Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Heavin' On A Jet Plane....

I have only recently begun to travel and take vacations.  The first two time, I flew Southwest.  I had a fine experience, no problems or anything. staff was nice and friendly, tray was large enough for my computer, and being allowed a decent sized carry-on bag was a perk.

My third trip was in 2015 to DisneyWorld.  I booked the trip through Disney, and they didn't use Southwest for their packages.  So I would up going with United.  I was aware United had a...reputation (Alan King's legendary routine comes to mind), but I wasn't sure if that was just general grumbling from the passengers or not.  Turns out, not quite.  The trip down to Orlando was blessedly uneventful.  But it was the return flight that things got dicey.  One of the nice things about staying at a Disney resort is the Magical Express, which takes you and your carry-on between the resort and the airpot.  The Magical Express has it's prearranged departure times, and mine was set to give me about three hours between getting to the airport and getting on the plane.  However, United had changed the flight time and didn't alert Disney.  Unbeknownst to me, I was arriving with less than an hour to get through TSA and on the plane.  Not helping was that TSA was understaffed, and it took almost two hours to get through.  The only reason I didn't miss the plane back to Chi-Town was because the plane was late, and I wound up with an hour before it's arrival.

But wait, there's more!  One of the things about United is they allow smaller carry-ons than Southwest.  Southwest is a generous 24" case.  United wants 22", including, as the web site points out, the wheels and handle, meaning the case is actually smaller than 22".  I wound up taking my trusty 20", as I was unsure how loose and generous United might be.  Turns out, my paranoia was justified.  Another woman on the flight had gotten to the counter, had her bag checked to make sure it was small enough, and was just about to board when they stopped her, checked her bag again, and said it was too big and had to be checked.  She had gone from Chicago down there with no problem, and past the counter without a problem.  But somehow, her bag mysteriously expanded enough that they forced her to check her bag and get a baggage fee from her.

Not helping was that, despite everyone being required to use smaller bags, there wasn't enough room in the overhead bins for every passenger, and some were asked to check their bags anyway.  And the flight was overbooked, so they asked for volunteers to go on another plane.  I declined, as I was going to be landing in Chicago at 5PM and just wanted to get home.  Turns out, the hour-later flight that passengers got bumped to actually made it in before I did -- my plane needed an additional safety inspection, then it got a flat tire.  I landed in Chicago a little after 8PM.

Needless to say, when I was talking with the Disney rep about booking another trip, he asked about my airline ticket and said he had United available.  After the nice gentleman in the white coat took those paddle-thingies off my chest, I politely declined, saying my United experience wasn't the most positive, and I'd make separate arrangements with Southwest.  Still get to ride the Magical Express, so I'm cool with it.

However, King's and my experiences with United are a friggin' picnic.  If they were still around, I think I'd rather fly ValueJet and take my chances.  Even after all the flack they got over the leggings incident, United is in the middle of another PR disaster, and they are pretending they aren't.  Let's look at how this unfolded.

I'm wondering if United has something against Chicagoans, because this happened on Sunday right in my backyard at O'Hare (this is also where the United baggage handlers were spotted throwing and breaking a musician's expensive guitar in 2008).  United has a plane full of people heading for Louisville, KY, United Express Flight 3411.  They've managed to dodge being bumped, and they are just sitting there, waiting for the plane to take off and get them where they need to go.  That was when United had four other people come on board.  They were United crew, needing to get somewhere to crew a Louisville flight.  United politely asked for four people to surrender their seats and get bumped for the four United crewmembers.  United offered incentives, $400 and an overnight hotel room, but no one bit.  This is a trip that was planned and paid for and somehow squeezed into their schedule.  And now they were being asked to get off the plane, maybe miss a day of work or an appointment or something.

I want you to pay attention to that last line in that paragraph above.  It's important.

So, no one was willing to give up the seat they'd planned and paid for months in advance, and United just wasn't greasing the skids enough.  United then came up with $800 and an overnight hotel room.  Still no takers.  So United decided to just pick four people at random and fuck them over -- I mean, bump them off the flight.  Three of them grumbled but cooperated.

But then we get to Number Four.  This man refused to surrender his seat.  He said he was a doctor and had patients to see in the morning and couldn't miss the flight (remember the sentence I told you to pay attention to).  The response to this was caught on cell phone videos (there's at least two of them) and is nothing less than horrifying.  One video shows three security officers grabbing the man and his head going down onto the armrest.  Another video shows the man being dragged from the seat screaming, with a broken lip and glasses askew, out of the seat, down the aisle on his back, and out the door.  United apparently thought that was that, but the man actually managed to reboard the plane.  The four United crew that were flying were surrounded by angry glares and people saying they should feel ashamed of themselves.

(Side note:  I don't feel comfortable blaming O'Hare security for this.  What were they told?  Were they told the passenger was a danger to the flight and passengers?  If so, they were played for patsies after being told incorrect information that made them handle the situation wrong.  Or maybe they were told what was going on and they didn't care.  We don't know, and until we know what exactly they were dispatched to handle, we don't know if they were reacting according to protocol or not.  Until we get more information, I would rather not risk sticking the guards with a bum rap.)

Well, that went viral in a hurry.  On Monday morning, with the video making the national news, Charles Hobart, a spokesman for United, tried to extract the company from the mess.  "We explained the scenario to the customer.  That customer chose not to get out of his seat."  Uh, no, he didn't CHOOSE anything.  He wasn't given the choice of keeping the seat or giving it up.  He was FORCED to give up his seat.  You STOLE his seat.  Word substitution doesn't change the truth.  But he wasn't the only one trying to spin the situation.  Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United, issued a Tweet, and it is dripping with bullshit.  "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United."  You had a doctor beaten and dragged off a plane, and the experience was upsetting for United Airlines.  Nice priorities, douchebag.  "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers."  Re-accommodate?!?  United stole the seat of a man who had paid for his flight and had him beaten and dragged off the plane!  "Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.  We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation."  Yeah, you might want to talk to those patients who medical care you denied while doing this, I'm sure they aren't happy, either.

There are actual collage classes for business ethics and public relations.  What exactly do they teach in those classes?
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