United in outrage: Would I participate in a boycott of United Airlines?

Granted that the sight of a passenger being forcefully dragged out of an overbooked airplane is quite upsetting, I don’t think it would matter enough to most people — at least not enough for them to make it a major factor in a decision around which flight to take somewhere.

As Fortune points out, the public relations “disaster” that ensued after social media erupted in outrage over the incident “doesn’t seem to be affecting the company’s stock price.” Instead…

Shares of United closed up nearly 1% Monday, even as Twitter users threatened to boycott the company over its treatment of a customer.

Some social media outrage faddists question the the practice of overbooking itself. To be clear, overbooking is a common and legal policy enshrined in most airlines’ “terms of carriage” (read the small print on our tickets). There are also clear rules around the volunary — and involuntary — removal of passengers who are “bumped” from an overbooked flight.

Indeed, if we think the cheap plane fares we enjoy today don’t come at a cost, think again. Overbooking is one of those measures airlines take to reduce their risk exposure to unprofitable flights. Savings from these and other such measures (which expose ordinary passengers to their fair share of risk to their passage) are passed on to the average traveller. For the most part, the risk of being bumped off everytime we board a plane is very small. But it does happen, much the same way as a pedestrian gets run over by a car every now and then.

Then there is the race card played not just by some of these pedestrian outrage faddists but by professional “journalists” writing for mainstream news sites as well. “Asian man violently removed from plane!” screams one headline. This passenger was actually randomly selected by a computer after two attempts by United to attract enough volunteer bumpees failed.

Unfortunately for United, bad PR is usually the outcome of a rapid propagation of seductive — but irrational — public sentiment. According to the same news sites, the passenger was handled not by United personnel but by police officers (others called them “security guards”) called in to handle the situation.

To be sure, an unfortunate string of events. But perhaps we should get in the habit of allowing the facts to get in the way of a good story every now and then. If you hate “fake news”, hate all kinds of fake news — not just the ones that get in the way of your preferred story.

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16 Comments on “United in outrage: Would I participate in a boycott of United Airlines?”

  1. Question is what do the other airlines do? Southwest and most airlines give out boarding pass by arrival time for the flight. There are no overbooked passengers on the plane to get kicked off. I personally stopped flying United, when it was common to hold the plane from takeoff for passengers that checked in but did not get on the plane.

  2. Except in this case the flight wasn’t oversold, but overbooked by four UA employees (who fly free, as UA is employee-owned). Overbooking even in terms of overselling a flight is actually financially unsound — the costs of compensation (legally required by US law) often exceed the additional revenue (which is the real reason Southwest doesn’t do it).

    While some details or the particular angle chosen by some reporters might not have been completely accurate or well-chosen, the basic story that UA followed a dubious practice, had it blow up in its face, and then compounded its woes by reacting badly is hard to refute.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I have not flown on UA for years, but not for any particular reason; the last time I did, it was a completely ordinary experience.

    1. I fly United quite often both to the US and within the US. A not-bad no-frills carrier which suits me ok, because I am usually a low-maintenance pax who often sleeps through entire flights (including meal times).

      Yeah, I understand the rather indefensible pickle UA got itself in. Bumping off paying pax to move crew probably has elements that determined priorities within UA that the public may not readily have access to. The reasonable doubt I have is that the crew attending to the victim called in ground authorities to handle the situation. So, really, they will have not been in full control of the way the officers handled the situation.

      So, yeah, this article is basically a just sayin’ piece. Of course you can’t beat outlets like Mashable and their ilk — and the fools who follow them — who are surfing the wave of social media outrage.

  3. I don’t fly United Airlines…I fly Delta Airlines…

    It is really unfortunate to see a passenger being dragged in the United Airline flight. The Airport Police dragged him, to get him out of flight. It is because, he refused to go quietly…

    I would like to see our thieving politicians like : Aquino, Mar Roxas, Porky Drillon, Trillanes, Leila de Lima, etc…being dragged to jail, like that : screaming and shouting !

  4. It matters to me. I find what they did disgusting and I would certainly not fly with United unless there was no other option. This will stick with me for a long time.

  5. Benign0 , now that shares of United Airlines down by 950 million and still falling. Now, that we find out this guy family is all doctors including his kids. Now, we have multiple videos from before , during and after the event. Does is change your story. The problem here is that when it first happened, everyone was quick to attack the guy, before it was found out the seat were be given for to other airline employees who could have driven the short distance to the next airport. Bad business practice is never to take away from a paying customer to give to a employee for free. If he had lost his seat to another paying customer, the sympathy would be less. The practice of actually having the passengers on the flight then taking them off was a bad business decision. The practice of the airline blaming the passenger for the problem at first was a bad decision. It appears now that the company has started losing money, everyone agrees this was bad, but not before.

    1. Too early to tell if United is, in fact, “losing money”. Share prices behave independent of financial performance over the short term (like in that days-long timeframe between now and the eruption of this outrage fad). We’ll be a bit more certain about that aspect of the story later. If the shares plunge, it’ll be ripe for a takeover. At best, its shares will be attractive for buyers who take a longer view to these quaint hipster “rampages”. So its planes will likely continue to fly and most of its employees will likely to remain employed.

  6. The feeling when the headline says: Doctor gets roughed up by Chicago PD. Great customer service from United. Hope the pending lawsuit and bad publicity was worth it.

    Bunch of awful decisions made here. United Airlines should have figured out how to get their own personnel to the destination of where they should be. It should probably be not that hard. Louisville to Chicago is less than a 5 hour drive, it’s not like Los Angeles to New York. Should’ve put them in a car and get them where they needed to go.

    While the offer for volunteers was a good idea, backed up by cash and a hotel accommodation. It was good offer but no one wanted it. So after that, they decided it was a good idea to remove a person by force.

    Overbooking was intentional on their part because of money since there’s no guarantee everyone will fly and sometimes there are people that actually cancel their ticket, and that’s pretty much a business practice by the airline industry. But apparently it is entirely legal to overbook and kick people off planes so the passenger is technically in the wrong. However, there’s absolutely no justification for attacking the passenger and hopefully they do sue. What’s wrong here is they called the damn cops to solve a nonviolent dispute that’s just between the airline company and the passenger, in which judging by the photos and the video the poor passenger was being violently removed from his seat simply makes no sense and is a reflection to what kind of company and what kind of people are running this company. Sure that won’t stop people from flying United but I don’t think anyone who actually paid for his seat wants to be treated like that.

    What’s even disturbing right now is some people are running a smear campaign against the passenger of the plane over something that happened a long time ago that has nothing to do with the bs treatment that happened to him.

    I guess United has a new ad “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMG9hLvPdsY”.

  7. Then again, it was handled as if it was a matter of security when it wasn’t. I’m sensing there’s more to it than the usual speculations.

  8. What a stupid fuckin question? United Airlines doesn’t even have flights into the country, or maybe has three per week? and how many GRP readers are on these fligts, if they exist? Stick to what you know about, especially if you’ve never even been in an airport in the USA.
    BTW, it seems the Doctor had some shitty sort of past that may have just caught up with him, but that should not matter, he will win his little dip-shit law-suit….

  9. The moral of this Man’s story is if you do not like getting treated like shit, CONFORM….and it will not happen. BUT, if you are the type that doesn’t take the shit people think they can just throw at you, STICK UP FOR YOURSELF, like this guy did…..you will certainly get treatd even worse but will win your dip-shit lawsuit, especially if there are cell-phones recording the incident.

    1. EE-BAH-EE-BAH-BAH, Question when did it become okay to attack the doctors history; especially since United and pretty much all the fake news stations attacked the wrong doctor. Same first and last name, but different middle names and ages. I actually fly home to the USA frequently. If one of the doctors patients would have died as a result of this, everyone would be complaining a different story.

    1. ask the people that attacked it, I did not , I have read that the guy had some sort of shit he was responsible for, and I simply pointed it out, that might be coming back to bite him in his ass. YOU KNOW WHAT? KARMA IS A BITCH, AND SHE BITES TOO !

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