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United Airlines should give David Dao free travel for life, says U of T prof

United Airlines

United Airlines United Airlines, to say the very least, has a had a bad week. But one expert says the company really only has itself to blame.

Dragging passengers off overbooked flights, leaving them bloodied, bruised, and battered. Barring teenage girls from flying because their leggings weren’t “appropriate travel attire” according to United. To top it off, one passenger was actually stung by a scorpion (!). It’s no wonder a popular meme making the rounds recently was that of a United Airplane seating chart with one large section designated as the “Fight Club”.

So now after all this bad press, and its stock tanking four per cent over the week, is there any viable way United can come back from all this bad press? If so, how can they go about making sure it never happens again?

David Soberman, professor of marketing at U of T’s Rotman School of Management says giving the victim of the now-famous United Airlines incident, David Dao, free travel for life is a good place to start. But, unfortunately for United, much of the damage is already done.

“Of all the blunders I have seen by companies, this is one of the worst,” said Soberman in a recent interview with U of T News.

Soberman says United ignored what was a glaringly obvious -and nonviolent-solution.

“When this occurs, a simple auction for all passengers on the plane would have solved the problem,” he says. “This is what is done before passengers have boarded an overbooked plane, and United needs to outline the steps that would be taken to implement such an auction.”

And while many have pointed out that United may have actually had the right to do what it did in dragging the bloodied senior off the plane, Soberman says focusing on whether it had a legal green light to do so is missing the point entirely.

“Sometimes being right isn’t enough, he argues. “Here, being right (that is having a legal right to do something) can be the same as being 100 per cent wrong from the customer’s point of view. If a company puts its customers first, it should not be dragging them off a plane unless they have physically threatened or assaulted someone in the context of the service being provided. Obviously with terrorism or violent passengers, police may at times have to enter planes, but this is not one of those cases.”

Soberman says the problems at United start at the top, and if the company wishes to avoid the millions this blunder has without doubt cost it, the company should look to have better systems in place.

“United Airlines needs to examine whatever managerial systems they have in place that allowed this to happen and fix them because what was done makes no sense at all,” he says. “Apologies are important, but they need to be accompanied by changed behaviour. United needs to communicate the concrete actions with regards to its managerial structure that will prevent this from happening again.”

It all makes a broken guitar seem rather quaint, don’t you think?

Below: United Breaks Guitars

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