United Airlines.…

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.

  1. There was a Unit­ed air­lines flight going from City A to city B.
  2. The flight was com­plete­ly full.
  3. Unit­ed need­ed to get four of its employ­ees to city b.
  4. As they had no room on the aero­plane, they asked for vol­un­teers to stay at City A overnight.
  5. No one vol­un­teer. So they offered mon­ey incen­tive, no one vol­un­teered. They dou­bled the mon­ey incen­tive… no one volunteered.
  6. 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.
  7. Clear­ly upset, three oth­er pas­sen­gers accept­ed their accept­ed their fate to be eject­ed from the flight, one how­ev­er did not.
  8. Faced non-com­pli­ance, the Unit­ed employ­ees con­script­ed air­port secu­ri­ty and police to reject the dis­grun­tled pay­ing passenger.
  9. 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.
  10. Every­one on the flight was in shock, some filmed the inci­dent and shared it online.
  11. There was outrage
  12. Unit­ed’s CEO issued state­ments which were called and noncommittal.
  13. 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.