So this week, everybody’s talking about United airlines and the way that they treated the passengers in overbooked flight.
I have many opinions about this, but before I share them, let’s just review quickly some of the facts.
- There was a United airlines flight going from City A to city B.
- The flight was completely full.
- United needed to get four of its employees to city b.
- As they had no room on the aeroplane, they asked for volunteers to stay at City A overnight.
- No one volunteer. So they offered money incentive, no one volunteered. They doubled the money incentive… no one volunteered.
- At this point, United employees gave up on the incentive and decided to randomly select for people to eject from the flight.Side note, I am sure every company has the right to decline to service someone however, the lack of planning for allowing all passengers to enter the flight and only then asking them to leave is unforgivable.
- Clearly upset, three other passengers accepted their accepted their fate to be ejected from the flight, one however did not.
- Faced non-compliance, the United employees conscripted airport security and police to reject the disgruntled paying passenger.
- This is where things became twisted. The group composed of United employees airport security and the police forcibly removed a now screaming and kicking passenger, all literally dragging him out.
- Everyone on the flight was in shock, some filmed the incident and shared it online.
- There was outrage
- United’s CEO issued statements which were called and noncommittal.
- A couple of days later he issued any more meaningful apology.
The repercussions of this incident and their response will reveal themselves in the next few days.
So what can we learn from this?
Okay, overbooking it’s not the most wonderful practice, but logistically speaking, and from a business point of view, it makes sense.
This was not the problem.
Asking paying customers to leave to be replaced by your employees this weak, I would even call it disrespectful…
Offering incentives is a lukewarm way of incentivising individuals to volunteer. They clearly could have done better…
Whilst these were attitudes which may have had better alternatives, they were not the biggest problem…
The problem is treating a human being worse thing you would sack of potatoes. I would even go as far as to say that this form of treatment of human beings is endemic in the air travel industry, airport security, I am looking at you.
I think at this point it is important to separate issues: on one hand we have a logistics issue – how do I we get four employee to city b when there is no space in your own plane – on the other hand, we have an issue of how you treat human beings, and in this case paying customer.
Let us deal with the first issue. While the marginal cost of transporting four of your own employees on your own plane maybe insubstantial, the cost of upsetting paying customers, to my eyes, is always going to be greater. Even in the business world where cost-cutting is king, there are other airlines, other flights, Airline agreements, that could make the transport of four of your own employees feasible at a very low cost. Therefore, the main element here is greed.
Regarding the second issue, in my point of view, is all about respect for life. When we transform life into “business”, customers, produce, merchandise. This process creates a distance between life and a “thing” and, as a result, respect. This is what we really need to learn: bridge this distance and always respect. In other words, a message repeated in philosophies and by ancient civilizations the world over: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.”
This is what is going on here: the moment you turn life into “things” you lose the ability to create empathy, to place yourself in their place. The result? Inhumane treatment.
So this is the lesson, this is how they screwed up and how you can forever avoid screwing up in this way: don’t allow your customers, your plants, your pets — life! — to become a “thing”. I recommend that you become very generous with your empathy exercising it at all times before you are going to act.