A man is forcibly removed after not giving up is pre-paid seat on a United Flight
We witnessed one of the most extreme examples of what can go wrong in a business that has truly lost sight of its purpose.
As a former United Global Services member (United’s top tier for frequent fliers) I was appalled at how badly United handled a relative routine situation that probably happens multiple times a day in various cities across the US. What on the first pass looked like the removal of a potential terrorist happened to be a paying passenger who was also practicing physician.
United sometimes oversells airline tickets in order to make sure they fill their flights and remain profitable. I am not against this practice, it makes business sense. However, when this impacts customers, (and it inevitably will) this becomes a true test of an organization’s customer-centric culture. Will it do what’s best for the customer (a customer-centric view) or will it protect a short term myopic view of its profits for that particular flight (a transactional view)?
In this case, United choose its policy and procedures over doing the right thing for its customers. Clearly, there was an upper limit on what was available to be offered to make this situation right for their customers. United claims they offered $1000 to passengers to take another flight so that crew members for another flight could board to go to another plane – there were no takers. Instead of upping the compensation to a point that passengers felt like it was a fair deal, they decided to pick passengers based on their frequent flier status and other connecting flights. Three left peacefully although clearly unhappy and one refused resulting in the social media and traditional media storm that came after a video showed the passenger being forcefully removed.
Company Centric CEO Reaction – Oscar Munoz
Those of us that work in the culture space know that the CEO and top team set the tone and shape organizational culture.
Oscar’s initial response was to apologize for having to “re-accommodate these customers”. While externally he made attempts to diffuse the anger at the situation internally he sent a memo to employees that defended the crew’s actions, calling the passenger ‘disruptive and belligerent’ and praising his staff for going ‘above and beyond‘.
I understand he wants to stand behind his employees, support them and not throw them under the bus for this incident but really he was trying to “protect” the company and the United Brand. This message also reinforces poorly thought out policies that do not get to the heart of what great companies do – they have a culture that puts the customer first.
Finally, two days later Mr Munoz has accepted responsibility for the disgraceful incident:
“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 Go to the full article.