With the exception of traveling salesmen and the President of the United States, we have probably logged far more air miles than the average person.
Of course POTUS has the Secret Service to guard him and a private aircraft that “trumps” all others for landings and takeoffs.
The doctor who was unceremoniously dragged off an airplane recently had no such protection.
What we witnessed here was a lapse in judgment on both sides. And, if we are to be fair about the incident, the doctor had a major share of the blame that seemed to bypass the notice of the media, the public and all involved.
A bit of fact checking first: The aircraft and flight were not operated by United. In fact it was on contract to Republic Airlines. The crew on board was Republic employees. The crew they wanted to ferry to another destination was Republic’s as well.
The first mistake was when Republic seated the passengers instead of handling the situation prior to boarding. The second mistake was getting heavy handed in a mistaken effort to board that crew.
Dr. David Dao, the removee, had been asked to leave the craft. He was offloaded and then returned to his seat without permission. He should have stayed in the terminal. Some may argue that his history is not relevant here, but it may be. The good doctor has had more than one run-in with law enforcement. That might go to his personality and penchant for confrontation.
What happened next was totally uncalled for. But, again, the law enforcement personnel called should have refused to physically remove Dao.
Now, you can bet, both the airline and possibly the law enforcement agency will be the focus of a lawsuit. Regulations have changed with the police saying they will not remove a passenger under such circumstances again and the airline saying it will never happen again.
Airline representatives, depending on the airline and its regulations, have the authority to offer anywhere from $100 to an incredible $10,000 to encourage a passenger to voluntarily give up a seat.
Over the course of years of travel we were forced to give up a seat when American Airlines accidentally doubled booked a seat. We didn’t demand a cash payment but they provided first class on a later flight, meal vouchers, a motel to rest and refresh and taxi fare to and from. That was reasonable. The incident was an accident and people make mistakes.
We’ve seen passengers scramble to accept overbooking offers of cash and ticket vouchers. Had the Republic personnel been more forthcoming and less aggressive, this would never have happened.
United’s CEO, Oscar Muñoz could have handled the situation out of the gate a bit better. But we don’t know if he was fully made aware of the situation. It is possible that agents did not fully advise of what happened. To his credit, he did make an apology and instituted changes to more fully protect passengers.
Since its merger with Continental, United has most often been our airline of choice. Its comprehensive route system affords considerable choice. We have found the line’s personnel to without exception be friendly and courteous.
An example, on the return from a ski trip to New Mexico at Albuquerque (we did have to look up the spelling) we inadvertently left a Swiss Army knife in the pocket of a ski jacket. TSA spotted it and we attempted to find a place that would sell stamps and an envelope. We could not find any in the airport.
We went back to the check-in desk and asked if it would be possible to retrieve our suitcase. The agent asked what the problem was. She then took the knife, went into the back, found the suitcase and placed the knife inside. That action to us typified the type of service we’ve always received from United. There are other airlines that are happy to take your money for everything except a charge for the air you breathe. Their service is “spiritless.” United is the antithesis of that attitude.
We have several trips coming up that will be reported in this column, including one to China in the fall. We are booking on United without any trepidation whatever. And, for the record, we have not, do not and do not expect any emolument from United Airlines.
Bob & Sandy Nesoff are members, American Society of Journalists and authors, North American Travel Journalists Association
image: Barbara Wells/Flickr