Fly the unfriendly skies of United

Fly the unfriendly skies of United

Fly the unfriendly skies of United

For close to a decade, United Airlines has been the poster child of what not to do in the airline industry. At least that’s the case when it comes to public relations nightmares. There have been stories, replete with video, of United employees destroying musical instruments. Passengers have been dragged off planes. Girls have been denied boarding because of their attire. Now comes probably one of the worst PR disasters the airline has faced to date. A puppy is dead because a flight attendant instructed its owner to place it in the overhead bin for the duration of a three hour flight. Way to go, United. If you are trying to alienate passengers and destroy your profits, you are doing a bang up job.

Last April, United made headlines when it called Chicago police in to forcibly remove a passenger, a doctor, who refused to disembark. The flight was overbooked. The airline offered incentives to get off and no one accepted. So it decided who to bump. The problem? The doctor, who had paid for his seat, didn’t want to be bumped. But Big Brother United wouldn’t be deterred and called in the cops to drag him off the jet.

Then there was the incident less than a month earlier when the airline barred two girls from boarding because they wore leggings. Oh, if they put on a dress or other clothing, there would have been no problem. Girls. Leggings. Wrap your mind around that. And the airline’s response? “United shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage. This is left to the discretion of the agents.” From comments made by others at the time of the incident, the girls weren’t dressed provocatively. The only possible explanation that flies for such action is that the girls were flying on employee passes and might have been in violation of employee regulations. Even so, it was another black eye in the PR department for the airline.

But all that pales in light of what happened on Monday night’s flight from Texas to New York. A family of three was flying with their 10-month old French bulldog puppy. They had paid the $125 cabin fee that allowed them to bring the pup onboard and it appears the carrier the pup was in would have fit under the seat as required by airline regulations. The problem? A flight attendant demanded the carrier — with the pup inside — be placed in the overhead bin.

In. The. Overhead. Bin.

With all the rest of the carryon luggage. Where there is no air circulation.

You can guess what happened. Upon arrival in New York, the family discovered their puppy had died. One passenger tweeted about the incident, noting not only that they had heard the puppy barking during the flight and not realizing it was barking in distress but also that the flight attendant seemed upset after the fact.

United Airlines has taken full responsibility for what happened, as it should. But it is too little too late. This was not an isolated incident. In 2017, according to information from the Department of Transportation, 18 animals died on United flights. While that might not seem like a large number when you consider the number of flights and the number of animals on those flights, it is three times the number of animals that died in the same time period on all the other U.S. carriers combined. Something is very wrong within United and the airline is slowly imploding through continual PR disasters.

“Fly the friendly skies” has become “fly the unfriendly skies of United.”

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12 Comments
  • GWB says:

    But Big Brother United wouldn’t be deterred and called in the cops to drag him off the jet.
    “Big Brother” is really unfair in this case. There is an algorithm for determining who gets bumped and the doctor came to the top using that algorithm. It sucks, but refusing to leave the plane when ordered to do so by aircrew is absolutely something I want armed security goons to handle. It’s not your plane, and you’re inconveniencing every other passenger on that plane. They handled it VERY poorly – right up to the moment the passenger refused to leave. After that, it’s all on him, imo.
    (I *will* agree that they should not have needed to bump him. Their policy of putting aircrew for another airport on the last plane of the day in order to meet their crewing requirements is idiotic and a good way to screw up your entire system for the next day. Even if the plane isn’t otherwise fully booked.
    And, if you’re going to bump, you need to do so before boarding everyone – ALWAYS.)

  • GWB says:

    As to the dog, I have one question: why did she put it in the overhead. Was the passenger refusing to put it under the seat? Did she want to carry it on her lap? The one story I’ve seen was entirely quotes from the dog owner and the person who tweeted (and the full apology from United). But not a single question to get at the full situation.

    And, a person on the original tweeter’s timeline asks why no one else on the flight stood up for the dog. Someone else I know asked “What about the other flight attendants? Didn’t they know the correct rules?”

    While I think United really f-ed this up, there might be a lot more contributing to this tragedy than a single flight attendant.

    • Amanda Green says:

      I’d agree except for the fact this wasn’t an isolated incident. Something is going on within the United “family” over the last couple of years that seems to be in direct conflict with customer service. I’m not sure what it is. Heck, I’m not sure United has figured it out yet. But something is going wrong in the company and the almost constant PR problems are confirmation of it.

    • Amanda Green says:

      As for why the dog was put in the overhead — she was instructed to. United has admitted error on the part of the airline and the employee. So I am going to assume that part of the story is correct. There is also the fact the family had paid the fee to bring the puppy onboard. So the flight attendants whould have known that as well. Regarding the other flight attendants, I don’t know. That is something we might never know. While there might be more to the story, it speaks volumes that United admitted right away that their employee screwed up.

      Of course, had it been me being ordered to put my dog in the overhead bin where there was no circulation, I’d have refused and would have disembarked. Then I would be having a serious discussion with the ticketing agents and anyone else I needed to.

      • GWB says:

        I had the impression this happened in-flight. If it happened before takeoff, it becomes even weirder that it didn’t get handled differently.

        I also had the impression the attendant put it in the overhead – the “she” there was the attendant. IOW, why didn’t the dog get put under the seat? Was the attendant not letting her put it under the seat? So very often we only hear the one side of things, so I have a natural contrarian reaction to the first reports.

  • Amanda Green says:

    And they did it again, sort of. This time, they mixed up dogs being flown not only to two different cities but two different continents. http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2018/03/14/united-flies-dog-japan/

    • GWB says:

      I was just coming back to mention that!
      At least that dog lived.
      I hope some bureaucrat doesn’t insist on putting it in quarantine because it’s arriving from overseas.

  • wyldkat says:

    Our local news this morning had a comment along the lines that the attendant didn’t know it was a “real” dog.

    I have a couple of issues with that.
    a) why would she think that someone would put a “stuffed” dog in a carrier?
    b) could she not hear the dog whine/bark/whatever?
    c) once it became obvious (barking and whining) that it was a real, living breathing animal, why didn’t she have them bring the poor dog down?

    • GWB says:

      Did they sedate the pooch before flight? (Common technique)
      Why did it wake and start barking?

      No matter what, the flight attendant was an idiot.

  • Brian Brandt says:

    What other industry gets to treat its customers like cattle? They overbook, then when too many people show up they take their problem and make it your problem.

  • […] Fly the unfriendly skies of United – United Airlines has been the poster child of what not to do in the airline industry. At least that’s the case when it comes to public relations nightmares. There have been stories, replete with video, of United employees destroying musical instruments. Passengers have been dragged off planes. Girls have been denied boarding because of their attire. Now comes probably one of the worst PR disasters the airline has faced to date. A puppy is dead because a flight attendant instructed its owner to place it in the overhead bin for the duration of a three hour flight. Way to go, United. If you are trying to alienate passengers and destroy your profits, you are doing a bang up job. […]

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