Two IGI Global Editors-in-Chief weigh in on the latest incident involving United Airlines forcibly removing a passenger

Flight Fight

By Colby Conway on Apr 12, 2017
Flight Fight Nothing seemed extraordinary about United Airlines Express Flight 3411 to Kentucky on Sunday, April 9. However, that couldn’t be further from the actual story. During the boarding process, United Airlines announced the flight had been overbooked and videos surfaced of a passenger, a physician named David Dao, being forcibly removed from the plane by an aviation officer. In the videos, one could see the blood pouring from his mouth, his glasses resting below his nose and his shirt halfway up his torso. All of this could be seen in the video where Dao was dragged down the aisle of the plane.

Airline companies can oversell flights and many of them do. If you have ever been waiting for a plane to board and hear a crew member announce over the intercom that they will provide some voucher or compensation for anyone willing to give up a seat, that’s because the plane is overbooked. This particular United flight needed to free up some seats for some United employees who were heading to Louisville. Dao reportedly refused to leave the aircraft, prompting law enforcement to remove him.

Angelo Camillo, a professor of strategic management at Woodbury University and Editor-in-Chief of IGI Global’s International Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Management in the Digital Age (IJTHMDA), used his own definition of the service industry to address this situation.

“I describe the entire industry as ‘the places and spaces and their means where guests/customers can stay, use and enjoy, against a form of payment, all services and amenities and feel as little as possible separated from their traditional habits, enhanced by a positive experience during the encounter.’ Obviously, United Airlines proved that in this instance it failed greatly, making all related service industries rushing to look at their policies in order to avoid similar disastrous events.”

In an interview with Independent, Andrew Harakas, partner and aviation expert at Clyde & Co. law firm, said the following.

“He was denied boarding, he should have got off the plane, but he didn’t and the authorities were called. From a legal perspective, he was violating the law if he interfered with the crew members’ duties or the ability for the plane to be operated."

Given that this is a truly unusual situation, in the same interview, Harakas was quick to stress that “until the facts all come down we can’t assess it either way.”

Regardless of who was right or wrong, the social media landscape wasted no time jumping in on the situation. Videos were posted to Twitter and Facebook, while the official United Airlines Twitter account received plenty of notifications. Hashtags such as #StopFlyingOnUnited and #UnitedAirlinesAssault gained some serious traction yesterday.

Flight Fight “With this incident, United has generated a social media discussion topic across all interconnected nations with consequences that have yet to be developed and dealt with including, in my opinion, government regulatory intervention,” says Camillo.

The uproar on social media continued after United CEO, Oscar Munoz, described the man to be “disruptive and belligerent” in what many considered to be a rather defensive tone. A few days after the incident, Munoz said that “no one should ever be mistreated this way” and described the event as “truly horrific.”

Dr. Brent Smith, an associate professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University and Editor-in-Chief of IGI Global’s International Journal of Marketing and Sales Education (IJMSE), weighed in on the aftermath of the event.

“The incident itself was the first problematic event. Each instance in the stream of public explanations and internal justifications only added more problems. Perhaps, would be most helpful for the CEO to speak directly, not through a communications director. The CEO's message needs to be very simple and clear: (1) acknowledge the problems (i.e., airplane incident, attempts to explain); (2) apologize for failures that created those problems; (3) commit to making sure that these kinds of problems will not happen again; and (4) pledge to earn back consumers' trust and confidence in United, an airline that has and will faithfully serve ALL of its passengers around the world.”

Not only did the United Airlines’ reputation take a tailspin, but the company’s stock took a nosedive as well. As of the morning of April 12, United Airlines’ stock fell 1.1 percent and lost roughly $255 million, per MarketWatch. The site also stated that “United’s Stock had been down by as much as 6% in premarket trading, before paring its losses.

Aside from the financial losses, Smith also provides some other effects United could experience from this incident.

“United Airlines may experience a variety of setbacks, such as diminished consumer confidence, lost trust, dissatisfaction with the brand, and weaker Net Promoter Score. These issues may be linked not only to Chinese passengers but all passengers. Frequent fliers and people shopping for flights in the near future are going to see how United Airlines handles this. Will consumers recall a defensive explanation or a clear apology as the last thing United offered to the public?”

This incident comes just weeks after receiving backlash for not allowing two girls in leggings to board a United flight. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for United, but this most recent situation is far from over. More details will continue to emerge and the airline will likely take ample time to examine the situation.

“United has a lot of work ahead to heal this self-inflicted wound,” says Camillo.
A sincere thanks to Dr. Brent Smith and Dr. Angelo Camillo for taking time out of their day to comment on the matter.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.
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