Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Customer Service, Power and United Airlines

Most of us have heard the story of an Asian man being violently dragged off of a plane so that crew members could take a seat. The story is horrifying and has caused an international outcry that is punishing the company through lost stock and investment capital ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The CEO is adamant that nothing wrong happened. It opens the question of airline power and its effect on customer service.

I travel United Airlines all the time. I like the service they provide but this action makes me question my values and how we may have given airlines too much authority to make arbitrary decisions. No doubt we need to be protected from terrorists and other illegal activities but the actions in this circumstance seem to go beyond reason and into a darker place.

According to the Department of Commerce, 46,000 passengers are booted from flights every year. These are tickets they paid for and which airlines decide they want to overbook in order to maintain full flights and profits. The problem is that we should all be concerned when the seat we paid for is not guaranteed but up to a rolling dice game where airlines make a gamble with our plans. You can say its very poor customer service and consideration for passengers.

If the customer doesn't show up simply keep their money. They paid for the service and if they choose to not use it, then keep their money if they didn't follow the proper cancellation policy. Don't force people off the plan because you decided to overbook the flight. The airlines should own their mistakes by offering better compensation until someone voluntarily agrees. The customer should own the seat and can sell it back to the airline at their own free will.

The second major issue is the culture where airlines have rights to abuse a passenger even though there is no link to terrorism. We simply take something that was designed to protect us and then apply it to our citizens because we have become accustomed to having this type of power at our disposal. The culture of airlines should consider the violation of such power and why it is important to change their culture and reign in some of these airline "rights".

It is possible for the airline to continue to raise the opt out value until someone voluntarily accepts it. Their scheduling mistakes are their mistakes alone and shouldn't be forced on customers. If it costs them $1,000 or $2,000 until someone voluntarily agrees to take it then that it is the cost of their mistake. Taking a doctor, who might have lives to save, and forcing him off the plan and roughing him up in the process is definitely not an appropriate customer service strategy or within the reasonable application of laws that are designed to protect people.

In a reversal of previous statements after the time the post was written the chief executive officer Oscar Munoz reversed his position and with wisdom and took responsibility, a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement.

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