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How United Airlines Should Have Handled the Situation

Man dragged from United Express 3411. Photo courtesy of Fox News

United Airlines is under fire for a viral video that shows them removing a passenger forcibly from an airplane bound for Louisville Kentucky.

Here are the bullets:

  • The plane was already loaded and full.
  • The airline needed to fly four employees to Louisville Kentucky on the plane. The employees needed to go to prevent another plane from departing late.
  • The airline offered $800 in compensation to the first four people who would volunteer to give up their seats. No one took the offer.
  • The airline went to a lottery, drawing for people at random. These four people were asked to leave the plane, and they would receive the compensation.
  • One of the passengers refused to leave. It's unclear how things escalated, however he was removed by security officers. Reports are conflicting about whether the officers were police officers, TSA workers, or airline staff.
  • The gentleman was literally physically dragged down the aisle receiving while screaming in protest and physically abused in the process.
  • Approximately a dozen people captured the events on cell phone cameras and many of those videos went viral.
  • The CEO of the company justified his actions by saying that the individual was "disruptive and belligerent" and that the actions of his staff were legally and ethically justified.
  • The individual with a middle-aged man, a physician, and of Asian American heritage. These facts contributed to the outrage for some on social media.
Regardless of who is at fault or what is legally permitted, It's a public relations nightmare for the airline.

Preventing United Airlines PR Disaster

Here's how it could be prevented, because, without a doubt, it's going to occur on another flight on another airline.

First, if the airline makes a mistake, they need to take responsibility. I think $800 compensation per passenger is reasonable. It's a good starting point.

Have the airline announce that volunteers will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Next, start the offer at $800. If there are no takers, increase it to $1000. Continue in $200 increments until you get volunteers.

If you received too many volunteers, use the lottery to determine which get paid, not which get dragged off forcibly.

Yes, at some point it is possible that passengers will refuse, and the bidding could become quite excessive. However, you are flying a $50 million airplane that spends hundreds of dollars worth of fuel every moment it's in the air. Furthermore, a viral video will cost you millions in ticket sales directly to your competitors. Lastly, the attorney defending you in the lawsuit, even if you win, charges more than $200 per hour.

My estimate is that you'd have to pay each passenger roughly $250,000 to make this a losing situation for the airline. I don't know about you, but I would cave around 1500 bucks.

Lastly, don't put your CEO in front of a microphone for 24 hours… CEOs are very smart. Having all that cash makes them stupid when it comes to predicting the behavior of actual human beings.

By the way, to any airlines that use this policy, you read it here first and this is copyrighted, please send me a check for $1500. You're welcome.


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