United Airlines and Chicago Department of Aviation police have provided the airline industry a case study on exactly how not to handle seat shortages on passenger planes.
Making matters worse, the unbelievably botched manner in which the airline company CEO Oscar Munoz initially responded to the jaw-dropping incident involving a local physician, Dr. David A. Dao, aboard one of his airliners only added to the primer for commercial passenger carriers across the globe. As United's market value plummets, it's a safe bet competitors are watching continued fallout from this international embarrassment for the airline.
The ugly scene occurred Sunday evening as United ExÂpress 3411 bound for LouisÂville sat on the tarmac at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport with a full manifest and every passenger seat occupied. Flight crew announced it needed four passengers to voluntarily give up their seats for a flight crew of a partner airline who needed to board the plane.
According to news accounts, after an initial incentive of $400 then $800 produced no takers, flight crew resorted to randomly select four passengers, one of whom was Dao.
When Dao refused to give up his seat, aviation authority police were summoned and surrounding passengers pulled out cellphones and began to record. Dao can be heard screaming as video shows him being manhandled by the officers. His head struck the armrest of the seat across the aisle as he was ripped from his seat.
One nearby passenger can be heard on the recordings screaming out as the doctor was dragged down the aisle on his back, apparently dazed, his midriff exposed and blood trickling from his mouth. Later video shows Dao standing in the aisle, gripping a cabin partition, his mouth bloodied, looking as if he'd been in a fistfight.
The manner in which Dao was treated is appalling. More sickening was Munoz's first public statement saying he "apologized for having to re-accommodate these customers" without any reference to Dao himself.
He left that to an internal memo sent to United employees in which he praised the crew's actions stating they "followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this" and said Dao had "become more and more disruptive and belligerent."
Video recordings uploaded on social media by passengers went viral across the internet. Reports say the earliest images were viewed more than 210 million times within 36 hours of the incident.
Outrage on social media over the violent event stretched beyond U.S. borders internationally to some of United's most important markets. It has resonated on cable news outlets and on newspaper pages throughout the week.
If the global rage didn't get the attention of Munoz, the stock market certainly did.
By Tuesday, the airline's stock was reported to have dropped by 4 percent to cost the company some $1.4 billion in value before recovering. Munoz "deeply apologized" to Dao publicly.
Dao has spent time recovering in a Chicago hospital. He also quickly surrounded himself with legal counsel for a justified lawsuit sure to result from the brutal way he was treated Sunday.
Perhaps his traumatic experience will lead to improvements for the flying public.
The airline industry needs a better approach to deal with overbooked flights, transfer of crew and the general manner in which it approaches customer service.
No excuse existed Sunday for the way this incident escalated nor can there be any the future for any mistreatment like this to occur again.
One thing is certain. Dao's will be a name United Airlines and its competitors never should forget.