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You saw it, we all saw it. It just doesn’t get much uglier than the sight of a bleeding man being dragged down a far too narrow passageway between seats on an airplane. Or the image of uniformed people, security or police is unclear from the different reports, struggling to get the man out of “his” (dare I say his seat since whether he possesses the seat or not is up to United)…so, let’s just say “the seat!” And then the audio of people, likely the person doing the cell phone video, crying out in defense of the man and against the actions of the uniformed guys. Or perhaps it is the stock value of United dropping like a bad word yelled out during a church service. Or…the late night T.V. talk show folks adding jokes to the pain of United and the passenger.

Yes, this was an ugly event. Who was wrong and who was right? It may actually be that everyone was…wrong and right! The million word fine print on an airline ticket may give the airline the right to do…well, just about anything with the seats on a plane. They never give up ownership of those seats by the most current reading of that fine print. What you purchase can be taken away from you for so very many reasons, most I suppose being reasonable, but some not so much.

So, what is the take away from this ugly but entertaining event? Well, lawyers and public opinion will drive most of what comes next. Word is, the guy is in a hospital at the time of this writing. From being dragged out of the plane, or perhaps from some type of injury that produced the blood on his face. Without question some lawyer is advising him to lay still and take in the hospital environment and care. Perhaps good advice. He will get paid, and those lawyers will get paid. United is already losing on the PR front, on the Stock Market front and perhaps at the ticket counter with reduced purchases. That will change over time, but for now the “cha-ching” they might need to hear will be barely audible to even the most sensitive of ears. Then will come some type of financial settlement, or will there? There were established rules of service on that long list of regulations that came with the ticket. Did the customer, the bleeding guy, follow those regulations or guidelines? Again, perhaps not.

Was the guy “reasonable” in his refusal to give up his seat. Supposedly he had previously agreed to give up his and each of the family’s seats for $800.00 each. If true that calls into question his judgement. There is further media reported stories that suggest he has a history of conflict and judgement issues.

With the legal part now in play it may be that United will face a situation where, even though they had regulations and guidelines in place, they handled it in such an ugly way, or it simply played out in such an ugly way that there is now no winning for United. They may well eat more than the agreed upon compensation for forcing a person to give up the purchased seat.

The take away for you and I is to read that long fine print document and understand that you have very little in the way of “rights” when you purchase an airline ticket. The company holds all the cards. The guidelines outline how they will, or may, accommodate you when they decide to take away that seat. They, the airline, will simply give what they determine is in their view right for you. Or from another perspective, you will lose what you thought you had.

The take away for United…depends on the memory of their customer base. Over time most of this will be forgotten and assigned a humorous story-line memory.

One lasting point I would suggest is this, take the “police” involvement out of the picture. There may not have been a crime that lead to the incident involving persons who may have been police. This was a business dispute between the business, United, and a customer, the (literally) bloody man. He had not committed a crime up to the point when things got physical. If he had committed a crime that lead to the physical stuff is unclear from the perspective of the general public’s view. But, business disputes should be handled between the respective parties until a crime, threat or something that goes beyond the managerial control of the business involved.

If they had asked him to leave the plane and he refused, and they in turn decided they would not leave the gate, the opinion and observations of the passengers, who may be witnesses, would likely have changed from what we see at present. The person that causes everyone else to suffer usually doesn’t get much support from that group.

One thing is perfectly clear, up until they screw up, the airlines have all the power. We are at their mercy.

But I certainly wouldn’t want to piss off the people who are safely and comfortably transporting me from place to place at 30k feet in the sky and hundreds of miles per hour!