Saturday, November 25, 2017

Airlines take shots at United after passenger removal controversy

  • News Desk
    Published: 2017-04-13 16:55:49 BdST

A United Airlines 787 Dreamliner is pictured in this undated handout photo. Reuters

While United Airlines struggles to cope with a developing PR crisis over the forceful removal of a passenger from one of their flights, its competitors have taken the opportunity to land a few blows.

Emirates Airlines, in a video celebrating its TripAdvisor Best Airline in the World 2017 award, struck out at the United incident.

The video displays a quote from United CEO Oscar Munoz which says, “Those [Gulf] airlines aren’t airlines,” before pointing to the several awards Emirates received.

It ends by reworking United’s slogan “Fly the friendly skies” to “Fly the friendly skies … this time for real”.

Royal Jordanian was more pointed in its reference to the violent removal, tweeting out “We are here to keep you #united Dragging is strictly prohibited,” with a picture of a ‘no smoking’ sign.

Turkish Airlines took a more muted stance on Twitter, linking to a story about a baby born aboard one of its flights, saying: “We just do our best with love for our guests’ safety and comfort at all times”.

For United itself, the situation has turned into a significant PR crisis.

Videos from the incident at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport showed a man screaming as officers yanked him from his seat and dragged him down the aisle on his back, his body limp, blood spilling from the mouth, glasses askew and his shirt pulled up above his navel and spread like wildfire on social media.

An initial statement from Munoz to his employees only helped to stoke the flames due to its use of ‘disruptive and belligerent’ to describe the passenger’s behaviour and ‘re-accommodate’ to describe his forceful removal.

The backlash, according to The Guardian, wiped out nearly $1 billion of the company’s value on Tuesday.

Munoz issued a second apology shortly afterwards, saying the incident was “truly horrific” and that “no one should be mistreated in this way”.

The airline has also offered to reimburse all passengers on the flight over the incident. At least three officers involved in the incident have been put on leave, according to Chicago’s Aviation Department.

The overall impact on United, however, may be limited.

Bloomberg columnist Mohamed A El-Erian says frequent travellers are less shocked by the incident, having had similar experiences.

“They know that airlines offer passengers incentives to give up their seats when flights end up oversold, that sometimes passengers are involuntarily bumped off a flight, and that the airline has a legal right to do so.

Some of us have even been on flights, seated and ready to leave the gate, when suddenly there is a need to make space and someone has to deplane.”

El-Erian, however, criticised the violent removal of the passenger and the airline’s initial response, noting its mistake may have been to view the matter from the perspective of such ‘frequent travellers’ instead of considering how it would play to the wider public.

Munoz has pointed out that long-term damage to United is likely to be limited due to airline mergers decreasing competition on certain travel routes.

However, United’s problems will not disappear completely. Dr David Dao, the passenger who was removed, has decided to take legal measures against the airline.

On Wednesday his lawyers filed an emergency request to require the carrier to preserve video records and other evidence of the incident.

US lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, have also expressed their concern, some calling for stricter overbooking regulations.

US President Donald Trump, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, called the incident “horrible”.