Las Vegas Sun

June 19, 2018

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Mayday! Common sense goes missing

At first glance it appears United Airlines and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Stasi police of customer service roughed up and dragged a 69-year-old man off a flight bound for Louisville before he even had a chance to partake of those yummy peanuts.

But there was another innocent victim caught up in United Airlines treating paying passengers as harp seals ripe for a clubbing. Once again, we have seen a death knell for the dearly departed virtue of common sense.

United has a problem entirely of its own making. It overbooked the trip to Louisville. So four United employees who needed to get to Kentucky to staff a flight had no way to get to work. That meant four passengers had to agree to leave the plane in return for compensation for the disruption in their travel plans. Three grudgingly gave up their seats.

But a fourth passenger, Dr. David Dao, arbitrarily picked by the airline, refused to surrender his seat and for good reason.

United Airlines declared $2.3 billion in profits last year. It employs tens of thousands of people around the world. Somewhere in that vast bureaucracy there was no one who had the presence of mind to make a keen executive decision that physically abusing a 69-year-old in full view of a planeload of passengers equipped with cellphones might be a really bad idea? No one?

Apparently not. United CEO Oscar Munoz, who wrote in an internal memo that the physician had become “more disruptive and belligerent” toward United employees and the henchmen who were trying to rough him up. This from the same chap who last month received the “Communicator of the Year Award” from PRWeek. Did the honor come in the form of golden brass knuckles?

Belligerent? Well, yeah. How dare this senior citizen who had bought his ticket and boarded the flight have the audacity to believe he was entitled to remain on board to go home. What was he thinking?

The plane was full. Had United upped the ante to $1,350 (the industry maximum) to encourage someone else to step forward, don’t you suspect somebody would have taken the deal?

But nooooooooooo! Dao had the gall to resist being treated like a stowaway. He had the temerity to challenge capricious authority. He demanded to be treated with respect. He asked to be listened to.

And for that he was bullied for all the world to see by a corporation and thugs with badges who were unable to pause and resolve a problem like responsible adults. Nobody noticed all the cellphones lighting up to capture the humiliation of a passenger?

Already the punishment inflicted on the Asian 69-year-old doctor has been seen more than 100 million times on China’s version of Twitter. And China is a market United covets. So how’s that slapping around of a customer working out as a marketing strategy, Mr. Communicator of the Year?

In the minutes it took to pick on an old man, United Airlines brought upon itself an incalculable public relations debacle. Contriteness from Munoz eventually ensued after two days of horrific media coverage. But the damage already was done.

Flying today is trying enough without having to deal with the scourge of passengers everywhere: faceless bureaucrats armed with more policies than common sense.

Daniel Ruth is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

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