WWF at 35,000 feet

Mi Vida Gringa

Last Palm Sunday was the beginning of the PR penance that United Airlines will have  to endure this Holy Week, due to the video of the violent altercation between a passenger and security officials at O’Hare  International Airport.

After what happened last weekend, I realized that, before I travel by plane in the near future, I will have to take a few self-defense classes and pack a pair of boxing gloves in my carry-on luggage.

To those who are not aware of the story, here is the reader’s digest version: United overbooked the plane on its route from Chicago to Louisville. When they realized the predicament, the flight attendants offered a $400 credit to four passengers who would volunteer to take the next flight out.

Unfortunately, nobody wanted to take the “bribery” because they had already been delayed a couple of hours. Next, the United representatives simply chose four people randomly.

Although airlines have the power to do so, one of the selected travelers decided to fight for his seat. If you haven’t seen the video, I can sum it up: initially three security officials talk to a passenger. Minutes later they grab him by the arms and pull him violently out of his seat. Then, he drops to the floor and one of the officials drags him on the walkway–like a wheeled suitcase–pulling his shirt up and exposing his torso, in front of the rest of bewildered travelers.

Having said all this, the worst thing about the United case was learned yesterday afternoon. The airlines was taking people off the plane to give those seats to four employees. So, they decided that it was o.k. to punch and drag a paying customer rather than bench their representatives.

The United CEO, Oscar Munoz, initially justified the actions of his employees, but he finally had to change his tune and apologize publicly after the company’s stock dropped over 6% (1.4 billion more or less) in pre-market trading on Tuesday,. Even though the stock reached a balance point Wednesday morning, their battle to recover the trust of the consumers will be a road filled with potholes.

The storm of criticism that this outrageous incident has generated worldwide, about overbooking practices and other abuses to consumers from airlines, has prompted not only an endless social media boycott campaign, but an investigation by the US Department of Transportation.

Since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the aviation industry has enjoyed a vast range of authority around the world, in order to maintain the skies safe from terrorism. However, this power has fostered repetitive abuses against the consumers to the point that air traveling–unless you fly first class–is at its lowest popularity level.

If anything, flying is a synonym for delays, unfair penalties, variable fares, extra taxes and charges, long security lines, uncomfortable seats, and in general, a horrible customer service experience.

This case is the most ironic I have read about recently. Before last Sunday, if you would have asked me if I was afraid to fly, I would have thought about the danger of a crash. Now, I am worried about getting beat to a pulp or handcuffed and put in jail for complaining.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Xiomara Spadafora

This column was sponsored by Zellner Insurance Agency. Many things in life don’t have insurance. For everything else call Zellner (888) 208-8119

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