I didn’t want to write another United Airlines post, but so many of you insisted — and United’s apology is even lamer than the one from two weeks ago.
On an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville, United Express needed space to ferry four crew members to another assignment. After an $800 bribe persuaded only two passengers to vacate their seats, United chose a passenger at random to remove. When the passenger refused to budge, they got police to drag him off the plane. Here’s the video:
— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017
Regardless of the airline’s need to ferry pilots and flight crew, physically assaulting a passenger crosses the line. Refusing to board a ticketed passenger on a full flight is a barbarity we’ve come to expect, but dragging off one already seated is a new low in the treatment of customers as chattel. Here’s how Derek Thomson explained it in the Atlantic:
In this way, the United video serves as a stark metaphor, one where the quiet brutalization of consumers is rendered in shocking, literal form. The first thought that I had watching the outrageous footage of a passenger being dragged through an aisle like a bag of trash was that this should never happen. But fundamentally, this is an old story: Companies in concentrated industries, like the airlines, have legal cover to break the most basic promise to consumers without legally breaking their contracts. The video is a scandal. But so is the law.
United responds with an ultra-lame apology, then follows it up with an even worse one
An assault on customers demands a sincere apology, but United knows its rights — including, apparently, the right to toss innocent paying passengers off the plane. In their first apology, they hide their responsibility behind a screen of passive voice (shown in bold):
Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.”
Rewriting in the active voice and reinserting the missing actions establishes the barbarity of United’s actual behavior:
We overbooked Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville. After our team looked for volunteers, we chose a passenger at random, but he refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily. We called law enforcement to the gate and they dragged him off screaming and eventually, unconscious. We apologize for the overbook situation. If you have any other questions, ask the authorities.
Heartless. And still inadequate, since the airline apologizes only for “the overbook situation,” rather than apologizing to the passenger it assaulted. This proves that corporations are not people, because no people would behave this awfully outside of a war zone.
A short while later, United CEO Oscar Munoz took to Twitter to attempt a more sincere apology. Here’s the result:
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.
The only good thing about this is that it’s short. It focuses on how upset United feels, how urgently it is moving, and what it is reviewing — we, we, we — but doesn’t get to the poor schmo who got ejected until the end. All he can expect is that they’ll reach out to him and “resolve” the situation (assuming he is once again conscious and alert).
But the true outrage here is the euphemism “having to re-accommodate” for asking police to remove a passenger, as if it is something done to United, rather than something done to a human being. If you’re going to make words up, why not get more creative?
“I apologize for this incident of involuntary deplaning.”
“We were forced to introduce one passenger to the concept of premature planeless departure.”
“In situations such as this, we have created an obligatory musical chairs policy, in which all passengers must participate.”
“Here at United, we charge people for air travel, and when necessary, we discharge them as well. (The friendly airport police help out.)”
“We reserve the right to expel foreign bodies, or any other bodies we choose.”
“Having reduced each passenger’s share of overhead bin space, legroom, armrests, and WiFi bandwidth, it seemed only natural to arbitrarily remove passengers’ butts from seats as well.”
“Welcome to our new bidirectional boarding process.”
It’s not that hard. Do it right.
If you knock a passenger unconscious as you drag him off the plane, there’s going to be video on the Net before you know it. Mr. Munoz, you and United Airlines must do better. Here’s the apology you were looking for:
I’m very disturbed by the video I just saw that took place on one of our planes. When there are not enough seats because we’ve overbooked a plane — or, as in this case, we urgently need to get flight crews to another city to avoid cancelling other flights — the right course of action is to offer whatever incentives are necessary to get passengers to volunteer to take a later flight. We should have worked harder to find volunteers, rather than requesting police to drag off a passenger already on the plane. We apologize to the passenger that we had forcibly removed and we’ll be taking action to make up for what we did.”