Bumpy Ride

Bumping Through Some Unfriendly Skies

Forgive the schadenfreude here. But United had it coming. The airline summoned security Sunday to violently toss a doctor out of his seat. They literally dragged him off their plane and bloodied his face in the process. United had oversold the flight and wanted to take the doctor’s seat for one of its employees. The incident makes a perfect ad for unfriendly skies.

United earned a planeload of bad press. We have little sympathy. The airline has spent years humiliating passengers who are too big for their tiny seats.

The airline waited two days before offering a full apology. By then, it sounded fake. At the end of trading yesterday, United’s stock value had lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

A Hostile Environment

Air travel has become a miserable experience on many airlines. Airlines divide customers into as many a nine classes at boarding time. They heap so much abuse on customers that it’s a standing joke for comics.

Does United have a VP of Customer Humiliation? The LA Times describes a “toxic corporate culture” that starts with United’s CEO.

Impossibly Small Seats

A big part of that hostile environment is impossibly small seats.

As passenger bottoms have steadily been getting bigger, plane seats have been getting smaller and smaller. According to United, if your bottom can’t fit in their 17-inch seat, they will make you pay for a second seat, sometimes at a higher price than you paid for the first one.

If you fly – whether you’re living with obesity or not – you know that the seats are miserably tight and uncomfortable.

A Better Way

While United lies at the bottom of customer satisfaction rankings, JetBlue and Southwest rank at the top. Somehow those low-cost carriers manage to keep fares low without heaping abuse on their customers. So while the Internet was flogging United for customer abuse, a Southwest fan came up with a humorous tagline to spell out the difference.

The difference comes in many forms. Naturally, we pay attention to their obesity policies. Southwest encourages extra-large passengers to reserve two seats, but they promise to refund the cost of the second one – even if the flight is oversold. The point is to make sure you have enough space. JetBlue has wider seats, but will make you buy a second seat if you can’t fit.

Grace and cheerfulness can make a big difference in goodwill. In contrast to United, Southwest is showing just how big that difference can be.

Click here, here, and here for more on the unfriendly skies of United Airlines.

Bumpy Ride, photograph © McBeth / flickr

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April 12, 2017