Flying the friendly skies

This week when I first heard about an airline violently removing a doctor from an overbooked flight, I knew immediately it was United.

So did others (here and here) who quickly volunteered new slogans for the carrier:

    If we can't beat our competitors, we beat our passengers.

    Just imagine how we treat your luggage.

    You are now free to be dragged around the cabin.

    Now serving punch.

    She's got a ticket to ride...and we don't care.

But in rock & roll circles United has long been known for its callousness to customers. Two years ago singer-songwriter Sarah Blackwood of Walk Off The Earth was kicked off a United flight (while seven months’ pregnant) because her toddler was crying too much. Despite passengers’ outrage over Blackwood's removal and the ensuing social media outcry, United refused to apologize.

Just as disturbing to me is United’s indelicate habit of breaking guitars, which even inspired a song and viral video, United Breaks Guitars, by Dave Carroll—who watched from the cabin in horror as baggage handlers tossed around his $3,200 Taylor guitar. (United later acknowledged that the neck of the guitar had been broken, but repeatedly refused to compensate Carroll, for a variety of absurd reasons,)

After Carroll posted the second of his three music videos about the incident—which generated millions of hits—United finally offered to settle if he pulled the videos. Carroll declined. After nearly two million articles and blog posts were written on the subject, Carroll had every reason to keep the controversy alive. In fact, Carroll is in demand as a speaker on customer service. Coincidentally, on one of his trips as a lecturer, United Airlines lost his luggage.

One would hope that such a PR disaster would teach United both how to handle guitars on flights and how to make amends if guitars do get abused. But three years ago a United flight put a crack in the guitar of popular singer-songwriter, Ellis Paul, who was never able to recover damages, but let the world know about it.

No surprise that United ranked last among legacy airlines in last year’s JD Power Customer Satisfaction survey.

Meanwhile, another United passenger went public this week over mistreatment by the airline, although this fellow had the good sense to give up his first-class seat on an overbooked flight (and forego any possibility of an assault).

But as someone recently tweeted, “On the bright side, @united will probably never have to worry about overbooked flights ever again.”

You can probably deduce at least one business lesson here. I'll put it simply: WOM.

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  1. Incompetence and indifference of this magnitude set off my conspiracy theory alarms. Can any corporation be this stupid, or isn't it possible they have a Secret Plan B we can't fathom? Mind you, my wildest imagination can't create it, but I struggle to see how someone can rise to the socioeconomic level of these people and not even have the self-preservation sense to pretend they care.

  2. Meant to say ...
    The passenger who was dragged off the plane last week was a "doctor" who turned out to have a criminal past and who lost his license for a period. Also, who knows what he said to the security guys on the plane that might have got them riled up?

    1. Good security guards should not get "riled up" to the point of beating a 69 year old man senseless, no matter what he said. And the video and testimony of other passengers says he firmly but politely refused to leave. And of course his past is irrelevant to what was done to him. Finally, he was a doctor, not a "doctor."

  3. No matter how you look at it, United blew it. I read that UA didn't give the security fellows any background on the situation—like the fact that the doctor paid for his ticket and seat. So the security dudes may have assumed that this guy was some troublemaker who wandered on board. It all points back to United.

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