Friday, April 14, 2017

Suing United for Assault and Battery

"I am sure that you were as disturbed as I was, and as all Canadians were, over the appalling incident that took place on board a United flight earlier this week, when a passenger was forcibly removed from his seat."
"I am writing to you today to convey that such an incident would be unacceptable in Canada."
Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Ottawa

"With respect to over sales, it is important to note we are very conservative in our approach so it is rare that a flight is overbooked."
"In these instances we usually find volunteers to travel on the next flight and any decisions are made before final seats are assigned and customers board the aircraft."
Air Canada spokesman, Peter Fitzpatrick

"As you are aware, every day passengers are 'bumped off' flights. The practice has become unconscionable ... and is abusing passengers coming into Newark Airport and around the nation without cause."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

"In the event of an oversold flight, every carrier shall ensure that the smallest practicable number of persons holding confirmed reserved space on that flight are denied boarding involuntarily."
U.S. Flight regulations
Dr. David Dao, 69, a passenger on a United Express flight who was dragged from his seat, suffered as a result of the brutal treatment he was exposed to, a "significant" concussion, broken nose, and the loss of two front teeth. According to his lawyer, Dr. Dao will now require reconstructive surgery. The physician had refused to surrender his seat to allow United Airlines crew members to take their place on the plane in lieu of paid passengers occupying their seats for flight.

Other passengers, horrified at what they witnessed taking place before their eyes, shot videos of Dr. Dao being violently pulled from his seat and forcibly dragged off the plane by airport security, his face clearly bloodied. In the realm of 'what were they thinking?' the airlines must now be engaged in quite a bit of thinking, after initially declaring the paid passenger to be at fault for his obstreperous behaviour in declining to be unseated. Who wouldn't react in a belligerent manner?

Passenger David Dao is dragged off a United Airlines flight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on April 9, 2017. (Jayse D. Anspach via Reuters)
Passenger David Dao is dragged off a United Airlines flight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on April 9, 2017. (Jayse D. Anspach via Reuters)

United CEO Oscar Munoz has since backpedalled, humbly asking for understanding and forgiveness. He has called Dr. Dao to apologize. And now that the deed has been done, a notice was issued to employees of the airline that henceforth passengers absolutely must not be forced to depart airplanes other than for security purposes. The uproar and the shameful behaviour of the airline personnel gave Canada's Minister of Transport the opportunity to show just how different things are in Canada.

He took the initiative to issue a warning to all airlines operating in Canada, whether domestic or international, that forcibly removing passengers from planes for any reason will not be tolerated. Every airline that has reason to fly into the country was warned that just such an incident injuring the American doctor in Chicago must never occur in Canada. "The reality is if this were to happen in Canada there would be no recourse", sourly responded passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs, of the difficulty in forcing airlines to comply.
Dr Dao was seen with blood pouring from his mouth in the footage
Dr Dao was seen with blood pouring from his mouth in the footage from new video

United Airlines does seem to be in a class all its own. It has hit the news for being involved in stranding children, and of allegations it has killed or come close to destroying travelling pets. Its treatment of disabled passengers has earned it fines. Fines have also resulted for leaving planeloads of passengers marooned on the tarmac for  hours. Infuriatingly, despite this scandalous ill behaviour there has been little actual cost of bad publicity to the operations of the airlines nor its stock.

An Associated Press analysis undertaken in 2015 found that at 40 of America's one hundred largest airports, a single airline just happens to dominate the market and at 93 of those airports one or two airlines control the majority. As for bumping passengers before boarding when cash or other incentives are offered to the willing, Dr. Dao already had his confirmed seat, had boarded before United made the decision to revoke his right to his paid seat.

United Airlines broke existing laws, in defiance of U.S. regulations in protection of the flying public. For that matter its brutally cavalier attitude toward its clients manifest in this and on previous occasions amply demonstrate it is not averse to breaking its own rules. Its contract of carriage formally gives fewer rights to its employees than to paying customers, but in this instance Chicago United staff defied their own rules.

The result is the kind of public relations that represent a nightmare for any other industry, but which United seems able to get away with; a blip on its record of awful performance from the perspective of paying customers, soon forgotten in the hurly-burly of air travel and the frantic search to find the most reliable, cheapest flights, but cheap and reliable are antagonistic to one another.

And cheap is not what United will get away with when Dr. Dao launches his lawsuit.

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