Airline jobs are great. Just ask the people who fly for a living.

Sure, they complain now and again -- but who among us doesn't complain about work sometimes? Airline employees largely have some of the highest satisfaction levels of any industry.

The pay is the pay: better for some than others. But the perks are unparalleled. Start with the ability to fly almost anywhere in the world for free (or almost free). 

And it's not just the employees. Retirees can fly for free for life too. And each year employees usually get a certain number of "buddy passes" they can give to friends and family members. 

It all adds up to a good package. Just not good enough for some United Airlines employees who allegedly got greedy and have now lost their jobs as a result. They'll be lucky in fact if that's all that happens.

The story unfolded like this. Three families, nine people in all, showed up at a United Airlines gate to board an international flight. (United didn't say what airport or where they were headed.)

But the families were apparently upset about something, and insisted they'd "paid for" first class.

Big problem: They were flying on friend-and-family passes -- the kinds of perks we're talking about above that are given to airline employees. So they shouldn't have "paid for" anything, if they were flying according to the rules.

A quick-thinking gate agent separated the travelers, and asked one representative from each family to write down how they'd obtained their tickets.

"In those statements, they noted that they had paid between $3,500 and $4,000 per person for one year's worth of domestic and international travel on United," according to an account that United posted on an internal company website.

That sounds like a pretty good deal: $4,000 for unlimited travel. Of course, it's not a deal that United Airlines actually offers. 

All nine passengers were denied boarding; all nine bought last-minute tickets to fly the same day. And then United's corporate security division took over. Here's how United described the results of that investigation:

"Ultimately [they] not only identified the employees who had listed the nine individuals as their eligible pass riders, but uncovered a brokering scheme where employees were soliciting pass travel privileges from their colleagues to put up for sale.

"The investigation showed that some of the employees involved had presented fake documentation in order to falsely list travelers as their stepparents or domestic partners.

Some had solicited enrolled friend status and buddy passes from their colleagues to sell to third parties, leveraging their relationship and trust with their colleagues or their position within United to broker the deals." 

United says some of the employees were paid; others were "deceived into giving away their pass travel privileges based on the pretext that the passes were for a good friend or a relative (although even that would be against the rules)."

In the end, the airline says it fired 35 employees it identified as being involved in the scheme. The airline site The Points Guy originally reported the story and obtained a copy of United's internal publication.

"Enjoying flying privileges is a unique and special advantage of working at an airline, and it is intended only for our employees and their friends and family. We have clear rules on flying privileges so we can all fairly enjoy this benefit," an airline spokesperson told USA Today.

And so, here we are. Some of the United employees might really have been duped. I'll leave them out of this.  

But for the others: it sounds like the greed just took over--the point of stupidity. 

They had good jobs with perks that most people would envy--but they couldn't be satisfied. So they allegedly came up with this scheme, which might have netted them a few thousand dollars, and also ensnared some of their colleagues.

Now, unless there's been a gross miscarriage of justice on the part of United, they're not only out of a job, but you'd have to imagine they're in legal jeopardy, as well. 

In which case, they'd perhaps have a chance to learn about traveling for free on another airline: Con Air.

Published on: Mar 10, 2019
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