April 11, 2017
Fly the (un)Friendly Skies? Four Policies to Avoid a United Airlines Debacle
United Airlines are the third biggest airline in the world by revenue and carry some 95m passengers to 60 countries – but right now most of the world is talking about the way they treated just one customer in their home airport of Chicago.
The footage that emerged on 9 April of David Dao, a Vietnamese-American doctor forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight, quickly went viral:
Two days after the incident United (tagline: “Fly the friendly skies“) had seen $1bn wiped from their share price and faced a PR nightmare, with news outlets around the world writing stories with titles like “United Airlines faces PR disaster after man dragged from plane” and “United’s PR disaster: ‘Hindenburg of customer service episodes’“:
Clearly no business wants to receive this kind of coverage (and there are a number of crisis management lessons United will surely learn from this episode), but how can businesses avoid these kind of incidents in the first place?
What happened on the United Airlines flight
The details of the incident are slowly starting to emerge.
United had overbooked the flight – a conventional policy in the aviation industry as it turns out – and asked for four volunteers to leave the flight in exchange for something like $800-1,000 in flight vouchers so they could seat staff members.
When too few passengers took up the offer they asked Chicago law enforcement authorities to select passengers – it’s not clear how they were selected, although it’s been suggested Mr Dao was selected due to his ethnicity – and remove them, with Dr. Dao among the group.
When he refused, reportedly yelling “I’m a doctor. I have patients I have to see in the morning. I have to get back tonight. I can’t be delayed,” the law enforcement took matters into their own hands.
Dr Dao was left bleeding from his mouth and spent the night in a Chicago hospital.
Four policies to avoid United Airlines-esque behaviour
It’s hard to believe any business would have processes that authorise treating anyone, let alone paying customers, this way and it may emerge that the employee in question was not following policy and guidelines.
But in any case, here’s a list of policy areas you should consider to ensure this kind of behaviour doesn’t happen in your business:
- A fully comprehensive equality and diversity policy to ensure your staff act equitably
- A fully compliant harassment procedure so your staff have guidance and recourse in confrontational situations
- A human rights policy so all staff are clear on the values and guiding principles behind trating colleagues, customers and others with dignity and respect
- A social media policy that includes sections pertaining to the use of social media by employees and others, including how to behave when recorded by onlookers on and off duty
And make sure you train your staff in these policies so they are understood and enforceable across your business.