Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
United Airlines has done the impossible.
It's managed to knock Delta's abject delays, obfuscations, and nationwide mess out of the news.
How? By getting the police to drag a passenger off a flight from Chicago to Louisville, all along the floor, bloodying his face. And all because it reportedly wanted some extra seats for its own employees.
If you haven't seen one of the several videos of the incident, it's worth it. (See below.)
The man -- reportedly a doctor -- was screaming. Police have now revealed he is 69 years old.
He hadn't behaved in any sort of unruly way. He had simply refused to leave the flight after the airline had demanded four additional passengers get off -- in exchange for $800 and a night in a hotel. They were, supposedly, chosen at random by a computer. They were asked to "volunteer."
The airline did so much that was unconscionable. These are the worst things it did. And the very worst are the words of its CEO.
1. United didn't do all the bumping at the gate.
For reasons that defy sense, the airline asked for volunteers to get off the plane once everyone was seated. This was asking for chaos. At no point did any United employee stop and think that they were being inhumane and asking for far greater trouble.
2. United called in the cops.
When has anything good come of calling in the cops on someone who actually has done nothing wrong at all? United may have been legally permitted to bump more people from the flight. Again, did not one United employee wonder that this was going to cause a scene -- oh, and that everyone has a cellphone to film that scene and post it to Facebook and Twitter?
3. United didn't keep raising the offer.
All this might have been avoided if a sufficient amount of money had been offered. Perhaps no United employee had the courage or the permission to raise it further. But given that what resulted has now caused the airline millions of dollars of negative publicity, you might think doubling the offer would have been the cheapest business United has done since it started charging for overhead bins. Instead, someone had the utterly senseless idea of calling in the cops.
4. United's CEO offered an embarrassing non-apology.
CEO Oscar Muñoz offered that this was "an upsetting event to all of us here at United."
Voilà. Yet more evidence of how airlines think of themselves first. It's bad enough when you've dragged and bloodied a customer. It's worse when the reported cause was that you wanted to accommodate some of your own employees.
Muñoz wasn't done. "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers," he said.
What? The customer wasn't re-accommodated. He was treated like an animal.
You don't apologize for that? You don't wonder that as an image of your customer service, this was akin to pouring trash on their heads, sticking rancid food in their mouths, and demanding they sing their country's national anthem? Oh, and then manhandling them.
Muñoz said that United would conduct a review. He said it would reach out to the passenger.
United might have to be re-accommodated to talk to the passenger's lawyer.
However, in an email to his employees, Muñoz said that his staff had followed "established procedures." If that's true, if you believe the passenger was in the wrong, why reach out to him?
United deliberately sold too many tickets for the flight. Every airline does it. It's legal. It's also terrible. Doesn't its CEO want to bear any responsibility? Doesn't he look at what happened and see that his company used violence to enforce its business?
In customer service, basic humanity has to be your guide. Go against it and there's likely to be trouble.
United's sympathizers may say that the airline staff was under pressure to get the flight off. They had to do something. But what they did -- and what the CEO said -- shows the airline's priorities. And the customer isn't one of them.
Perhaps United itself believes there's not too much competition anyway, so why worry about these things?
How low, though, can airlines go? It may be that United is leading the way. The way down, that is.
Still, let's hear for the man who last month was named PRWeek's US PR Communicator of the Year. Yes, United's Oscar Muñoz.