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United, Delta, and American Learning a Lesson in Responsibility

Let’s face it. We’re all fed up with the airlines and our treatment on planes. We didn’t need three incidents to remind us about it. We are oftentimes shocked by the coldness of gate attendants and onboard staff. We’re repulsed by the excessive baggage fees and the delays, due in part to the checked baggage fees that promote more carry ones, more delays in taking off, and more late flights.

The incident on a United Express flight where a passenger, David Dao, was forcibly removed from a flight by officers of the Chicago Department of Aviation to make way for United pilots on another flight disgusted us all. What’s worse, the airline tried to shift the blame to another airline at first saying that it was a Republic Airlines flight. Of course, Republic is a partner airline with United so that excuse is lame. United CEO Oscar Munoz appeared to blame Dao calling him “disruptive and belligerent.” That didn’t go over well with the public after watching the horrific video.

United has already settled with Dao. The agreement is confidential. I figure it’s in the millions.

Incredibly, less than one month later, Delta Airlines forced a family off an overnight flight from Maui to California. A video shows crew agents telling the father they would put the parents in jail and place their children in foster care. This is unfathomable. The lack of common sense and common decency is inexplicable. Delta quickly offered compensation and an apology to Brian Schwartz and his family after he posted on the eight-minute video on You Tube.

These incidents remind me of a basic truth in ethics, which is ethics is about what you when no one is looking. I’m sure the security officials at the United incident and crew of Delta didn’t expect to be seen on You Tube and their irresponsible behavior unmasked. This makes me wonder about the training on these airlines. Clearly, they fail to see the public good aspect of their service as a high-priority ethical value. They simply act in their own interests.

The American Airlines incident last week is different because it deals with an Australian man who claims to have been “crushed” on a plane by large seat mates on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. The passenger alleges he had to contort his body within the cramped space caused by the intrusion of grossly obese passengers sitting next to him. He claims to have aggravated his existing condition of curvature of the spine. His case is a bit suspicious because he claimed he was crushed by two large passengers, yet he was in a window seat. And it took about one year to plead his case. It would appear he is trying to cash in on the public’s frustration about the United and Delta experiences.

I mention the American incident because the airline just said it will shrink the space between most rows from 31 inches to 30 inches on Boeing 737 jetliners. At least three rows will have only 29 inches, allowing American to better compete with discount airlines such as Spirit and Frontier. American is arguably the worst airline I’ve ever flown on. Many of its flights do not offer seat-back entertainment, presumably because most passengers bring on their own devices to stream music and videos. That’s a convenient excuse for poor customer service.

The one common denominator in these incidents is they are U.S.-owned airlines. You don’t find such reprehensible behavior on foreign airlines. Based on Skytrax Airline Awards for passenger satisfaction, you have to go to #25 to find a U.S.-owned carrier (Virgin America) then #34 (Delta). J.D. Power has recently reported an uptick in satisfactions, especially Alaska Airlines, Jet Blue and Southwest. Still, U.S. Carriers have a long way to go to meet the level of service expected by passengers and met by most overseas carriers.

Blog posted on May 10, 2017 by Steve Mintz, Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Steve blogs under the pseudonym, Ethics Sage.

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