United Airlines poorly handled its overbooking

 In this Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, file photo, travelers check in at the United Airlines. After a man is dragged off a United Express flight on Sunday, April 9, 2017, United Airlines becomes the butt of jokes online and on late-night TV. Travel and public-relations experts say United has fumbled the situation from the start. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

United Airlines is receiving international scrutiny after the airline forced four passengers off a flight to make room for employees of a regional affiliate, Republic Airlines, last Sunday. United Airlines began by offering $400 vouchers and a hotel room to people to give up their seats. Later, on the airplane, an employee raised the incentive to $800, and the airline reports that they raised it again to $1,000. However, no one volunteered and the airline resorted to choosing random passengers to get off. One passenger who was chosen refused. He told the employees that he was a doctor and had to see patients the next day. When he continued to refuse, United Airlines called security, who yanked him from his seat and dragged him down the aisle, bloody from hitting his head. United Airlines handled this situation poorly.

United Airlines forced 3,765 people off their flights and 62,895 voluntarily gave up their seats in 2016. The publicity of Sunday’s situation emphasized the frequency and unfairness of airlines not having enough room for those to whom they sold tickets. One common reason for this is overbooking, which is the sale of more tickets than there are seats in the plane. Airlines commonly do this because it is unlikely that all passengers will make it to their flights, and empty seats are considered lost revenue. However, it is not right that passengers could be told they are not able to take the flight they booked. It is especially unfair to already have the passengers on the plane and settled into their seats just to be kicked off. By this point, passengers are mentally prepared to reach their destination, and trust the airline to accomplish this. The airline is completely at fault for this situation. They should have resolved the four overbooked seats before the plane boarded, whether it meant finding different transportation for the employees or offering more money to the passengers. Forcing random passengers to not take their flights not only disregards the expectations a customer has when purchasing a ticket, but also falsely assumes that each customer has the luxury of flexibility in their life. Overbooking is an unjust and flawed practice, but if it must happen, airlines should always find volunteers to give up their seats, no matter the cost.

Not only does this event highlight the practice of overbooking, but it also points to the unnecessary use of violence. United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart defended the actions of the airline when he said, “We had asked several times, politely.”

That is not a defense. There is no need to resort to force or violence if no danger is apparent. The passenger refusing to leave was not threatening other passengers or acting violently towards security or employees, so they should not have touched him.

It was inevitable that this situation was going to negatively impact United Airlines both because of their inability to book the right number of seats for one flight, and because of the physical altercation that resulted. However, United Airlines also responded inappropriately in the aftermath of the situation. At first, the airline released a statement apologizing for the “overbook situation,” but failed to show remorse for the physical altercation. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz even sent a letter to his employees describing the passenger as “belligerent” and commended employees for how they handled the situation. While Munoz expressed regret that the situation occurred, he did not display sympathy for the passengers on the flight, and especially not for the man who was injured by security.

On Tuesday, after the previous responses inspired international outrage and falling stocks, Munoz publically apologized to the man who was forcefully expelled from the plane, and to the rest of the passengers. Yet, it is hard to believe he is sincere, considering the previous sentiments expressed. Munoz must address his previous statements and recognize his wrongs for his apology to have meaning.

This situation has inspired well-deserved public criticism of United Airlines. It is important for the business to feel the repercussions of the situation and their inappropriate response. Hopefully, this will inspire airlines to lessen or stop their practice of overbooking. It should also be a wakeup call that force should never be used without a threat of danger, and apologies must be more than words. The situation is still unfolding; perhaps United Airlines will realize these lessons.


Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.