United really can’t catch a break from bad news this week as now another story surfaced where a paying First Class passenger on the way from Hawaii to Los Angeles was threatened to be placed in handcuffs if he didn’t give up his seat.
The passenger who had a paid First Class ticket was already seated when approached by gate agents to tell him that he’d have to give up his seat to a ‘higher priority passenger’.
This accumulation of incidents and outrageous procedures involving overbooking situations when passengers have to be taken off a flight after being seated is tarnishing the United Airlines brand worldwide.
Now a finance executive from California comes forward with another incident that happened last week where he was threatened by United employees to be “put in handcuffs” if he didn’t give up his seat as a paying First Class passenger.
You can read more about this from the Los Angeles Times (access here).
… Fearns [the passenger] needed to return early so he paid about $1,000 for a full-fare, first-class ticket to Los Angeles. He boarded the aircraft at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai, took his seat and enjoyed a complimentary glass of orange juice while awaiting takeoff.
Then, as Fearns tells it, a United employee rushed onto the aircraft and informed him that he had to get off the plane.
“I asked why,” he told me. “They said the flight was overfull.”
Fearns, like the doctor at the center of that viral video from Sunday night, held his ground. He was already on the plane, already seated. He shouldn’t have to disembark.
“That’s when they told me they needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute,” Fearns said. “They said they have a priority list and this other person was higher on the list than me.” …
Apparently United had some mechanical troubles with the aircraft scheduled to make the flight. So the carrier swapped out that plane with a slightly smaller one with fewer first-class seats.
A United employee, responding to Fearns’ complaint that he shouldn’t have to miss the flight, compromised by downgrading him to economy class and placing him in the middle seat between a married couple who were in the midst of a nasty fight and refused to be seated next to each other. …
That airlines use elite status to create a passenger priority list is nothing new but let’s be objective of what happened here. The airline KNEW about the equipment swap and how many first class seats there are on the plane before they started boarding. How do you figure stuff like this out during the boarding process?
The passenger ended up with a horrible Economy Class middle seat for a 6 hour flight to Los Angeles after having purchased a First Class ticket.
Meanwhile United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz made his first public appearance in an interview with ABC News since the incident where a 69 year old doctor was dragged off an aircraft and injured to make room for United Employees on the same flight.
Munoz explained the situation as a classic system failure where existing policies and restrictions kept employees from using their common sense and the situation escalated.
He also vowed that United would changed it’s policy and never again use law enforcement to take passengers off a flight to resolve overbooking situations.
Apart from the fact that it took United management three attempts and now this interview to explain the company’s position in appropriate way, I feel like there is more to the story. There is a rotten core in United Airlines corporate culture, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to weed it out just by changing management.
Hopefully some good policy changes will come out of this complete disaster, apart from financial compensation for the gentleman involved in the Chicago incident who has since taken legal action in a Chicago court requiring United to preserve evidence in the case.