Coverage: United Airlines forcibly removes passenger from overbooked flight
A United Airlines passenger was forcibly dragged from his seat to make room for airline crew members on a Sunday overbooked flight at O’Hare International Airport, and the video of the incident has been viewed more than 1 million times, giving the airline a public relations nightmare.
Ally Marotti and Lauren Zumbach of the Chicago Tribune had the news:
In videos of the incident aboard an United Express flight bound for Louisville, Ky., a man screams as security officers pull him from his seat. He then falls silent as they drag him by the hands, with his glasses askew and his shirt pulled up over his abdomen, down the aisle. Several passengers yell at the officers. “Oh my God, look at what you did to him,” one woman yells.
The aviation security officer who pulled the man from his seat was placed on leave Monday, “pending a thorough review of the situation,” the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement. “The incident on United Flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions are obviously not condoned by the department,” the statement read.
United confirmed passengers were made to give up their seats for crew members that needed to work on flights departing Louisville. “Had they not gotten to their destination on time, that would have inconvenienced many more customers,” said United spokesman Charlie Hobart.
The United Express flight was operated by Republic Airways, and the four crew members were Republic employees, he said.
It wasn’t clear why the airline waited until passengers were in their seats to bump them from the flight.
Lucinda Shen of Fortune notes the company’s stock price was unaffected:
But you wouldn’t have known that from looking at the stock market on Monday afternoon. Shares of United Continental Holdings closed up nearly 1% Monday, even as Twitter users threatened to boycott the company over its treatment of a customer. The rise wasn’t part of an overall market bump: The S&P 500 was basically flat for the day.
So why did investors deem United Airlines to be what turned out to be $355 million more valuable, despite the negative news?
It’s not entirely true that investors didn’t care about the incident. United stock dipped as much as 2.5% in pre-market trading Monday, likely in reaction to video and news of the incident, which broke late Sunday. But some investors swooped in to buy on that dip, sending shares up in trading after the market opened. After all, many are expecting better financial results from United , especially given overall strength in travel and the wider economy. (The company will release first quarter 2017 earnings April 18.) Shares of the company have risen some 33% over the past year.
United released its March traffic figures Monday afternoon, reporting a 3% year-over-year increase in traffic for the month. That allowed United to give a more upbeat first quarter guidance of relatively flat unit revenue. But it also had trouble filling up all its seats, with its consolidated load factor falling 0.3 points to 81.3% in March compared to a year earlier.
There’s evidence to suggest that PR snafus like this weekend’s don’t have a long-term impact on the airline’s stock. An incident nearly two weeks earlier in which United Airlines asked two teenage girls to leave a flight for wearing leggings sparked a media fire storm, but had no effect on the company’s share price.
Ben Mutzabaugh of USA Today wrote that the airline should not have tried to remove the passenger:
The situation arose in part because United needed to get crewmembers onboard the sold-out flight so that they could get to Louisville to work a “downline connection,” said United spokesman Jonathan Guerin.
But the video has made headlines across the country, giving United an unwanted public relations black eye, just two weeks after it was exposed to criticism for denying boarding to two girls traveling on a guest pass because they were wearing leggings. Making it worse was that the passenger in this case had already boarded the flight.
“Once you’re offloading passengers who’ve already boarded so that you can get employees on the flight, you’d think they’d do just about anything to avoid that,” said Seth Kaplan, editor of the Airline Weekly trade publication.
Others echoed the sentiment that United probably could’ve handled the situation better.
“I’ve seen a lot in my 40 years covering and working for the airline industry, but this is historically bad public relations,” says George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog. “The burning question is why did they wait until everyone was seated before realizing they needed to move employees?”