Monday, April 10, 2017

Being a Regulated Common Carrier Means You Never Have to Be Truly Sorry: How United Airlines Can Forcefully Evict Paying Passengers to Make Way for Non-Rev Crew

            United Airlines brought in some muscle to execute an “involuntary denied boarding” decision, well within its contractual and regulated tariff rights.  See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-10/united-s-forcible-removal-from-overbooked-flight-triggers-outrage.

            Okay, they may have allowed the use of more force than wise, but that’s a matter of police, or rent-a-cop brutality, hardly a matter under United Airlines’ control.  Perhaps this knowledge explains the rather tone dead, unremorseful response from the CEO of United.  See https://twitter.com/united/status/851471781827420160/photo/1 He characterizes the episode as “upsetting to all of us here at United,” and he’s sorry for having to “reaccomodate” customers. 

            Reaccommodate reminds me of the word re-delivery used by local newspaper when they failed to deliver a paper in the first place.

            Nothing in the CEO Munoz statement comes within a time zone of heartfelt remorse, because United can pretty much do anything it considers necessary—even the involuntary deplaning of 4 revenue producing passengers to make way for 4 non-revenue producing crew needed to fly a future flight.

            The lesson here—and the link to telecommunications/Internet regulation—lies in the legal protections accruing to service providers vis a vis their customers.  United files a public contract, called a tariff, for air service.  This non-negotiable document offers very little consumer protection, because the carrier wrote it with carrier protection in mind and with limited, “job killing” regulatory oversight.

            Airline carriers have no duty to provide service even if they take your money, issue you a boarding pass with seat assignment and make no initial effort to block your ingress to your assigned seat.  Sure, they have to pay you for your inconvenience, but the amount cannot exceed $1350 for domestic travel. 

            $1350 is a small price for never having to say you’re really sorry.

            I have no doubt that staff and management of United consider this episode business as usual.  They will continue to overbook passengers and deny carriage to selected, unlucky passengers.

            Airline executives seem oblivious to public relations and compassion. If someone gets roughed up for tardy deplaning, it’s “outside the airline’s control.”