You’ll no doubt be aware that United Airlines is currently being slammed by every corner of the internet after a shocking video of a passenger being violently dragged off an overbooked plane went viral.
The unsavoury incident occurred last weekend, when a passenger – reportedly a 69-year-old Asian man, believed to be a doctor – was asked to leave a flight bound for Louisville, Kentucky. Everyone onboard was a paid up passenger, but the airline had sold more seats than they had available, so when there were no volunteers, they selected four people at random – one of which was the reluctant doctor – to get off and wait for a later trip.
The man in question refused to leave his seat, claiming he had a commitment to passengers so had to be on that particular connection. That’s when authorities intervened, quite literally dragging the man from his seat and onto the floor. It’s pretty clear from the clips that have been rapidly shared all over the world that the other passengers didn’t appear to agree with United Airlines’ forceful approach to the situation, and it’s really not hard to see why.
United Airlines have issued a statement in response, with the company’s CEO apologising for having to ‘re-accommodate’ the passengers, but the damage has already been done.
The airline has seen its shares take a hit, and the footage – since followed by another clip of the man, face noticeably bloodied, after he’d managed to get back on the plane – prompted a predictably relentless backlash. Millions of Chinese people have read about what happened on the country’s micro-blogging site Weibo, and there have been calls for a boycott on flying with United in the future.
As for the internet’s reaction, well….
Overbooking on flights is nothing new; pretty much everyone does it. No-shows for myriad reasons are commonplace, and each empty seat costs an airline money. Decisions on how many tickets to sell for a particular flight are based on circumstance and in-depth data. There is always an element of lottery involved, but fundamentally overbooking is intended to maximise revenue.
In fact, Simon Calder, travel correspondent of The Independent, told his employer that flexible travellers like him actively chase the overbooked flights to save money. He said he’s the first to step forward when the airline offers cash to those willing to give up their seat, keeping his plans changeable whenever possible.
Calder said that ordinarily the airline will keep upping the amount until enough people bite, leaving those really desperate to travel able to do so. United didn’t actually break the law, he added, ugly as the manhandling was to witness, but the crucial error was allowing fare-paying passengers to board the plane before trying to convince them to leave. That situation was bound to become more volatile.
And it’s not like this is the first time United Airlines have garnered headlines for the wrong reasons. Just last month they were mocked for not allowing two teenage girls to fly because they were wearing leggings. Now, after the latest scandal, Twitter users have decided it’s time for a re-working of their well-known motto, “Fly the Friendly Skies”.
(Main image: REX/Shutterstock/Associated Press)