Columns, Opinion

BERMAN: United Airlines isn’t fully to blame

Well, it has definitely been a fun week to be an airline customer. Last weekend, Delta Air Lines became the center of ire for so many Americans thanks to inclement weather. You could even say there is bipartisan support for hating Delta. But United Airlines helped alleviate that public relations disaster by becoming the new focus of a social media firestorm (as well as late-night shows and even cable news). If you were under a rock for the past week, I’ll explain more thoroughly.

Jon Ostrower of CNN Money said it best: “Delta Air Lines struggled mightily last week with two basic functions of its business — flying airplanes and accommodating passengers. Severe weather that pounded Atlanta in the middle of spring break caused a five-day meltdown across Delta’s flight network, leaving passengers fuming and its own crews waiting for instructions.”

Delta ended up canceling more than 3,500 flights between last Wednesday through Sunday. I went home to New York last weekend. Good thing I chose Amtrak instead. A longer ride is much better than sleeping on an airport floor.

Now on to United Airlines. A flight from Chicago to Louisville needed to make room for some of their employees, so the airline decided to kick off some passengers. The airline asked for volunteers — even offering about $800 — but then used a computer program to randomly select some of the passengers to leave. One man, who claimed to be a doctor, refused to leave. This resulted in officials dragging the man off the plane. The video, which a quick Google search will reveal, has caused pretty much everyone to erupt in anger at United Airlines (except for the grateful PR people at Delta). The worst part is that the airline was making room for its employees. The CEO of United Airlines, who at first tacitly apologized for the incident, apologized to the man on Tuesday after his stock fell by $1.4 billion.

Late-night comedians have made United Airlines a laughing stock for the way they handled the situation. My favorite was Jimmy Kimmel’s mock commercial:

“We’re United Airlines. You do what we say when we say, and there won’t be a problem. Capiche? If we say you fly, you fly. If not, tough s–t. Give us a problem and we’ll drag you’re a– off the plane; and if you resist, we’ll beat you so badly you’ll be using your own face as a flotation device. United Airlines — f–k you.”

While I find Kimmel’s mock commercial hysterical, I disagree with him and what seems like all of social media over the incident. A couple grudgingly left the airplane without incident. This man could’ve easily just left the airplane. Unless information surfaces that he was a doctor who was urgently needed, it makes no sense why he acted so irrationally. He was mistreated, the video clearly shows that. But that was partially his own fault.

Airline companies, in the past few years at the least, have begun a “race to the bottom.” The goal is to be able to offer the cheapest tickets for the cheapest cost to the company. This has resulted in Delta and United Airlines (among others) to offer “basic economy” or “economy minus” tickets where you are nickel and dimed for pretty much everything. This is all so airline companies can be profitable.

To blame an airline company for overbooking is like blaming a fish for swimming. The airline offered a $800 voucher for a future ticket just for taking the next airplane. Why didn’t anyone else offer to leave? I’m not saying United Airlines is not at fault, far from it. But the passengers on that plane acted like little children. If you’re going to fly, you should know the consequences. If the doctor’s journey was so important, he should’ve flown business class.

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