Last week I wrote a fairly extensive editorial on my thoughts about United dragging Dr. David Dao off one of their flights from a human rights & basic dignity standpoint, however after reading some comments on Facebook today, I’d like to touch on what I’m going to call the customer service side of this whole mess.
The comments in question were a post by Mike Rowe – a guy whose thoughts I enjoy reading, though I happen to agree with part of what he said this time. The gist of it being concern that in the fourth or fifth apology from United CEO Oscar Munoz, they’ve essentially made it ok for customers to ignore when the crew of an airplane tells them to do something…
“But in the process of finding him blameless, he suggested that millions of passengers are under no obligation to follow a direct command from United employees. And that’s a hell of a lot more disturbing than a beat-down in the main cabin.”
Mike goes on to say that we don’t have a right to fly because we can always be removed for being beligerant or too big to fit in one seat or whatever reason the airline decides to use … and for most of those scenarios I would agree. If you’re drunk or disruptive, then sure – off you go. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll even land the plane before kicking you out the door, but it’s that any reason deemed necessary where I take some exception because remember here that in this particular case, Dr. Dao was assaulted because United needed his seat to fly their own employees to another airport for work the next day.
And I don’t think that’s right.
Yes, I get that airlines run on thin margins, and that they overbook because there’s an average number of people who don’t show up for their flights as scheduled and the airline doesn’t make any money if those seats otherwise fly empty, but just like those United employees had someplace to be, so did their customer … their paying customer, and in accordance with taking his money in exchange for a plane ticket, it’s the airline’s responsibility to transport him to his destination as agreed.
And sure, it’s true that in its 47-page Contract of Carriage, United reserves its right to deny boarding to any customer it wants if nobody else volunteers when they end up on the inconvenient side of this overbooking teeter totter that they play … but does that make it right???
Those four employees had to get to work the next day to ensure that United’s planes were able to fly on schedule.
But so did the doctor who had patients to see the next day.
Just as overbooking is a relatively common thing in the airline industry, so is employees transferring from one airport to another – the idea that they don’t have a better handle on this issue and that it results in kicking paying customers off of their flights is the real travesty here!
So to Mike’s comment citing that we need order on our airplanes because they’re not democracies, they’re a place to follow orders, I would challenge that it’s the airlines who should lead this responsibility by providing stellar customer service, not the passengers who need to suck it up and accept whatever treatment they’re given because everyone has places to go and flight attendants have a thankless job.
In any other industry, if a business took a customer’s money and then refused to give them the service that they’d purchased, they’d face a day in court because that’s the entire reason said relationship exists between business and consumer … but because of the perceived safety concern, air travel has become an industry where consumers are left little to no actual protections after the airlines and the TSA have taken their own liberties from passengers just trying to travel in their own country and pay good money for the trip.
Last week we watched a guy get beaten because he didn’t want to leave the plane that he was scheduled to fly.
If I sell milk for a living and I sell you a gallon of milk, I can’t just show up at your house later on that evening and demand the gallon back because one of my truck drivers is thirsty and needs a drink so that he can complete his route healthy and refreshed tonight.
That’s my problem for not having enough milk in the first place, and to think that my customers should have to compromise for my own shortsightedness when they’re probably thirsty and want some milk to go with their cookies, too, is bad business.
And that’s why we have consumer protections in place to ensure that customers actually get the goods and services that they pay for.
Americans shouldn’t need a lawyer to review the 47-page contract that comes with their plane ticket in order to make sure that they’ll actually get from A to B like they’re expecting.