United Airlines is still facing its biggest nightmare after the violent dragging of 69-year-old Dr. David Dao from United Express Flight 3411. After suffering multiple injuries – including a concussion – as he was forcefully removed from plane, Mr. David has become a “poster child” for passenger mistreatment. His lawyer said he will need reconstructive surgery.
David lost two teeth on top of a broken nose. His lawyer said his client will be suing United Airlines and the city of Chicago, which employs the officers who were seen on video pulling Dao out of his seat and dragging him off a Louisville-bound flight. The airline is being accused by people around the world of racially profiling David Dao while the police is slapped with abuse of force accusation.
Due to the impact of the screw-up, the fiasco has become a scandal. There’s little doubt United is the guilty party and chances are they would unleash whatever weapons they have in their arsenal to try to get David Dao to accept compensation – and hope the case will go away. United will try not to drag the case to court – for obvious reason.
United’s misfortune and mistreatment has raised tons of eyebrows in the airline industry. They’ve learned valuable lessons from United’s scandal. As a start, airlines learn that while they can deny boarding to passengers if the flight is oversold, they must do so “before” passengers are allowed to board a flight, not “after”, as in the case of David Dao.
In the case of Mr. Dao, he wasn’t denied boarding – he had already boarded the plane. After a passenger boarded a flight, he or she has the right to remain seated no matter what, or he or she can do a David Dao stunt and sue the airlines. Secondly, the airline industry learns that it always pays to be honest lest they prefer risking a public relations nightmare at a later stage.
United had lied about Flight 3411 being overbooked – it flip-flopped later admitting there “wasn’t any overbooking” in the first place, providing another reason for lawsuits. United’s biggest mistake was it had chosen to not only violently dragged David Dao off the plane, it did so (bumping four passengers) in order to make room for their own crew.
In short, if an airline wants to bump you from the aircraft, it must deny you boarding. If you’re allowed to board and if you’re injured, or dragged off the airplane, or falsely arrested, you can sue. Three officers from the Chicago Department of Aviation have been put on leave pending an investigation of the incident, making David Dao’s lawsuits even stronger.
Learning its bitter and expensive lessons, United Airlines on Friday changed its policy to require travelling employees to book a flight at least 60 minutes before departure. Had the rule been in place, United Express Flight 3411 still would have been overbooked by four seats, but at least United employees could have dealt with the situation in the gate area instead of on the plane.
Besides being a racist, the way United Airlines handled David Dao also exposed its corporate culture whereby the airline has long “bullied” passengers. Not only United Airlines (and perhaps other airlines too) adopts a racist and bully culture, the airline is also quite cheapskate. The situation could have been avoided if United had simply upped their offer to volunteers.
United initially offered US$400, and increased to US$800 travel vouchers and a hotel stay, for volunteers to give up their seats to four United employees who needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. When David Dao refused the offer, there would surely be other takers if United had simply upped their offer to perhaps US$1,600, or even US$3,200 for that matter.
Now, taking the cue from United Airlines’ screw-up, Delta Air Lines is rubbing salt into the wound when it announced on Friday that its employees are given the power to offer customers almost US$10,000 (£7,973; €9,414; RM44,032) in compensation to give up seats on overbooked flights. In a way, Delta is taking advantage of the crisis to say they’re better, more caring and more proactive.
In an internal memo, Delta said gate agents can now offer up to US$2,000 (up from a previous maximum of US$800) and supervisors can offer up to US$9,950 (up from US$1,350). Last year Delta successfully bumped more passengers than any other U.S. airline, partly because it was generous enough to pay more than most of the other airlines.
Delta said to staff – “To reinforce our commitment to our agents and their ability to care for our customers, we will be increasing the maximum allowable compensations limit for voluntary denied boardings (VDBs) systemwide.” However, Delta said its best practices included that staff “start at a lower compensation and increase, if necessary.”
If Delta paid US$9,950 to every person it bumped involuntarily last year, that would total US$12 million. Still, the money was like loose change considering Delta earned nearly US$4.4 billion in net profit last year. American Airlines, on the other hand, updated its rules to say that no passenger who has boarded the plane will be removed to give the seat to someone else.
Government data shows that in 2015 and 2016, Delta paid an average of US$1,118 in compensation for every passenger that it denied a seat. Southwest Airlines paid US$758, United US$565, and American Airlines US$554. Ross Aimer, a retired United pilot said – “If you offer enough money, even the guy going to a funeral will sell his seat.”
When asked, United Airlines said they’re still reviewing its compensation policies, despite David Dao’s case, suggesting that the airline doesn’t care about customers at all. Even if United adopts Delta’s generous compensation plan – paying US$9,950 to every person it bumped involuntarily – the airline would still have lots of money left considering the airline earned US$2.3 billion in 2016.