The recent public relations catastrophe which has embroiled United Airlines over a video of removal of a passenger by force is not about an isolated incident, but apparently, evidence of a culture of aggressive behavior by airline employees.
In a separate incident just days before, a first class passenger on an overbooked flight was removed from the plane under threat of being handcuffed.
Geoff Fearns, who is president of TriPacific Capital Advisors — a Southern California investment firm that handles more than a half billion dollars in real estate holdings — was asked to give up his first class seat by an airline employee because the flight had been overbooked, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. This despite the fact that he had purchased a full priced first class ticket for his trip from Hawaii to California because he had to return home early from the business trip.
After he was seated in the plane, “That’s when they told me they needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute,” Fearns says. “They said they have a priority list this other person was higher on the list than me.”
“I understand you might bump people because a flight is full,” he said. “But they didn’t say anything at the gate. I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”
The airline ‘re-accommodated’ Fearns by moving him to a middle seat in the economy section in between a couple which was in the heat of an argument. He was not offered any form of compensation.
By the way, the representation by the employee was not true. As it turns out, the plane that was actually supposed to make the trip had encountered mechanical troubles. United then decided to swap the plane for a smaller one, which had fewer first class seats. Therefore, it had more first class passengers than first class seats.
So, someone at the counter, confronted with a later arriving first class passenger, decided that the later passenger had to be accommodated because of their status with the airline.
After consulting his lawyer, Fearns wrote a letter to Oscar Munoz, the same United CEO who at first commended the actions of his employees the passenger-dragging incident captured on video, praising them “for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.” In his letter, Fearns asked for a full refund of his ticket, and for United to make a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice.
United responded with an email from a “corporate customer care specialist” apologizing for Fearns’s unpleasant experience, but denying his request for a refund — and yes, the donation too. Instead, he was offered a refund for the difference between his first class ticket and an economy ticket — and even that offer took about a week.