Travelers, Tulane professor weigh in on United 'bumping' controversy

Air travelers, Tulane professor weigh in on United Airlines "bumping" controversy
Updated: Apr. 11, 2017 at 6:55 PM CDT
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KENNER, LA (WVUE) - Amateur video capturing a United Airlines passenger being snatched from his seat and subsequently dragged from an aircraft had passengers at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport talking.

"It was really weird, I can't believe that they would do something like that. It definitely made me a little nervous to fly today," said Kira Gowan.

"They nickle and dime you all the way to the gate, and you get on the plane and there's no guarantee you're going to get to your destination, so it's just a crazy thing," said Stu Murray.

United's CEO issued a series of tweets. In one he referred to the incident as "truly horrific."

"If I'm a United employee or the CEO of United, I'd be concerned about the PR value here, I mean dragging a customer off the plane was shocking to see," said Murray.

Airlines are allowed to oversell flights, and it is a common industry practice, according to veteran airline customer service representatives and flight attendants interviewed for this story.

"And the reason why is many times there are no-shows, so to accommodate that they want to be sure that they don't have a plan that's half-empty, so over-booking sort of compensates for that particular issue," said Natalie Mitchell, a visiting marketing professor in Tulane University's Freeman School of Business.

Thousands of passengers get "bumped" from flights every year. It can happen if everyone who made reservations shows up for a particular flight or when an airline needs to make room for airline pilots or flight attendants who need to get to another city in a hurry to staff another flight, according airline industry veterans.

Still, some passengers at Armstrong Airport had no idea such a policy existed.

"If you do have something like that, people should know about it coming in," Gowan said.

"Generally that takes place prior, way prior to the actual boarding process, and you can see the listing of the names of those who are on standby in this process and many times there are volunteers who would gladly accept that perk," said Mitchell.

And she agrees the incident involving the physician forcibly removed from the airplane is not an ideal public relations situation for United Airlines.

"Brands have to be very conscious and vigilant on how they're managing issues with their company because of this bad advocacy that can occur and impact their bottom line," she said.

Mitchell said mobile devices and social media eliminate delays in sharing videos and other information.

"This is especially true when you have content that's extremely provocative. In this case, there was very much a brute force applied to this particular passenger," she said.

And passengers who purchased the cheapest tickets are more at-risk of being bumped by an airline because the required compensation by an airline to the passenger will be lower.

Vouchers are typically how passengers who get bumped from flights are compensated.

The amount of company depends on how long a passenger has to wait for another flight, according to the Associated Press.

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