Last Sunday, maybe one of the biggest aviation headlines in recent years occurred, and it had nothing to do with the aircraft itself. As a result of this incident, United Airlines has found itself in a sticky situation with airline officials, travelers, and society alike. But why? Here’s a detailed look into this game-changing incident in aviation history:
United Airlines flight 3411 from Chicago-O’Hare to Louisville was boarded full of passengers Sunday night, in what seemed like a routine boarding process for each passenger. Minutes before scheduled departure, a group of four Republic Airways employees arrived at the gate, who must board the aircraft under company policy to work a flight the next day. As a result, passengers had to be “bumped” off the full flight to make room for the employees that needed to fly. Passengers were first offered US $400 in vouchers, a hotel stay, and a seat on the flight to Louisville 21 hours later if they voluntarily deplaned. With no volunteers, the offer went up to US $800, only to be subsequently rejected by the passengers again.
After the passengers were not budging on the offerings, a United Airlines manager came aboard, informing the passengers that four would be removed by random. Since the incident, a United Airlines spokesperson has mentioned this “random” process is based on specific factors, including priority to remain aboard for frequent fliers and those who paid a higher fare. A couple and a woman agreed to get off the aircraft hesitantly, but the fourth selected passenger, 69-year-old doctor David Dao, an Asian-American doctor refused, claiming he needed to see patients at his office the next day. After some dispute, United Airlines staff called in assistance from the Chicago Department of Aviation security, where three men were dispatched to the aircraft to help ease the situation.
Dao continued to refuse leaving his seat, and the security officer’s ensued to get into a scuffle with the doctor, where Dao apparently was thrown against a passenger’s armrest and sustained injuries to his head and mouth during the fight. The officers then dragged the man down the aisle out of the aircraft by the arms while passengers displayed their displeasure with the situation.
The doctor re-boarded the aircraft minutes later, reportedly saying “I have to go home” multiple times before collapsing in his seat and later being removed from the aircraft on a stretcher. The remaining passengers on the aircraft deplaned in order to get the blood off the seats, and then re-boarded an hour later for the aircraft to depart.
Other passengers report Dao having a bloody face after being removed from his seat, which was evident in many videos and pictures of the incident that went viral on social media worldwide. Dao’s injuries included a broken nose, loss of two front teeth, sinus injuries, and a “significant concussion” that would require reconstructive surgery, according to Dao’s lawyer. After the incident, the flight departed two hours late at 7:20 p.m, and the flight was carried out safely.
As if the actual event wasn’t bad enough, the apologies following the event from United Airlines sparked fury in many travelers across the world, especially in a statement that United CEO Oscar Munoz made the day after the event, where Munoz apologized for “re-accommodating” the passengers instead of apologizing to the man involved in this incident directly. Munoz quoted:
“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.”
The video of the incident was initially shared on Facebook where it was shared over 87,000 times and viewed over 6.8 million times in less than a day. When the video surfaced, United received instant criticism, where hundreds of thousands threatened to boycott the airline entirely due to it’s poor customer service. The day after, United’s stock, UAL, dropped over one percent, apparently “losing the airline billions in one day.”
United’s middle-eastern competitors took advantage of the situation, posting promotional advertisements using the incident as clever advertising material:
Fly the friendly skies with a real airline. pic.twitter.com/wE5C5n6Lvn
— Emirates airline (@emirates) April 11, 2017
— Royal Jordanian (@RoyalJordanian) April 10, 2017
The event also stimulated criticism from members of the United States government, in which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer commented that “It was an unfortunate incident” and added “when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled.”
Even U.S. president Donald Trump commented, saying the airlines’ passenger treatment was “horrible” and that the airline should have further increased the financial offer to customers to voluntarily leave the plane, instead of choosing to use force.
He later added, “You know, there’s a point at which I’m getting off the plane… seriously. They should have gone up higher. But to just randomly say, “You’re getting off the plane.” That was terrible.”
As a result of the incident, United has been criticized about their overbooking method, saying it that the overbooking of flights should end. At United and many other large airlines across the globe, a sophisticated computer system determines how many passengers will be so-called “no-shows,” will miss out on the flight, allowing for more tickets than the aircraft can carry to be sold. A study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that only 0.07% of passengers are bumped from their flight due to overbooking. American carrier JetBlue has a no-overbook policy on it’s flights, being the only major American carrier that does not utilize this strategy. Delta has recently announced they will reimburse those who are involuntarily bumped from flights up to US $9,950, an incredible amount that no airline has ever offered before.
Since the incident, United has since reimbursed every passenger on the flight for having to witness the event, as well as made a formal apology via Twitter that was a bit more “sincere” than the initial apology. David Dao has also hired a lawyer, who is said to file a lawsuit this week to the United States Department of Transportation and United Airlines.
Details are to come as the story unfolds.