The Customer Is Always Right



As someone who loves memes [1] and odd stories about flying [2], the recent catastrophic experience of a gentleman on a United Airlines flight has been a gold mine.  Besides serving as a source of private humor, I have even had the chance to talk about the incident with friends and with others on social media.  For many of us, the story is sufficiently humorous to joke about companies beating their customers, overbooking, or the need to train up as if one was in Fight Club or about to appear on a celebrity boxing match in order to fly.  I do not fly often on United Airlines because they are seldom the least expensive option for the places where I need to go, and most of the time cost and schedule are my main deciding factors when it comes to flights.  I certainly wouldn’t choose United Airlines for their friendly customer service, that’s for sure.  And after this particular incident, I suspect they will be a joke within the airline industry for quite a while.  At least I hope so.

I would rather not focus on the beating or the impending felony charges faced by the gentleman who showed a marked reluctance to exit the plane.  In conversing with some friends of mine at dinner recently, I found that it was not unusual that United would seek for volunteers while people were on the planes.  This struck me as completely wrongheaded–more anecdotal evidence would be appreciated to see if this is part of their usual operating practice.  As someone who flies occasionally and used to fly fairly often, I have seen many cases where airlines overbooked and found themselves with too many people in too few seats, but this was determined while I was sitting at the gate reading books as is my fashion, and would listen to the gate agents do the bargaining as to which person would take the few hundred dollars and travel vouchers and free first class upgrades in order to travel on a later flight.  On at least one occasion I purchased an inexpensive first class upgrade that likely helped ease the overcrowding in the coach sections of a packed flight.  I am no stranger to seeing overcrowded planes, and even write a play with that as its basis in high school.

Now, it is little surprise that this sort of problem could and should be handled in the gate.  Waiting for one’s plane while one is sitting at the gate is a good time for bargaining to happen.  It certainly is a better time to bargain than when one is already sitting in one’s seat on the airplane.  Generally, when one is on the plane, one’s mind has already started to see oneself at the destination, and one is correspondingly more resistant to having that vision of home or vacation delayed.  Understanding this is a matter of basic psychology, certainly not something that ought to be complicated or difficult for one of the largest airline carriers in the world.  By the time one is on the plane, the only sort of bargaining one wants to do is what drink one wants on one’s flight and whether or not to move a seat to answer the appeals of those who cannot handle the weight requirement of emergency seats or in order to reunite families.  I must say, speaking from experience, that I am generally pretty willing to volunteer to shift as a single fellow in order that families and groups may sit together.  I am not so willing to get off of a plane when my heart is setting on going to a destination as soon as possible, which is generally the case.

Nor ought this to be necessary.  It should never be necessary for an airline to remove paying customers minding their own business from a plane, or even to feel it necessary to attempt some sort of inducement for people to deplane so that someone else can take their seats.  After all, between half an hour and an hour before a plane departs no more boarding passes are printed out, and at that point an airline should know exactly how many and which seats are accounted for.  For that half an hour to an hour before departure, the airline should know if they have overbooked and can start making arrangements and sweetening the pot for those who might be tempted to delay their trip in the presence of sufficient lures.  This ought to be the case regardless of whether it is other paying customers or airline employees that are overbooked for those seats.  Since the boarding passes for flying include a list of the seats, an airline with any idea of what it is doing ought to know exactly how many seats are available for extra passengers on standby or extra crew who want to travel to a given place with considerable time to spare before anyone gets on the plane and gets in a departure state of mind.

Clearly, United Airlines does not know what it is doing.  Knowing how many seats are filled and how much one has received in profit for those seats is basic and fundamental to the business of flying airplanes.  An airline that cannot manage its overbooking before tired and irritated passengers are sitting in their seats does not deserve to be in business, as that suggests not only stupidity in not seeking the earliest opportunity to resolve conflicts and difficulties but sheer incompetence in dealing with the basic aspects of its business model.  What surprises me the most about this whole mess that United Airlines is in is not that it has made great memes or that its stock price is suffered or not even that a customer was roughed up by incompetent and brutal security guards, or even that a man could be beat up and then charged with a felony, but rather that an airline company would not realize how many seats in a plane were full before everyone was ready to go and it was a little too late for them to gracefully make a deal.  This should not be a difficult task for someone whose business is to move people in planes from one place to another for profit.  How can you fail in the most basic part of your job?

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to The Customer Is Always Right

  1. Pingback: Into The Sea | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Teh Itteh Bitteh Book Of Kittehs | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: It’s Muffin Time | Edge Induced Cohesion

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