Everything That Went Wrong With United Airline’s Flight 3411

Abstract

On Sunday, April 9, 2017 United Airlines informed passengers aboard Flight 3411 that they needed four customers’ seats in order to transport four of their employees. After United’s failed attempt at persuading customers to voluntarily exit the plane for $800, they informed their paying customers that four of them would be selected to leave. Among the four unlucky individuals to be selected was 69 year old Dr. David Dao. Despite Dao’s pleas to remain on the flight in order to see his patients the following day, three Chicago Aviation Officers aggressively dragged him off the plane. This case study examines United’s decision to forcibly remove Dr. Dao, the public’s response to the incident, and the litigation that made United’s poor decision-making that could have potentially jeopardized their long-term economic stability, completely legal.

Overview: The Boarding

During the April 9th United Express flight 3411 heading from Chicago to Louisville, an incident transpired. “Four United gates agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board a flight” (McCann, 2017). The agents first asked for volunteers and proceeded to start their involuntary denial of boarding process. Passengers “David Dao and his wife initially agreed to get off the plane, passenger Jayse Anspach said. But once they found out that the next flight wasn’t until Monday afternoon, he demurred and sat back, saying he was a physician who needed to get to work the next day” (Grinberg,2017). Dr. Dao was then forcibly removed from the aircraft by three security guards who hit his head on the back of the seat in front of him, causing him to become unconscious. Dao sustained a concussion, broken nose and lost two teeth.

(TMZ, 2017)

The CEO, Oscar Munoz, was quick to respond without much background information, blaming the passenger for declining to leave the aircraft and acting belligerent throughout the process. Also, Munoz praised the Chicago Aviation Security on assisting with the removal of the customer. The United Airlines response was met with criticism from the passengers and became a social media frenzy after the horrific video of the passenger being brutally thrown off of the flight. Many individuals stated that they would never fly with the airline again, boycotting them.

In a public apology, Munoz changed his tune saying that he saw the video and was ashamed of what had happened to the passenger. President Trump commented on the video saying that it was horrific and that they needed to have a meeting to ensure it would never happen again. Since then, Munoz has said, “First, we are committing that United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security.  Second, we’ve started a thorough review of policies that govern crew movement, incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement.  Third, we will fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first.  Our values – not just systems – will guide everything we do.  We’ll communicate the results of our review and the actions we will take by April 30” (,2017).Three agency officers were placed on leave and Munoz did not receive the promotion of chairman as a result of the incident that occurred.

Although customer safety was compromised, the company’s response started a change in the policy and values of the corporation.

Timeline

Sunday, April 9

Doctor David Dao (69) was brutally removed from United Airlines Flight 3411. Videos were uploaded of officers dragging a bleeding Dr. Dao by his arms. Passengers can be heard shouting at the officers to stop. The flight was overbooked and the airlines needed to make room for three of its employees. Four passengers were picked at random, three of which left the flight without any issues. Dr. Dao insisted on staying on the flight so he could make it to work at the hospital the next day.

Monday, April 10

  • United CEO responds to the event that took place on Flight 3411.
  • The internet went wild over Munoz’s use of the word “re-accommodate” in his Twitter response (Pignataro, 2017).
  • One of the aviation officers part of the incident is put on leave.
  • The CEO blames the passenger in a letter (Ohlheiser, 2017).

Tuesday, April 11

  • Mockery of United is trending on several social media sites.
  • The CEO responds again.
  • United shares drop around seven percent.

Wednesday, April 12

  • Rival airlines take advantage of United’s current situation with new advertisements mocking United.
  • Two more aviation officers are put on leave (Pignataro, 2017).
  • David Dao files a “bill of discovery”.

Friday, April 14

United Airlines updates its policy regarding displacing customers (Gonzales, 2017).

Thursday, April 27

According to Dr. Dao’s attorney, a settlement has been reached between Dr. Dao and United Airlines (Palma, 2017).

Background

The United Airlines was founded on April 6th, 1926.The company’s headquarters are in Chicago, Illinois and is the third largest airline. It is part of the star alliance which is the largest airline association in the world. The airline services domestic and international route network with their 721 aircrafts. It employees over 86,000 people around the world. In 2016, the estimated revenue was 36.556 billion dollars.

Customer Service Problems just in 2017

On March 25, 2017, United Airlines would not let three girls board the airplane because they were wearing leggings which violated dress code. The girls were children of employees that work for the company which were flying as “pass travelers”. Anyone who uses the passes have to abide by the UA dress code.

On April 9th, 2017, a passenger was brutally dragged off of an aircraft by security guards

On April 12, 2017, the planed engine overheated and the aircraft had to circle over the ocean to burn fuel before an emergency landing.

On April 25, 2017, the world’s largest bunny was accidently put into a freezer and died on the aircraft.

Mission Statement:

At United, we define diversity as the range of differences that make individuals unique, including ability, age, ethnicity, gender identification, race, sexual orientation and veteran’s status. Inclusion is how we leverage these differences to form a genuine community and expand business opportunities.

Our approach is treating diversity and inclusion like a core leadership competency, taking diversity well beyond compliance. The goal is for leaders to create a culture where acceptance and appreciation of everyone is the norm and each employee is comfortable bringing their full selves to work. Our mission is to create an inclusive work environment, characterized by dignity and respect, that empowers every employee to serve the global marketplace and contribute to our success.

Mission

At United, we define diversity as the range of differences that make individuals unique, including ability, age, ethnicity, gender identification, race, sexual orientation and veteran’s status. Inclusion is how we leverage these differences to form a genuine community and expand business opportunities.

Our approach is treating diversity and inclusion like a core leadership competency, taking diversity well beyond compliance. The goal is for leaders to create a culture where acceptance and appreciation of everyone is the norm and each employee is comfortable bringing their full selves to work. Our mission is to create an inclusive work environment, characterized by dignity and respect, that empowers every employee to serve the global marketplace and contribute to our success. (United, 2017)

Vision

Through our Diversity and Inclusion strategy, we find innovative and effective solutions to engage employees from diverse backgrounds and cultures in taking our flyer-friendly service around the globe. We are driving to become recognized as an airline where:

  • leaders embrace diversity and inclusion as a business advantage
  • employees feel highly valued, are actively engaged and are treated with dignity and respect
  • customers value our inclusive approach to delivering flyer-friendly service (United, 2017)

CEO Statement

“Our fundamental purpose as a company is to connect people and unite the world. That is why we strive to ensure the United family is as diverse as the communities we serve around the globe, representing every background and belief, origin and orientation, color and creed. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is more than just a core value; it creates excellence, sparking creativity and innovation, and fostering a welcoming environment where talented people thrive.”

Oscar Munoz,
Chief Executive Officer

Aftermath: The Landing

Dr. David Dao sued United airlines and has come to a settlement. This is what happened…

(Palma,2017)

The Airline said that they will be implementing the new improvements that they had mentioned before to ensure that this kind of incident would not happen again.

Company Communication Following the Issue

People were quick to condemn the acts of United Airlines pertaining to the dragging of the passenger. However, United’s social blunders did not stop there. Right after the incident, on the afternoon of that same day, United Continental Chief Executive Oscar Munoz issued a statement saying that the event was upsetting but offered no apology to the man dragged out of the flight and instead apologized for “re-accommodate” the customers, something that made people in social media even angrier (Thomas, “United CEO says airline had to ‘re-accommodate’ passenger, and the reaction was wild”). Statement declaring a boycott of United Airlines flourished. Even adding more to the fire, Munoz added another statement the the next day, April 11, that the passenger continued to disturb the flight and Munoz even expressed his disappointment on how the man refused to de-plane (The New Daily, “The real reason Dr Dao dragged from United flight”).

United Airlines was under constant fire and their stock started to go down. Media coverage by Courier Journal did not help to make things better for United as the newspaper company released an article exposing the past of the passenger. People on social media were quick to condemn the act as they say that what happened in the past have nothing to do with how you should treat the paying passenger (Palma, “Did the News Media Report the Criminal History of the Wrong David Dao?”).  There was even an issue as people were saying that the man identified in the papers is not the same as the one who was in the flight. This was resolved and it was found that the one charged with felonies was the same person on the flight although people were still convinced that that is not a justification for what happened in the plane (Palma, “Did the News Media Report the Criminal History of the Wrong David Dao?”).

In the afternoon of that same day when the article came out, Munoz issued a second apology which finally acknowledges their fault and caps the statement with: “I promise you we will do better”. Since then, United has done some initiatives in order to restore their reputation as well as the value of their stock in the market (Mutzabaugh, “United Airlines CEO issues second apology, ‘I promise you we will do better’”).

And finally, on Thursday, 27th of April 2017, it was announced that United Airlines has reached an amicable settlement with the dragged off passenger. The details were to remain confidential (Martin and Raab, “United Airlines reaches ‘amicable’ settlement with passenger dragged from a plane”). The results of these marketing initiatives are yet to be seen but one could say that they would be effective if implemented properly.

Industry/Government Relations

Many have called for the United States government to intervene in air carriers’ ability to overbook flights, however, this incident provides an even greater argument for allowing the market to remain free.  The free market is always the best way for consumers to determine what companies within an industry can and cannot do.

If we analyze the repercussions United has had to deal with over their reprehensible decision to forcibly remove Dr. Dao from Flight 3411, it is evident the free market has already made it overwhelmingly clear that air carriers cannot continue to mistreat passengers in this manner.  In the week following the incident, United stock dropped 4 percent – $770 million – of its value. On top of this, United CEO Oscar Munez stands to lose $500,000 in bonuses if he can’t restore customer relations (Tanner, 2017).  No air carrier wants to attempt to undertake this kind of backlash, the free market has dictated that this kind of ordeal cannot, and will not, happen again.

The incident with Dr. Dao also provided an opportunity for United’s competition to exploit their mistreatment. Delta began a promotion in the days after the scandal that will allow employees to offer passengers up to $10,000 in compensation to give up seats on overbooked flights (Associated Press, 2017).  The free market has dictated air carries be held accountable for not prioritizing customer relations, the consumers have made their demands clear, and now the producers are going out of their way to make it apparent that they will do everything within their power to meet the demands of the consumers. This whole ordeal perfectly exemplifies the power the people retain in a free market economy.

Despite the free market’s success in handling the mistreatment of Dr. Dao, many still believe government intervention is necessary to ensure customers are never forced to succumb to these kinds of circumstances in the future. Among those who believe government intervention is necessary is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has called on the Transportation Department to “immediately suspend the federal regulation” allowing airlines to overbook flights (Beavers, 2017). This push for governmental intervention combined with the true power that resides within the free market will force air carriers to greatly consider how their future decisions could significantly alter customer relations, and ultimately, profitability.

The Effect on Stakeholders

When the David Dao incident first occurred, United Airlines stock fell at a sharp rate of 4%. According to the business magazine website fortune.com, this 4% rate held a billion-dollar market value. The wealthiest man in the nation, Warren Buffet, owns about 9% shares himself in United. Shortly after this crisis Buffet’s market value fell more than $90 billion that following Tuesday after the crisis. Despite buffet’s shares falling, Buffet is known to capitalize and buy a lot of stocks once they are cheap. (Wieczner, 2017) The graph below shows the fluctuations United Airlines stock market.

From the graph provided by the stock market website, Nasdaq.com, we can see right after the crisis the stock started to tank between the weeks of April 10th to the beginning of April 24th.  After the 24th the stocks returned back to normal.

(Source: Nasdaq.com, 2017)

Corporate Communication

April 10

The first response by the CEO of United Airline.

This response was very controversial.

(Munoz, 2017)

April 11

(Munoz, 2017)

April 27

United makes an addition to its policy regarding boarded customers.

(United Airlines, 2017)

April 29

Marketing Initiatives

In Cesar Munoz’s last statement, he indicated that they will include a thorough review of their crew movement, policies on incentivizing volunteers in unfortunate situations, handling of oversold situations, and partnerships with airport authorities. He indicated that he will communicate the results of their efforts by the 30th of April 2017 (Mutzabaugh, “United Airlines CEO issues second apology, ‘I promise you we will do better’).

 

On Wednesday, 26th of April 2017, Munoz indicated that the airlines are making concrete and meaningful action to make things right, and presumably regain and improve the airline’s reputation. United has included ten ways on how they will improve customer satisfaction as a follow up on what he said about their thorough review. This came in earlier than what has been originally promised, which is something that one can say as a result of a conscious effort to make things better (Martin, “United says it’ll pay bumped passengers up to $10,000 and reveals nine other policy changes”).

In order to address the issue on incentives, United said that it is willing to give upto USD10000 for volunteers. This is a hefty sum compared to the USD800 offered in the incident. Other strategies would include:

  1. a) Limit the use of law enforcement on a plane, except for safety and security reasons.
  2. b) Stop forcing passengers already seated to give up their seats, except for safety or security reasons.
  3. c) Come up with creative solutions for finding alternative transportation for passengers who have been denied boarding, such as flying them from nearby airports, putting them on flights of rival airlines or using ground transportation.
  4. d) Ensure airline crews book a seat at least an hour before departure.
  5. e) Provide employees with additional annual training.
  6. f) Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans before they take their seat.
  7. g) Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  8. h) Empower employees to resolve customer service issues on the spot.
  9. i) Cut the red tape that passengers face when reporting lost luggage.

(Martin, “United says it’ll pay bumped passengers up to $10,000 and reveals nine other policy changes”).

Social Media Response

The unjust treatment against David Dao left social media followers in a huge uproar. Some media outlets tried to bring up David’s corrupt past on giving prescribed drugs in exchange for sex, but this did not sway the people from trying to confront United Airlines. Many people were confused on why David was the one who was one of the people selected to exit the plane after he paid his plane fare just as everyone well. Social media users feel as if they owe David Dao a formal apology and a form of compensation. Social media users in Asia accused United of being racist for selecting him for being Asian. This is a no brainer that United Airlines made a huge mistake, they need to review their power over passenger rules so that incidents such as this one does not repeat itself.

#Daviddao: Twitter Feed

United Airlines Public Response

United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz released this public statement apologizing to the public for forcibly removing Dr. David Dao off their aircraft. Munoz made a promise to make a full evaluation of its staff and their law enforcement partners in various cities. One thing that people have to keep in mind is that although this atrocity happened under United Airlines, it was not one of their employees that injured Dao, it was the security from the Chicago airport. The security guards that removed Dr. Dao were suspended and put under investigation for their unlawful act. (Cleary, 2012)

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize 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.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.

I promise you we will do better.

Sincerely,

Oscar

(businessinsider.com)

Litigation

Once aboard a plane, passengers retain few rights. Federal regulations do not prevent carriers from selling more seats than a plane can accommodate. Carriers hide this information from consumers by putting it in the fine print of the “contract of carriage” which customers must sign when they buy their tickets, but almost never actually take the time to read (Mutzabaugh, 2017). Within United’s “contract of carriage” United retained every right to remove Dr. Dao from their plane, as it is their private property. While the extent of the Aviation Officers’ brutality may hinge on the brink of legality, Dr. Dao’s forced removal from the aircraft does not. The Department of Transportation only spells out the required compensation customers are guaranteed for being “bumped” off a flight, but offer consumers no protection from being told they cannot board their flights.

References

‘Horrible situation’: United Airlines to stop using officers to remove passengers from full flights. (2017, April 13). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://fox8.com/2017/04/13/horrible-situation-united-airlines-releases-statement-after-passenger-is-removed-from-flight/

Diversity and inclusion. (n.d.). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/company/globalcitizenship/diversity.aspx

Staff, T. (2017, April 27). United Airlines Settles with Dr. David Dao For Savagely Dragging Him Off Flight. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://www.tmz.com/2017/04/27/united-airlines-settlement-dr-david-dao-money/

Bowerman, M., & Aulbach, L. (2017, April 10). United Airlines under fire after man is dragged off overbooked flight. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/nation-now/2017/04/10/united-under-fire-after-man-dragged-off-overbooked-flight/100287740/

United Reaches Settlement With Passenger David Dao. (2017, April 27). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://www.snopes.com/2017/04/27/united-settlement-david-dao/

Grinberg, E., & Yan, H. (2017, April 12). United reimburses passengers on chaotic flight. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/12/travel/united-passenger-pulled-off-flight/

Mccann, E. (2017, April 14). United’s Apologies: A Timeline. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/business/united-airlines-passenger-doctor.html?_r=0

Gonzales, R. (2017). United airlines changes its policy on displacing customers. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/14/524033117/united-airlines-changes-its-policy-on-displacing-customers

Ohlheiser, A. (2017, April 11). The full timeline of how social media turned united into the biggest story in the country. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/04/11/the-full-timeline-of-how-social-media-turned-united-into-the-biggest-story-in-the-country/?utm_term=.307fbf51500c

Palma, B. (2017). United reaches settlement with passenger david dao. Retrieved from http://www.snopes.com/2017/04/27/united-settlement-david-dao/

Pignataro, J. R. (2017, April 13). United airlines controversy timeline: full list of events after passenger dragged off plane. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.com/united-airlines-controversy-timeline-full-list-events-after-passenger-dragged-plane-2525027

Twitter. (2017). United. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/united?lang=en

Thomas, Lauren. “United CEO says airline had to ‘re-accommodate’ passenger, and the reaction was wild.” CNBC. CNBC, 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

“The real reason Dr. Dao dragged from United flight.” The New Daily. N.p., 12 Apr. 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Palma, Bethania. “Did the News Media Report the Criminal History of the Wrong David Dao?” Snopes.com. N.p., 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Mutzabaugh, Ben. “United Airlines CEO issues second apology, ‘I promise you we will do better'” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Martin, Hugo. “United Airlines’ policy changes include paying bumped passengers up to $10,000.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 26 Apr. 2017hugo. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Martin, Hugo, and Lauren Raab. “United Airlines settles with Dr. David Dao, who was dragged off a plane.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 27 Apr. 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Mutzabaugh, B. (2017, April 10). United Had a Right to Remove That Flier. But should it have? Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/todayinthesky/2017/04/10/what-rights-do-overbooked-fliers-have-not-many/100287338/

Tanner, M. (2017, April 19). United Airlines’ Lesson in People Power. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.nationalreview.com/article/446865/united-airlines-doctor-dao-scandal-teaches-free-market-lesson

Associated Press (2017, April 14). Delta Will Pay Flyers Up to $10,000 to Give Up Seats on Overbooked Flights. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2017/04/14/delta-will-pay-flyers-up-to-10000-to-give-up-seats-on-overbooked-flights.html

Beavers, O. (2017, April 11). Christie calls for feds to ‘immediately suspend’ rule allowing airlines to overbook flights. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/328361-christie-dot-should-immediately-suspend-regulation-allowing-airlines-to

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