I want to say that over this past week, I did not want to comment at all about this terrible situation. It pains me greatly because not only was what happened egregious to the passenger, but it also undoes so much of what the rest of us do each and every day to keep you safe and comfortable. For me personally, this applies to my being a Captain and every thing I do with the books, website, and postings.
I am going to preface this article by saying that these thoughts and views may not be popular with you. I am going to break down many of the variables that were in play here and give you some of my own thoughts. I simply ask that you put yourself in the shoes of all groups involved and think how this would be prevented in the future. And yes, for those of you who have asked, I have kicked several people off of my flights thoughout my career. So, lets start with that.
My job is to keep you safe and preferably comfortable when doing it. I am also responsible for the $150 million dollar jet I am entrusted with, my crew and all of my passengers. If there is ever a situation where the jet is at the gate or on the ground that makes other passengers, the flight attendants, the first officers, or myself concerned that things could escalate or get worse, whether it be from odd behavior, anger, aggression, medical issue, drug use, or whatever, I will have the passenger or passengers removed. The events of September 11th, 2001 should still be fresh in the minds of us all – and as crew members, they are. My friends had their throats slashed with box cutters, then the jets and passengers were flown into fully occupied buildings. So yes, we are spring loaded to de- escalate any situation that arises on the ground for everyone’s safety onboard the aircraft. I cannot just “pull over” and kick someone out of my car. It is a huge ordeal to divert, from a logistical, financial, and risk perspective.
Now lets talk about specifics of this event. Yes, the flight was oversold. Most all airlines oversell their aircraft. There are computer algorithms that compute the probable percentage of passengers not making it to the airport on-time along with passengers who miss their connecting flights. Each flight and time has a different percentage associated with it. If you had a choice in your business to sell all of your product or just some of your product, would’t you want to sell all? After all, the airlines on average need 78-82% of “BIS” (my term for “butts in seats”) to even start making a profit. So, when they are in a situation where everyone shows up and are on time, they “buy off” passengers. This is a win, win for everyone. The airline gets to make their target sales most of the time and several passengers get compensated big bucks for their inconvenience of taking a later flight. (As a side note, I want to point out, it was not even United Airlines that this happened with. It is a contracted regional carrier who uses the name United Express as a feeder company to United and I will refrain from saying their name. The aircraft was a much smaller CRJ). They first offered $400 dollars additional and a hotel overnight stay to all of the passengers. They went up to as high as $1000 (this unverified). They needed to buy off 4 passengers for their seats, 3 had taken these great offers.
Now I will discuss with you the crew situation. All airlines have a thing called “dead heading” (I have no idea where it got the name from). We also have a thing called “commuting”. Dead heading is where the airline MUST position a crew of pilots and/or flight attendants to another location. They are either going to work or going back home. Many times the airlines know ahead of time that they will need to do this. They will reserve the seats ahead of time, before they are purchased by customers. But, many situations arise such as severe weather or mechanical issues that no one has any control over. In this specific case, the airline only knew last minute that they needed to position a crew of two pilots and two flight attendants from Chicago to Louisville. These crew members needed to be in Louisville in order to fly the next flight out. If the crew was not put on that flight, the following flight out of Louisville would have to be cancelled, inconveniencing and angering an entire flight full of passengers. The crew is called “must rides” because the operation would be greatly affected down line if they are not positioned in needed locations. Commuting is where crew members live somewhere and but are based somewhere else. Imagine if you had to move your family every time your company made a different business decision. We must “jet hike” (my word for hitch hike) by jet in order to get to and from work. We are only allowed on the jet once all of the paying passengers and standby paying passengers are on board. Sometimes, we ride in the cockpit or jump seat but we are not allowed to do this if we are dead heading because we need to be rested and ready to fly once we land.
I am going to say the following which may sound a bit harsh. Any restaurant, bar, service provider, bus, train, etc. holds the right to kick anyone out at anytime. When people buy a ticket on a flight, they are not purchasing the airplane as their own. Simply, the customer purchases the ability to “rent a seat” for a specific flight. The airlines own the jets. If they need people off and are offering another flight, plus triple the original ticket price, plus a hotel but people will not take this, they will have to ask people to please come off of the flight. There is a computer system that looks at who is on the flight. As an example: it will not break up a family of 4 to remove just one person. Nor will it chose to remove someone who flies frequently and pays a lot of money to the airlines.
Mr. Dao was asked 3 times to please come off of the flight, with all of his extra benefits he would get. He refused. Stopping right there, I would think most of us, if asked to come off of an airplane or anywhere else that is owned by someone else, we would rightfully be upset but we would leave the premise and deal with the situation afterwards. Yes, at that point security should have been called because now the concern becomes one of safety. He is resisting airline instructions. When the police asked him to please come off the flight, he still refused. If the police tell me or most of us to do something, we do it. Otherwise it is called “resisting arrest”. The oncoming crew was assaulted and verbally abused on the flight headed to fly the next flight.
What do you think should change and how do you think this should be prevented? I think the airline could have upped the anty possibly for the buyout. Maybe then, a different customer would have taken the buyout. But, there is a max cap of money offered and the gate agents were following protocol. The police should not have used this sort of excessive force. But, what sort of force should they use? The asked him to get off the jet and he did not.
This is such a horrible event and so shocking to see. Please keep in mind as I always say, stay vigilant and speak up if you see anything or anyone that does not look or seem right. It is for your safety to help us best protect you. For more detailed information on Air Travel Safety, buy “Remove Before Flight” book.
Here are two other articles below written by friends of mine who were/are long time Captains on multiple aircraft throughout their careers.
Blue Skies and Safe Travels!