A Perfect Aviation Storm


Most people who own a mobile device or regularly watch TV news have heard this week about several aviation police officers physically removing a paying customer off a United flight from Chicago to Louisville. The flight was booked at capacity, however, four UAL staff members needed to be transported to another location for service reasons. Of course, I was shocked at the video – most viewers realize this is not the most effective way to free-up space.

The goal of this article is to critically review the entire situation that occurred on this United flight. After reading several online articles (including comments by readers) and watching the video on corporate media, I wanted to provide a fair and insightful article on this incident. I’m not pro UAL or pro Dr. Dao but my goal is to provide an objective analysis of the incident and question certain aspects of what I’ve read and heard. Here goes…

airlinereportercomWhat if the Chicago Aviation Security Officers had refused to physically remove this passenger? Indeed, officers have the obligation to deal with unruly or disruptive passengers but from what I read, Dr Dao was not being unruly, he just refused leave his seat. Once the officers were brought in, and once they surveyed the situation and realized things were not as described and would not warrant physical intervention and said, “Look United, you overbooked the flight and now you want us to physically remove someone who has paid their fare to travel to Louisville to Chicago. It ain’t happening”. If so, I’m assuming there would not have been outrage directed at United this week. Perhaps the only outrage may have been why the police didn’t do their job. Just think, if this had happened, many may have been outraged at how aviation police officers were not doing their job at O’Hare. In today’s world, many are addicted to being outraged.

What if United had decided to take the calm and capitalistic approach and let the market determine how they could have freed up four tickets? Initially customers were offered one free night in a hotel and $400 in free airfare but United had to up the airfare to $800 but they still needed one seat. (One side note, United made $2.3 billion in profits in ’16). Perhaps in retrospect, UAL should have continued to increase the airfare amount until the necessary seats are available. In other words, everyone has their own price point for consumer related transactions. As a result of this incident, United and other airlines will have an effective contingency plan to help avoid a similar situation from occurring again.



What if one United passenger had put down their phone during this incident and volunteered to be bumped off the flight? Look, I get it, people want to film this outrageous incident from occurring on the airplane. Could someone had stepped in and said, “Look, don’t take the doctor as he has to be at work tomorrow so I’ll volunteer instead.” Could this incident had been avoided? Some wondered if his wife could have volunteered although she’s also a doctor so perhaps she too had to work the next day. A series of missteps by several parties that enabled this to explode in the news and social media for nearly one week.

Is it true that UAL has a random selection process? In several media articles, United was quoted as employing a random selection process in determining who might be bumped off the flight. If you’re a first class traveler, are you part of this selection process? A frequent flyer on United, would your name be added to the list of names that could be selected to be removed? If the flight holds 100 travelers, a cynic might like to know how many of those 100 are exempt from the random selection process? When I read ‘random’, I’m thinking it’s scientific and fair. However, once many are excluded for various reasons, that pool becomes significantly smaller.

If I were asked to leave the aircraft, I might initially refuse knowing that I paid for this seat and wondering why I’m the one being bumped off the flight. I certainly would not be happy about it. I’d be upset too knowing it would be a challenge getting to Louisville for the next day’s work. However, at some point, and before anything became physical, I would voluntarily remove myself. Especially if I knew, I’d be physically removed. Why would anyone allow himself or herself to be dragged from the airplane? Is this their 15 minutes of fame? Is there something more sinister going on? Is it too harsh to say Dr. Dao was setting the stage for a lawsuit knowing the optics will play poorly for United and they’ll have leverage and clout to possibly win the suit?



There’s a disconnect in my mind. After reading several articles about this incident, it doesn’t appear that everything adds up with Dr. Dao. I see the picture of the doctor practically sleeping on the plane and according to what I’ve read, the doctor and his wife had been off the plane earlier to discuss the option of getting bumped but they returned to the plane. However, in this typical scenario knowing that the airline needs seats and your seat is targeted, would you suddenly close your eyes to relax or sleep knowing about the impending commotion as the airlines continued to search for volunteers? In addition, according to several online articles, and after Dr. Dao was asked to give up his seat, was heard talking on the phone about a possible lawsuit if he was physically removed from the plane. A cynical person might say he was not afraid of creating a major scene by being physically removed from the airplane.



Is it ironic that Dr. Dao did not make it to work on Monday? I will repeat that what UAL did was inappropriate and certain hurt their brand temporarily if not permanently. However, Dr Dao’s refusal to leave the plane also helped escalate the situation. By refusing a number of times, he was physically removed and ended up spending the night in the hospital and didn’t work the following day. Did he have other options? Could he have tried another airline that same evening or rented a car and driven to Kentucky? If there’s a will, there’s a way…So I ask, why didn’t he seek out other alternatives?