United Could Have Avoided Dragging Passenger Off Plane

Look sometimes “rules” and “regulations” blind us to the most obvious and simple solution and this was the case for United Airlines this weekend.

United overbooked a flight. It happens, I get it. In an effort to maximize bookings and make sure flights are full, airlines commonly overbook anticipating people don’t show, miss their connections, etc.

Unfortunately, every once in a while, everyone shows up.  And that’s exactly what happened on this United Flight from Chicago to Louisville.

Typically, airlines ask for volunteers and offer some small stipend to passengers to volunteer. It’s usually a voucher for a future flight, worth about two or three hundred dollars. Apparently, that wasn’t enough to get passengers to put off their travel for a few hours because they didn’t get any or enough volunteers.  No one was willing to get off the plane.

Flummoxed and clearly frustrated, this was United response:


United randomly picked a passenger to be removed from the flight, and when that person wouldn’t get off, they had him physically removed. According to social media, the man was a Dr. who was going to Louisville to see patients and couldn’t take a later flight.

That didn’t matter to United.

I have a saying,

Don’t confuse doing what you’re supposed to do, with doing what’s right.

This is a prime example of this.  United confused doing what they were supposed to do, that’s getting the right number of people on the plane with doing what’s right, and that’s not dragging some poor guy by his arms off the aircraft.

This is a pure example of stupidity and lack of thinking.  This could have been solved peacefully and easily without forcibly removing ANYONE.  No really, it was that easy, and the solution was right in front of United’s face and within their control

United was suffering from a simple supply and demand problem. Too few seats (supply), and too many passengers (demand).

The solution then is supply and demand. Increase the demand to stay and give up your seat.

What do I mean? All United had to do was slowly keep increasing the price to volunteer to move. That’s it.  Had United continued to up the value of a voucher for future travel from let’s say $200 to $400, or to $600, $800, etc. eventually someone would have taken it and problem solved.

Done, the passenger takes their $600, $800, $1,000 voucher and they happily give up their seat and walk off the plane. Simple!

Instead, United took the cheap way out. They felt it was a better decision to drag a PAYING customer out of his seat and force him to miss his pre-confirmed flight because they didn’t want to spend more than a few hundred bucks to get him or anyone else to volunteer.  That’s the definition of stupidity.

I can’t get my head around a system that allowed this to happen. The costs in legal fees alone will go into the hundreds of thousands. The lost travel by disgusted customers, the hit to goodwill, etc. all will outweigh the $800 or a grand it would have cost United to get him or another passenger to volunteer to give up their seat — crazy!

I fly United, I’m a 1k flier with them, and I’m embarrassed. This is a joke and United should have known better.

The lesson, think. Just because you have the right to do it, doesn’t make it right.

If you’re reading this and you run a company or deal with customers, take note. It’s never OK to mistreat a paying customer. Take the time to build in processes that address anticipated friction. United KNOWS this is a friction point. They know that there are times this is a problem, where every once in a while, customers aren’t happy about giving up their seat. So, they should have had a process and escalation process in place that DIDN’T involve dragging the customer out and so should you.

Don’t let policy get in the way of doing what’s right. You maybe right, but what good does it do to be right, if you lose.

United lost yesterday thinking they were right.

You listening United?

Next time I’m flying you, and I see an overbooked situation, I’ll help out your crew, so they don’t make this type of mistake again.  It’s the least I can do.