United Airlines In Bad Shape

By now you must have heard of the incident that happened Sunday 9th of April at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It’s all over the news.

So what happened exactly?

From what we know, it was the last flight on a Sunday evening 5pm from Chicago to Louisville Ky, on a small plane operated by United Express on behalf of the United Airlines. A passenger, Dr. David Dao, 69 years old, internal medicine specialist from Kentucky, was violently removed him from the seat, then dragged out of the plane by three policemen.

1- It was not the case of an over-booked flight. First correction to what has been largely reported, the flight was not over-booked. All passengers had their tickets and had boarded on the plane. At this point, and once everyone was seated, somehow the company discovered they needed four seats for their own crew to board. According to the company, they used a set of criteria to determine which passengers should be denied access to boarding. Again, remember in this case everyone had been issued boarding passes and seated. So the right to deny boarding was waved by issuing barding passes and allowing passengers inside the plane. In the case of over-booked flight, Rule 25- Boarding Priorities of the airline contract stipulates :

” If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority:

Passengers who are Qualified Individuals with Disabilities, unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 years, or minors between the ages of 5 to 15 years who use the unaccompanied minor service, will be the last to be involuntarily denied boarding if it is determined by UA that such denial would constitute a hardship.

United Airlines’ Own Contract Denied it any Right to Remove Passenger.

“United said in a statement that it needed room on the aircraft to transfer crew for another flight and that it offered $1,000 to customers to give up their seats. When no one volunteered, it selected several passengers to deplane.” M. Dao was chosen, but United said he refused to get off the plane. The tree other passengers accepted to onboard. M. Dao resisted explaining he had an early morning appointment the next day.

A case of obvious management failure. They should have known they needed the seats before allowing passengers to board. Had they not boarded, they could have better managed the situation at the airport instead of rushing shortly before the take off.

The road distance from Chicago to Louisville is about 5 hours drive. Leaving at 5pm, the crew could still arrive at 10 pm ready for departure the next morning. Next time, they might consider that option.

They preferred to call airport cops to evacuate the 69 years old manu militari, three police officers dragging him on the floor, causing injuries to the passenger.

2- Use of disproportionate force to evacuate the passenger. This article in BoingBoing brings more details : Oversold, understated and authoritarian: debullshitifying the reporting on United’s “removal” of Dr David Dao

“Dao wasn’t beaten up by Chicago Police, but by airport cops, who are not part of CPD; what’s more, the airport cops’ rolls include Richard Zuley, a dirty Chicago homicide detective who quit after a series of wrongful convictions, then worked as an “interrogator” at Guantanamo Bay, before boarding a plane in Chicago and beating a passenger unconscious.”

Again, and they share my view, that once seated, the place is secured and the passenger should not be involuntarily evacuated. The plane was not over-booked, UAL was giving priority to its own crew.

Rule 21- “Refusal of Transport” lays out the conditions under which a passenger can be removed and refused transport on the aircraft. This includes situations where passengers act in a “disorderly, offensive, abusive, or violent” manner, refuse to comply with the smoking policy, are barefoot or “not properly clothed,” as well as many other situations.

It does not appear from the passengers recordings or witnesses that Dr Dao had any offensive behaviour. His resistance only started once they persisted to drag him out.

3- What was the result of the operation?

The Chicago’s aviation police officers dragged him out of his seat and up the aisle, causing bleeding to his face. Cellphone videos of the incident quickly went viral.

Dao suffered a broken nose and concussion, his lawyer said Thursday. He was in a Chicago hospital undergoing treatment for his injuries. He has retained a high-powered Chicago personal injury lawyer, Thomas Demetrio.

The man who was dragged off the United flight just took the first step toward filing a lawsuit

United faces more questions as dragged passenger hires high-powered attorney

According to the Chicago Tribune : “Demetrio’s practice centres on medical negligence, product liability, airplane crash and commercial litigation on behalf of plaintiffs and he has negotiated more than $1 billion in settlements, according to the firm’s website.”

Attorney for United Airlines passenger Dao says there will ‘probably’ be a lawsuit

However, the biggest damage caused is the reputation of the company. The incident was a public relations nightmare for United.

In the age of the internet, social media and smartphone recordings, the word get spread at the speed of the light. Video recordings of the incident have gone viral online. Calls to boycott and all kind of sarcasm have followed. The company made a first public statement.

United Airlines confirms that beatings will continue until volunteering improves

United Airlines Training Video.

I Know You’re Mad at United but… (Thoughts from a Pilot Wife About Flight 3411)

At the close of trading Monday, the airline was valued at about $22.49 billion. At around noon on Tuesday, its value had sunk to $21.92 billion, a loss of more than $500 million. By close of trading its value had recovered a bit, to $22.25 billion.

United Airlines Stock Drops $1.4 Billion After Passenger-Removal Controversy

United Airlines loses $950 million in market value as shares tumble.

How a Disconnected Corporate Culture Cost United Airlines $800 Million Overnight

Initially, Instead of apologising and promising to change its protocol, United grew defensive and entrenched itself behind legalistic corporate-speak. The company claimed that its employees had “followed established procedures” to remove the man from the plane—to “re-accommodate” him, in their clunky euphemism—using its legal right to deny people boarding when it overbooks a plane. Consequently, United was strongly criticised for its public handling of the crisis.

Initially, the company’s CEO placed the blame on Dao for the incident.

On Tuesday, CEO Oscar Munoz called the event “truly horrific” publishing a second apology:

“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way,” …

“I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right,” he said. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

The Association of Flight Attendants agreed. An involuntary bump “should never result in a passenger being physically injured,” spokeswoman Taylor Garland said.

The aviation security officer who pulled the man from his seat was placed on leave Monday, “pending a thorough review of the situation,” the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterised the incident as “troubling” and said he was sure President Donald Trump had seen the video.

Meanwhile, legislators posed their own questions.

“Consumer trust and confidence are critical to ensure this industry continues to thrive, and we hope United Airlines will work diligently to immediately address this incident and make necessary improvements to ensure it does not occur again,” a group of 21 senators wrote in a letter to Munoz.

Separately, four senators sent several questions about the “very disturbing” incident in letters to Munoz and Ginger Evans, Chicago’s aviation commissioner.

The senators said it was “hard to believe that some combination of better planning, training, communication, or additional incentives” would not have mitigated the incident or prevented it.

Daily Mail reports : Angry United Airlines pilots’ union issue statement denying ALL responsibility for forcible removal of doctor last week and say Chicago cops are to blame

Americans trust big companies less and less. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, only 31 percent of Americans said that they had little or no trust in business, according to Gallup.

4- On the Algorithm that selects the un-voluntary passengers to be evacuated. What determined that M. Dao had to evacuate its seats was an algorithm :

“The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”

Was this a fair deal? had the passengers not boarded already? A machine, automated, artificial intelligence based selection is less ‘arbitrary’ the result is dame to be ‘fair’. However, a human decision could have listened to M. Dao’s arguments on why he would not agree to give up his seat. Maybe the fact of being of a minority Chinese origin was not innocent to the heat of the conflict. Should the final decision be taken by a human? Some of the questions that will come out more and more often, including with the automated decision making of autonomous cars.

Artificial intelligence: How to avoid racist algorithms

I strongly recommend the read of Wendy Grossman’s article on algorithm AI decision making and the United Airlines incident. The automated decision to select the passengers to deplane could have been better explained and eventually accommodate the specific situations.

Mark Rasch, Attorney and Cybersecurity Expert, The United Airlines Doctor Debacle, The Law and Crisis Communication

Further reading :

WHY UNITED WAS LEGALLY WRONG TO DEPLANE DAVID DAO

United Airlines Passenger May Need Surgery, Lawyer Says

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Image borrowed from Zizzle.