When David Dao was dragged off of a United Express flight in April, everything that could possibly have gone wrong did.
- United decided to send crew on a full flight, necessitating bumping passengers. On net doing this would inconvenience fewer people.
- They didn’t make the decision or communicate it early enough to handle denied boardings at the gate. So they had to pull passengers off the plane.
- When there weren’t enough takers for voluntary compensation, they followed involuntary denied boarding procedures. Because they could.
- When David Dao felt this was all unfair and refused to leave, United turned their customer service issue into a law enforcement issue. They called the Chicago Aviation Police.
- The police responded with excessive force.
- United compounded the issue when CEO Oscar Munoz apologized ‘that customers has to be re-accommodated’ — indeed, they re-accommodated his face.
— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017
United’s operational choices created the condition for the problem. Their denied boarding procedures allowed it to escalate. But the biggest issues were outsourcing customer service to the police, and the physical response by the police.
I’ve argued since the beginning that the culture at airlines in the U.S. post-9/11 to call the cops on customers quickly is a fundamental problem. If you’re perceived to be ‘talking back’ to crew, or don’t immediately follow a crew member’s instruction (perhaps you feel it’s arbitrary and capricious, perhaps you simply didn’t understand it the first time) you may be asked, “are we going to have a problem?”
And I’ve argued that the Chicago Aviation Police didn’t get enough of the blame as all of the focus was on United. United’s settlement with Dao even covered up for the cops, the airline paid and included a waiver of any claim against the city or its Aviation Police.
Now the Chicago’s Office of Inspector General has finally concluded that officers responded with excessive force and lied about the incident.
An investigation by the city’s Office of Inspector General found that three aviation security officers and one aviation security sergeant “mishandled” the situation, according to the office’s third-quarter report, released Tuesday. The investigation also found that employees had made misleading statements and “deliberately removed material facts from their reports.”
Acting on the inspector general’s findings and recommendations, the aviation department fired the officer who “improperly escalated the incident” and the sergeant who was involved in removing facts from an employee report, the inspector general’s office said. The other officers were suspended.
United Concourse, Chicago O’Hare
Chicago Aviation Police are no longer the lead responders to incidents, and are no longer supposed to call themselves police. One of the suspended officers resigned. The fourth officer had his 5 day suspension shortened to 2 days.
Excessive force findings are rare. Conclusions that officers lied are rare. And it just underscores the importance of video, even though it remains against the rules of many airlines.
Since the David Dao incident we’ve seen airlines paying more denied boarding compensation (like this woman who got $4000 for a bump last month) and offloading entire planes rather than forcibly removing a single passenger (and then re-boarding everyone but that passenger).
Those are good strategies for avoiding a media firestorm like what followed David Dao’s dragging. But they don’t address the fundamental problems in the customer service culture at airlines or of unnecessarily physical confrontations when police are called.