United has had a horrible month or so, between the vastly overblown #Leggingsgate and the incident in which Dr. David Dao was assaulted and dragged of a United Express aircraft a couple of weeks ago. United’s initial response to both incidents only fanned the flames, and I think it’s fair to say UA is the most hated airline in the US at the moment (yes, more so than Spirit). While the Leggingsgate incident certainly made a lot of people angry (despite being a huge nothing-burger), the dragging incident is really what has made United into the Evil Empire of major US carriers in the eyes of many. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz apologized profusely for the incident, both in a statement and in an interview with Good Morning America, but this likely didn’t do much to improve United’s image.
One of the things United promised in their later statements on the dragging incident was a full review of the incident and meaningful policy changes to prevent something like this from happening again. Oscar Munoz promised the findings by April 30, but United ended up publishing them today. The findings of the review and the policy changes are included in the 11-page review (which can be found here; link courtesy of View From the Wing), and United further put out a press release focusing on the changes they’ll be making to prevent this type of incident in the future. Here is the press release, in full:
United Airlines (UAL) today announced 10 substantial changes to how it flies, serves and respects its customers. The changes are the result of United’s thorough examination of its policies and procedures, and commitment to take action, in the wake of the forced removal of a customer aboard United Express Flight 3411 on April 9.
United commits to:
- Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
- Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
- Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.
- Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.
- Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
- Provide employees with additional annual training.
- Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
- Reduce the amount of overbooking.
- Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
- Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a “no questions asked” policy on lost luggage.
While several of these policies are effective immediately, others will be rolled out through the remainder of the year. The facts of what happened aboard Flight 3411 and a full review of United’s changes can be found at hub.united.com.
Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines, said, “Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect. Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize. However, actions speak louder than words. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”
“Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right. This is a turning point for all of us at United and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline. Our customers should be at the center of everything we do and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust,” he added.
I think these are excellent measures, and will go a long way to prevent something like this happening in the future. The use of policemen to remove Dr. Dao was a gross overreaction, and calling police only when the security or safety of the passengers and crew is a risk should prevent such horribly unnecessary police brutality from occurring again. The rule that all crews must be booked onto flights at least 60 minutes should give gate agents ample time to solicit volunteers, making it nearly impossible that someone will have to be forced off a plane after taking their seat. The new rule that passengers can only be removed if they are posing a security risk should prevent such illegal passenger removals as that of Dr. Dao.
Moreover, the new rule allowing gate agents to offer up to 10,000 dollars in compensation (that’s an insane amount, I know) makes it highly unlikely that someone will have to involuntarily taken off the aircraft. I am certain that if enough money had been offered to the passengers of UA3411 someone would have voluntarily deplaned, but gate agents were only allowed to offer a far lower amount. Thusly, there were takers, and someone ended up being forced off the plane without compensation (though I’m sure Doctor Dao has been handsomely compensated, as he and United settled out of court for an undisclosed amount earlier today).
I think that these are exactly the kind of measures the situation demanded. I’m confident that a similar situation is now impossible, and am very much impressed by United’s commitment to offer more compensation, to not remove passengers unless they are considered a security risk, and to only book United crew members more than an hour before departure, and their renunciation of use of force by police against nonthreatening passengers. The question now is whether or not United’s image will ever recover.