Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday Forum - whatever you want

I have been bogged down. Hopefully this will now ease. Meantime, this somewhat late Forum is another as you like.

The sudden and sad death of John Clarke removed a major figure from Australian and New Zealand life. He was brilliant on his own and in conjunction with straight man Bryan Dawe. Clarke and Dawe was very much a team in which Bryan's sometimes incredulous expression and pointed attempts to gain answers provided a perfect foil to Clarke's insouciance. For overseas readers, this link will give you some examples. Others are readily available on YouTube.

The United Airlines fiasco over the forced removal of a passenger to accommodate crew needed for a later flight was quite astonishing. I won't repeat the footage here, but this is an example. The reaction on social media was instant and savage.  

The graphic is from a January 2016 piece by Bloomberg's. Drake Bennett on the airline's efforts under CEO Munoz to turn around, to recover from disaster centered in part on poor customer service. This included the infamous 2009 broken guitar case.

It would appear that United had made some progress until this case turned the whole thing around, again twisting the airline into knots. The facts of the case will be picked over and over. It should not have occurred in the way it did, although I can understand the chain of events. Once it did occur,  the responses of CEO Munz displayed a remarkable lack of human sensitivity, a failure to understand the implications of just what had happened. The sight of the passenger back on the plane with a bloody face repeating "I have to get home" in a dazed fashion will stay with me for some time.

In all this, I have learned a new word, "re-accommodate", to describe passengers who do get bumped even when they have a valid ticket and allocated seat and are sitting in that seat. While I knew about over-booking, that is one reason I book on line or get to the airport early, while I knew that the airlines had a legal right to put me off, the thought that one might get dragged off was a new one to me.

The ABC had a useful piece on the Australian legal position if you are faced with "re-accommodation." I did not realise just how limited my rights were. I think that this is a case where legal reform is required.

Update on United

The CEO of United has now provided a full apology on the matter:
Statement from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz on United Express Flight 3411
April 11, 2017 
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.  
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.   
It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.  
I promise you we will do better.  
Meantime, the Louisville Courier-Journal has been dragging up material about Dr Dao's past, something that has also attracted considerable ire and forced some backtracking from the paper. .


2 tanners said...

I hope Dr Dao sues the newspaper's whatever off. Not only did they drag up an old conviction for use of prescription drugs to procure gay sex, they published a photo of his house. Two problems - this had nothing to do with him getting thrown off and also it was the wrong Dr Dao. Dr A Dao was convicted, Dr T Dao was taken off the plane.

Jim Belshaw said...

This all gets very confusing, 2t. According to the daily mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4401444/Name-man-hauled-United-flight-Chicago-revealed.html) Dr David is married to Dr Teresa. According to the LA Times he is still in hospital in Chicago http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-united-passenger-20170411-story.html Story confirmed bt Time - http://time.com/4735374/david-dao-family-attorney-statement-united-airllines-flight/.

Anonymous said...

Geez, c'mon guys - this is a non-issue. The guy should have removed himself without the prima donna stuff, so he got punched out - which should have happened to that omg lady as well imo.

And anyways, all airline passengers look alike to me, so I can't see the problem.


Jim Belshaw said...

You must travel on some rough flights, kvd, to get all that blood. By the way, have found a think different pepsi ad

Anonymous said...

So I saw some arguments which said, "They were contractually entitled to take him off, so bad luck". This ignores the fact that, while you can evict someone off your property, you have to use reasonable force to do so. I'd say that this wasn't reasonable. And if there has been a mix-up between David A Dao and David T Dao...all the worse!


Anonymous said...

P.S. I have to say that Munoz's first apology was a lesson in how NOT to apologise. By pure happenstance, I happened to be reading the Victorian Ombudsman's submission about why government agencies should apologise when they make mistakes, and how apologies should be done. Yep, they broke the rules. In fact, his fauxpology might have been worse than silence. https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/getattachment/6adb9870-d976-443a-9087-e926b9ba746e


Anonymous said...

I see LE's link above contains the following:

This document is intended as a guide only. For this reason the information contained herein should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases. To the maximum extent permitted by the law, the Victorian Ombudsman is not liable to you for any loss or damage suffered as a result of reliance on this document.

- which, I guess, is a sort of 'apology in advance' :)

Jim, "think different" is/was an Apple Computer tagline. I was just playing with your earlier Pepsi post.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi LE and thanks for commenting. I had to smile at kvd's quote. It does appear to be an Ombudsmen application of UA terms and conditions! But, that's lawyers! More broadly, and regardless of kvd's apparent earlier argument, the latest UA statements appear to have conceded the whole ground root and branch. And so they should.

kvd, I knew that was an apple tag. But I did find one pepsei ad apparently predating it linked to the invention of the Fosbury flop.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen any suggestion, anywhere, as to what one actually does with an obstinate customer? Makes me think that the vast majority of those reaching for the smelling salts (including here) have never encountered such a beast, or more probably never have actually run their own business.

Reading around this suggests that there are roughly 65,000 'bumps' per annum in the US. Now, for those suggesting a 'lighter touch' (again, without specifying how!) I'd really appreciate your concrete suggestions as to proper treatment in this situation. Some have said 'increase the offer/compo' - but fail to understand the flow-on effect of this approach to treatment of all future bumps; yet another example of rule by anecdote imo.

So, as an exercise, from the saddle of your high horses, please explain exactly how you would have better handled such an obstinate, clearly in the wrong, customer. And as you do, please also bear in mind the cost per minute of a plane held up on the runway, attempting to fill its takeoff slot, with consequent flow-ons of missed connections etc. Good luck with that :)


Anonymous said...

Ah LE, seems you and I are singing the same songs as of yore:


You, with the compassionate approach (even after being right there at the legal "coalface") to what are reasonably well-defined business regulations, and me with my "But anyway, yeah, you’re right: banks are bastards; let’s run society without them"

Replace 'banks' with 'airlines' and I can't see that much has changed :)


ps if I ruled the world I'd allow suit of Dr D for the economic damage he's caused by refusing a legitimate order to vacate.

2 tanners said...

Well, kvd, let's see. The contract that UA has permits them to refuse boarding in cases of force majeure (the situation does not seem to meet the definitions, which should prevent the aircraft flying at all) or overbooking (which did not happen, he was being bumped for non-paying UA staff, who had not been booked). Unfortunately for UA, the contract does not permit them to throw him off the plane once he has boarded. In other words it was not a legitimate order to vacate, nor was there (in my view) even a contractually supported reason to refuse him boarding. I'm not a lawyer, of course.

https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriage.aspx , see esp s25.

So it's a bit different from the bank/mortgagor/tenant issue where the banks might have had the legal right to evict.

But it's open to United to sue Dr D. For the reasons above, I think they'd go down in a heap, possibly with Dr D pursuing that US standby of a cross suit for abuse of process seeking huge punitive damages. And lots more headlines, all accompanied by the photo of the Dr's bleeding face.

Anonymous said...

Hi tanners. While you seem well suited to the role of executioner, I have to say that I'd want you neither as judge nor jury - nor ever as partner in attempting to run a business. While 'emotions' might rock, they should never rule - to wit:

"the photo of the Dr's bleeding face".

My take: Look up rule 21H sub 1,2,3,4 - or alternatively/preferably, apply rule 303.

Have a nice day, but not on my flight - or my dime.


2 tanners said...

My point was that the doctor might lose the case, although I doubt it, but every time it got reported, United's image would be hammered. Not unlike NAB dropping its case on PR grounds, not on legal justification grounds.

As for removing the doctor under section 21, he had to fit one of them *before* they tried to forcibly remove him. At least as I understand it, he was in his seat and refused to move, as was his right. If you can show me what part of the contract enables a boarded passenger who is minding their own business to even be approached and told they will not be transported, then relate it to this case, go ahead.

United claimed it was due to overbooking, and then that they had to get some of their staff elsewhere. The United statement said that the doctor had been selected according to an algorithm (which is mentioned in s 25). Other passengers objected to the way he was being treated, at least implying that they did not view him as the cause of the disturbance.

I'm sorry, I didn't understand rule 303, unless you are referring to a firearm.

Anonymous said...


you either obey lawful directions, or you don't

what "you understand" does not come into play

if you sincerely believe you are in full command of all facts in this instance then you disappoint

you may wonder why this is so irritating? four times in the past 14 months it was severely so

the thing about business reputation is that is never actually under your own control, and can be lost in a moment to people such as Dr D, abetted by people such as you, on platforms such as twitter, without a moment's deeper thought

haven't seen any response thus far as to specific concrete suggestions as to how such an obdurate client might be better dealt with?

no matter. The sight of blood obviously affects you emotionally, and of course, that's what's important


Anonymous said...

KVD, yeah, at least we're morally consistent, right? Kind of reassuring! :-D

I don't think that the directions were lawful. I don't think they had a contractual power to remove him: http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2017/04/united-airlines-own-contract-denied-it.html

He was already boarded, and any disorder instigated by United's request.

I think the airline and the police have committed numerous wrongs: assault and battery, false imprisonment, possibly invasion of privacy...


Anonymous said...

LE, as always, I bow to your knowledge of the legalities involved - and offer an apology also to Mr tanners who has staunchly defended Dr D.

I'm still left wondering (in different circumstances) just how UA might more appropriately handle an obdurate passenger.


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd wrote: "haven't seen any response thus far as to specific concrete suggestions as to how such an obdurate client might be better dealt with?"

As a general comment, kvd, specific training courses exist that give staff the skills to handle these matters. This is an example; http://www.timrussellgroup.com/services.html. I have listed Tim and microskills because this formed part of the service offerings of previous consulting groups that I was connected with, so I have direct knowledge.

The issues involved in the case will be teased out in court, I think. Different issues are involved.

Working back, did United or the Airport Police who were called in have the legal power to compel Dr Dao to leave the plane in the particular circumstances of the case? This one seems arguable based on the material presently available.

If the answer to the first question is yes, was undue force applied? To use an Australian example to illustrate, a bouncer may have the power to ask someone to leave or to compel them to leave a licensed venue, but this doesn't give the bouncer the right to use undue force, to throw a person to the pavement and then drag them along.

The next question is whether it should have come to the end it did even if Dr Dao was, to use your term, "obdurate." Specifically, should the Airport police have even been called in to resolve a problem that was the of the Airlines own making? I think that United itself would now answer this one with a resounding no.

I suspect staff were tired, they had a problem to sort out (getting the replacement crew to their destination), they had an expensive piece of kit sitting on the tarmac. I think that you will also find that the authority available to the staff to authorise solutions or offers (the delegations) were limited.

The problem they had to solve was how to get the replacement crew to their destination. Options included a five hour drive, possibly hiring an aircraft or upping their offer until they got another passenger to shift. However, they defined the problem as removal of Dr Dao, the "obdurate" passenger. Once defined in that way, the rest followed.

Jim Belshaw said...

You last comment came up while I was writing, kvd. I think that I have partly answered it.

Anonymous said...

Jim, have you ever considered doing a law degree? Masterly analysis above.

Here's another interesting article on the shoddy reporting surrounding the incident: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/04/united-passenger-removal-reporting-management-fail.html


Jim Belshaw said...

Why thank you, LE! There are some points in that NC piece that I would disagree with, but there has been a lot of sloppy reporting on this one. The outsourcing one is an interesting issue and would reinforce the point about authority. As an aside, kvd's devil advocate role is is very helpful in forcing clarification in thinking.

Jim Belshaw said...

By the way, 2t, tried to email you with thanks for your support over the last twelve months but I only have the timor email. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Following further reading on this unfortunate affair, I'd like to retract my deference to LE's above opinion.

It appears that UA were well within their rights to request the passenger to give up his seat, and that, in refusing to comply with UA's request, Dr D put himself in the wrong.

This is quite a separate matter from the ensuing PR fiasco.

And lastly, again I cannot see anything in either Jim's response or his linked timrussellgroup article which provides a solution for what I called an obdurate customer. Left me wishing to ask "yes, but if that doesn't work?"


Jim Belshaw said...

I am not a lawyer, kvd.

On the legal side, the core questions are whether UA had the power to compel Dr Dao to leave the plane and, if so, whether the force applied was proportionate or justified. Recognising that I am not a lawyer, the power question is arguable and will be argued on the facts of the case including the question of over-booking, if any. Even if the answer to that question is yes, the case will still need to address the second question, the force applied and the damage that resulted. UA will need to establish both that the power was there and that the power was properly applied.

There may be further complications here. First, it is not clear that the airline personnel involved were actually UA staff. Secondly, there were two players, those who requested the airport police to remove the passenger and then the airport police who responded. If UA or its contractors were within power to request that the Doctor be removed, the actioning of that request and the force used by the airport police becomes a second issue.

Of course, the matter may not go to court at all for a formal trial is likely to amplify the damage done to UA.

Now on the customer service point, I suggested that part of the problem lay in the specification of problem being addressed. The problem was to find a way to get the UA staff to their destination. Various options were possible other than the forced removal of a single passenger.

Specifically on the "obdurate' passenger question, the issues here are process including rules and procedures, policies, attitudes, skills and judgment. In this context, I note that I recognised that the UA personnel were probably tired, under pressure and probably lacked the delegations required to come up with alternative solutions, leading them to apply a last resort solution. I also suspect that they had had little or no customer service training even though obdurate customers are a fact of life.

Microskills centres (its not the only set of such techniques) on listening and responding in particular ways. The application of the process is influenced by the particular set of circumstances as well as the organisation culture, policies and procedures. The quality training that all Singapore Airlines staff went through was not quite the same as the Virgin train staff who had to deal with football hooligans nor Blockbuster video staff at risk of armed hold ups. However, in all cases listening is a critical skill.

When I was CEO at RACO, all complaints against our specialists came to me, most by phone. I had to listen carefully and sympathetically but not express opinions then provide advice on options if they wished to take the matter further. In most cases, the problem was simply the failure of the specialist to communicate properly in the first place.

Ignoring the legal issues associated with this case and indeed the human elements, this is a massive management failure measured by the direct and indirect costs to the airline. The problem is compounded by previous United customer service and people management failures that the CEO was trying to turn around. I am sure that the internal review now underway will be tracing the entire process through looking at all the myriad small steps and decisions that led to the outcome in question. This is apart from any PR questions. I would be very surprised if this does not result in changes to the way the airline does business.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you may be getting exhausted by all this so, as I accept your position stated as "not a lawyer", I'd like to direct one (maybe :) final comment to LE.

She says three things:

1. I don't think that the directions were lawful. I don't think they had a contractual power to remove him: http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2017/04/united-airlines-own-contract-denied-it.html

2. He was already boarded, and any disorder instigated by United's request.

3. I think the airline and the police have committed numerous wrongs: assault and battery, false imprisonment, possibly invasion of privacy...
- my numbering and bolding.

1. my understanding is that either a) he was 'boarded' in which case he was subject absolutely to direction of the crew, or b) he was 'not yet boarded', in which case he was subject to directions of either the cabin crew or boarding staff. Personally I think a) applies.

2. The disorder was instigated by his refusal to comply with legal (see 1a) requests.

3. No doubt 'the airline' has and will pay - but any of the 'numerous wrongs' were not committed by 'the airline'. The wrongs LE asserts (which I do not dispute) were not visited upon Dr D by 'the airline'.

Now you turn (with relief :) to the PR fiasco. I aqree with you.

But I'd add just one small overrider: with over 1M passenger movements per day in the US, how much do you think the re-worked 're-accommodation' process will end up costing all future air travellers? I mean, you're quite happy to count the cost to UA, but for sure and certain, it will all be passed on to their future customers.

Not being picky. But those are the facts of life.


Jim Belshaw said...

I will leave LE to comment on the legal issues, kvd, if she is still with us.

Dealing just with costs, I suspect not a lot, indeed bugger all given the range of factors affecting both yield and costs. While issues can arise with the process, this was a very specific event reflecting UA failure. If there is a small marginal cost, I would happily wear it to avoid it happening to me. I am not talking just about being bashed, but more being stuck with no or little money in a strange airport or country at carrier whim.

Anonymous said...

Well I just think you need to have a quiet talk with LE - maybe rein her in a little bit?

It's not a large step from this sort of ornery disputation to supporting desegregation of buses or schools - or even equal voting rights for the womenfolk - Lord love 'em.


ps anyone who would like an appreciation of LE's talents, go here:


- thoroughly recommended!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hey, thank you for the link. kvd. I leave it to readers to respond to the heinous risks you identify from LE'capacity for disputation. Clearly, a danger that has to be recognised. Women's voting rights indeed! Who knows where that might lead/

Anonymous said...

Also, we need to have a brief chat about that sentence of yours, beginning "According to the Daily Mail" :)


Anonymous said...

Sticking this here just for reference, Jim.

Dunno if you've been following the (now quite viscious) AOC election? Stumbled on it a couple of months back, and it's just getting worse and worse. Coates seems headed for the high jump (pardon pun) after what seems to me to be a carefully planned, well executed, series of 'leaks' and 'exclusives' via the Fairfax media.

Oh well, even gravy trains eventually reach their final stop, I guess :)


Jim Belshaw said...

This has been a messy saga, kvd, that still keeps on giving. Damned if I know!