’s effectively your pjs or underwear in public, thanks so much!

  4. dayphoto says:

    It was a horrible amazing stupid thing to have done to a paying customer!!!!!

  5. kymlucas says:

    Well said. Feeling so disgusted.

  6. I said the same thing today no United flights for me now. PLUS their planes are unreasonably cramped now – the seats are definitely closer together. I would like to know why they Chose this ONE man to be evicted – didn’t they need FOUR seats? c

    • katechiconi says:

      I suspect his name/face affected the choice, although you’d never get them to admit it… They also ejected three other people, who offered less resistance. Dr Dao was the last one, and held out. So instead of shrugging and appealing to the better nature of someone else, they got brutal about it. United already has a dreadful reputation, you’d think they’d be working hard to improve it…

    • There was another couple who already left, and this gentleman’s wife, I believe. It was four.

      • katechiconi says:

        If it was indeed his wife who was one of the others who’d already left the plane, how perfectly dreadful for her to see her husband brutalised like this. And how suspicious that a Chinese couple were targeted for removal…

      • I do not assume it was purposeful or racist. But regardless of that, the treatment was unacceptable, and I am ashamed for everyone involved in this.

  7. Incredible! Disgust is too mild…

    • katechiconi says:

      Agreed. There’s a strong streak of worry too, at the idea of travelling with an airline that thinks this behaviour towards its passengers is acceptable, understandable and possibly even justifiable.

  8. Lynda says:

    The passengers were offered $800 in compensation if they would volunteer to disboard. Nobody volunteered so they “drew four names by lottery.” The Dr. refused to leave his seat (I don’t blame him one bit!!!) and they brought in the goons to remove him. They claim that the Dr. fell into an armrest when the hired goons came to take him away. Watching the videos it remains unclear exactly what really happened to cause the damage to his face. Poor guy is 68 years old and just wanted to get home. I won’t be flying with them ever.

    Before we moved I had to go come here to sign the final documents on our house. On the return flight they offered a free first class flight for two to anywhere in the US to anyone who would volunteer to take a later flight. I volunteered for my husbands sake because I knew he was going to need to fly in the near future. He was having medical issues and I saw this as a blessing for him… course I near went bug-spit tooling about the airport in Dallas for 8 hours till the next available flight 😯 , but it was fair compensation and my choice to do so.

  9. It’s abuse. It is an absolute violation of his person and dignity and rights.

    • katechiconi says:

      Irrespective of whether he had a ‘right’ to keep his seat, which is debatable according to the strict letter of the law, removing him or an alternative passenger should have been a matter of negotiation, not physical force against an elderly man.

  10. I was appalled that stories appeared later about this man’s past. What on earth has that to do with this forcible ejection? I sincerely hope that poor Dr Dao receives enormous amounts of compensation along with a genuine apology and that United do learn from their mistakes… but I don’t hold out much hope for the latter, sadly.

    • katechiconi says:

      My thoughts exactly. Does his past somehow mean he *deserves* the treatment he received? I think not, and I despise the muckraking journalism behind it and all the resulting insinuations. I do believe the public will say “enough”. A thorough boycott of this airline ought to get the message across to both United and all other airlines about treating their pax with respect, and encourage understanding that without those pesky paying customers, the airline is, well, irrelevant…

  11. Anlina Jones says:

    I know airlines overbook frequently but surely this should be picked up at check in. As far as I am concerned once you are on a plane, you are on a plane! They have some serious PR work to do, that poor man! No doubt distressing for those watching as well.

    • katechiconi says:

      Thing is, it wasn’t actually overbooked, they just wanted to dump 4 pax to make space for crew travelling on to service another flight… Such a stupid thing to do; they’ve created their very own PR nightmare, and I feel sure heads will roll.

  12. kathyreeves says:

    Can’t wait to see what the now repentant CEO comes up with. No United for us u less we have no other choice!

    • katechiconi says:

      Agreed! But I doubt they’ll change their over-booking habits. Apparently there are ways of avoiding being bumped: check in early, don’t hold the cheapest tickets, be a family group, or in need of assistance. I’d say if you have to travel with them because there’s no other option, carry a walking stick!

  13. magpiesue says:

    I haven’t seen the subsequent “reporting” on this event but was sufficiently appalled by the event itself to swear off United if ever I am able to fly again. What I don’t understand is why the crew members couldn’t have been put on another flight. The man had patients to see for crying out loud!!! I can’t help but wonder how many legitimate lawsuits he could bring against the airline and the guys who hauled him off the plane. Did United not have other planes leaving within a reasonable period of time on which the crew members could have flown? Could they not have jumped on some other airline’s flight – or couldn’t United have paid for someone from their flight to fly on another airline’s plane at a slightly different time? Sheesh.

  14. Flying used to be fun, but it has not been for many years. As much as I enjoy going to other places, getting there isn’t much fun when flying. It is stressful, exhausting, uncomfortable, intrusive, expensive, and inconvenient. I’ll choose to drive, or to take the train, when possible.

    • katechiconi says:

      Most of the time, I agree, driving is a lot less stressful. The last time I had to fly was for a medical appointment in Brisbane. At this point, I still needed assistance in transiting the large airport. I ended up having my return flight delayed for 8 hours due to mechanical problems with the original and then the replacement aircraft. I eventually got home after midnight, having got up at 4.30am… But if you want to get somewhere and back in the same day (usually) the plane is the way to go.

  15. Grannymar says:

    Just heard on the radio that the ‘dragged passenger’ needed reconstruction work on his nose.

  16. Carole says:

    It’s scary that this can happen to anyone, regardless of race. I hope the doctor sues them for millions, although I doubt that’ll stop the airlines from overbooking or treating passengers like cattle.

  17. I actually flew United round trip and was mid-holiday when this happened. Honestly I felt like putting on a wig and sunglasses heading home as I was embarrassed to be associated with them. I don’t follow the ins and outs of the airlines that closely (though I will in the future). The behavior in that video was stomach-churning, disheartening, brutal and uncalled for. And I agree, dredging up his past is completely irrelevant. Further, the first attempt by the CEO to make it all better only fueled the fire. This is a disgrace.

    • katechiconi says:

      He wasn’t just roughly removed, was he? He’s received injuries that indicate a beating. I think perhaps it’s not just airline culture that needs to be reviewed, but police culture that told those officers it was ok to beat an elderly man who had not committed a criminal act, who was simply being uncooperative.

      • It’s horrific through and through. It’s believe that his face was smashed against the unforgiving armrest as they forcibly dragged him from his seat. It’s an image I’ll never get out of my mind. Shameful!

      • katechiconi says:

        And it appears that United have once again exposed themselves as uncaring bullies, if you can believe last night’s news…

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