Seriously, Don’t Write It Down…
One of the first lessons that I learned when starting my job was never to write anything that I wouldn’t want to see on the cover of the New York Times. That thought has kept me from sending out more than one nasty email.
Yet it seems to be something that corporate leaders and politicians have had trouble remembering. In particular, we got an example of it yesterday from United’s CEO, with both a tone-deaf response to an incident on a United flight and an email to his employees.
If you follow the Department of Transportation manual, United Airlines itself did just about everything by the book (Yes, I know how that sounds. Read the footnote for my feelings on “the book.”)*. The involuntary denied boarding** incident was caused by employees who had to be on that particular flight to get to another destination to service another flight. They offered compensation for passengers to take a different flight. They had a system in place to determine who would be “re-accommodated.” The doctor wasn’t picked randomly, as some would imply.
I don’t know how long United employees waited before calling in law enforcement, though and, from what I’ve seen in the past, many airline employees have started to take the attitude of “if the passenger doesn’t do what I say, I’m getting them kicked off the plane.” That’s not all employees and, in this situation, the airline actually had the right to do so. But their past actions certainly don’t help them. They do not get the benefit of the doubt.
Where it went off the rails was when aviation security got involved. The video and actions of the people involved are nothing short of disgusting. Hopefully, somebody ends up getting prosecuted. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the biggest “winners” in the blame game.
United’s biggest problem was its piss-poor handling of the aftermath. I wasn’t there, and I’m sure that there’s plenty of blame to go around, but here’s a hint: If you are the CEO of one of the world’s largest airlines and one of your passengers is beaten on one of your planes, it is best not to send out a public tweet saying that the passenger was “re-accommodated.” Um, no. I’ve never met anyone who would want to be re-accommodated under those conditions. Even worse, the contents of the CEO’s email to the employees was leaked. It was a milquetoast response that deflected any blame, sounding like something the TSA would have written. I don’t think that United should get as much blame as most people do, but you have to accept some responsibility, if for no other reason than PR. If you are the CEO, you have to know that this will be leaked. Make sure it’s good.
Canada Is Way Cool
This has nothing to do with travel, I just thought it was really cool.
Canada is introducing a new $10 bill and, to generate consumer interest, they put an “easter egg” or hidden message, onto the web site. If you visit the page and enter the Konami Code, which involves clicking on the page and entering up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, you’ll get some cool audio and visual effects.
*The question of whether the book needs to be changed is a perfectly valid one. This situation was not an oversold flight, but I have seen that term being tossed around. I have also seen suggestions that airlines not be allowed to oversell flights. On the surface, it makes sense, but in practice, it would be a disaster. Revenue from passengers that don’t show up is used to subsidize the passengers that do. Eliminate oversells and I guarantee you that ticket prices would go up significantly.
**Beginner’s Hint: An “involuntarily denied boarding (IDB)” situation occurs when more passengers show up for a flight than the airline has seats for. Again, this particular situation was not an oversale, but rather, the result of operational needs. But lets talk about IDBs in the context of oversales: Airlines routinely “oversell” flights (selling more tickets than they have seats), knowing that a certain number of passengers won’t show up. In this scenario, the airline is required to have a system in place to determine who will be removed from the flight. It may be the customer who boarded last or people with elite status may have priority. Airlines must then ask for volunteers to take a later flight and will generally offer compensation to do so. If nobody volunteers, as was the case here, there are also laws protecting those passengers who are denied boarding. It is unlikely that you will ever be in that situation, but bookmark that link, just in case.
Here’s one other thing to know: Oversells are your best friend. I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. If you have any flexibility in your schedule and your flight is overbooked, airlines will often be willing to reward you generously, both because the IDB compensation can be onerous and because the airline is required to report IDBs. Too many IDBs will get you in trouble. I wrote a piece on getting free money from the airlines, but here’s a hint: If you have a seat on a flight on a busy day (e.g., the Sunday after Thanksgiving), they will be asking for volunteers and you can clean up. Once, I got the rare “double-bump;” I volunteered my morning flight, got moved to an afternoon flight and then volunteered on that one, as well.
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