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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders, STEM

Leaders: Common Sense MIA During United Airline Passenger Incident

image_airplaneBy now, most of you have seen the video of a Chicago Aviation Officer dragging a passenger off of a United Airlines plane. The eviction of David Dao, a 69-year-old American doctor, from United Airlines Flight 3411 on Sunday, April 9, 2017, has prompted a massive outpouring of indignation and criticism on social media here in the United States as well as China and other Asian countries.

What led up to this incident? Here’s a summary from ABC News:

United Flight 3411, operated by Republic Airways, was scheduled to depart Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at 5:40 p.m. local time on Sunday, [April 9, 2017], bound for Louisville International Airport.

United told ABC News that it had offered passengers on the plane up to $800 to give up their seats for four crew members who needed to board. No one volunteered, so the airline generated a list of four names to be removed from the flight and re-accommodated, per by the airline’s contract of carriage. Three of those people complied, and one did not. That’s when the police were called to remove the man

“The doctor needed to work at the hospital the next day,” Twitter user Jayse D. Anspach wrote in a series of tweets accompanied by videos of the incident. “So he refused to ‘volunteer.”

Anspach added, “A couple of airport security men forcefully pulled the doctor out of his chair and to the floor of the aisle. In so doing, the doctor’s face was slammed against an arm rest, causing serious bleeding from his mouth. It looked like he was knocked out, because he went limp and quiet and they dragged him out of the plane like a rag doll.

What does this have to do with business & STEM? Everything. A passenger being dragged off of a plane is an incident that is very specific to the airline industry, however, the absence of a common sense approach in managing situations and events that involve customers and employees can happen in any business. And they do every day! Suffice it to say that this event had just about everything in it except common sense which was missing in action (MIA) on this past Sunday.

What are some of those common sense actions that could have happened before the aviation officers were called? United could have:

  • reserved four seats in advance for their employees and eliminated them from the available seating, or allowed those employees to board first if they were already at the gate.
  • sweetened the incentive (add more $s to the amount originally offered) for anyone on the plane who might want to be a good Samaritan and volunteer to give Dr. Dao their seat.
  • be inclusive in understanding that English does not appear to be Dr. Dao’s first language which could limit his understanding of the situation, what he was being asked to do, and the impacts that not complying could have.
  • work with the passenger to ensure that he would arrive at his destination in order to see patients the next morning, even if it was on another airline or another mode of travel.
  • remove the passenger in a less forcible manner.

On Tuesday, United CEO Oscar Munoz would tell ABC’s Good Morning America, “We have not provided our front-line supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense. They all have an incredible amount of common sense and this issue could have been solved by that. That’s on me, I have to fix that, and I think that’s something we can do.”

Oscar Munoz is correct in that it is his job to fix this. I hope that he has time to do so. What could have been fixed by $1,300 to $1,600 in incentives to a passenger that was willing to give up his/her seat to Dr. Dao,  will now cost the airline millions. This incident has also made the friendly skies less friendly to airline passengers.

One analyst has estimated the cost of this one incident to United Airlines at a quarter of a billion dollars ($250 million). In the long run, the damage to United’s brand image and lost customers may be even greater.

Updated on 04.12.2017 @ 9 p.m.: USA Today reported that on Tuesday, 04.11.2017, shares of United Airlines stock at one point had slid more than 4% to a low of $68.36, which at the time had erased nearly $1 billion in the airline’s market capitalization. Since touching its intraday low yesterday, the stock has rebounded more than 3% but still remains below where it closed Friday before the start of the uproar caused by the airline forcibly removing a passenger Sunday from one of its planes due to a shortage of seats.

 

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About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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