Blog: The airline that failed with flying colours

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away… just not on United Airlines.

It’s been one public relations disaster after another for the major American airline after a video of a 69-year-old man being dragged off of an overbooked flight went viral.

Fellow passengers were horrified by the overly physical treatment of David Dao, a doctor who reportedly did not want to vacate his seat on the plane because he had patients to see the fol-lowing morning. The video makes for particularly uncomfortable watching as the man screams, conveying a sense of obvious distress.

Neither was the passenger to blame. United had overbooked the flight and wanted to make room for four members of the company’s staff. Due to his resistance, he was handled roughly by a law enforcement official and left with a bloody face. A customer’s decision to make way in such circumstances is meant to be voluntary. Dr Dao clearly had not volunteered.

This is not the first time United have hit the headlines recently after they refused to let two girls board a flight be-cause they did not meet the dress criteria for the section they were sitting in. The girls were United pass travellers, which are tickets reserved for company employees and their friends or family. The resulting reaction on social media to both incidents was heated, with many people vowing not to fly with the airline again.

So, how has United responded to what has become an increasingly tense situation? By making a number of errors it would seem.

Oscar Munoz, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

It was a remark that provoked out-rage as many saw it as a blatant refusal to acknowledge an unnecessary use of force against an innocent customer. Mr Munoz confessed to feeling “shame and embarrassment” and said Dr Dao deserved an apology.

It seems too little too late, however, as calls have been made for the chief executive’s resignation. But Mr Munoz has refused, instead stressing that the company would learn from the mistake and not ask a law enforcement official to remove a passenger that has booked and paid for a seat on a flight. Upon receiving treatment for his injuries, Dr Dao has since confirmed that he was recovering from the traumatic experience and thanked people for their well wishes.

The unsavoury ordeal will likely hang over the airline for some time, however, and has clearly inflicted considerable damage on an already fragile reputation. Only time will tell if United Airline’s future sales will be affected but the company will certainly regret how events have unfolded.

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