United Airlines CEO supplies a [email protected]#$%-ing priceless lesson for us all

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Just too painful to watch! (It’s the customer service Darwin Awards story of the year)

When United Airlines oversold flight 3411 by four seats, the crew offered $800 to passengers to reschedule.

Nobody moved.

United needed to put four crew members on the plane, so they randomly chose four passengers and commanded them to de-plane.

One was Dr. David Dao. He refused to move, insisting he had patients to see the next morning. So they called security.

Security guards literally DRAGGED him out of his seat and off the plane. Horrified passengers caught the incident on video. You can see blood oozing from Dr. Dao’s mouth.

Nothing goes viral like a big corporation dragging a bleeding 67 year old doctor down the aisle of an airplane!

The USA Today Headline said:

United Airlines CEO doubles down, says employees followed procedures, flier was ‘belligerent’

I quote:

“This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help,” the letter says. “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a BAD APOLOGY?

This has to be the worst apology I’ve heard in years. I predict United CEO Oscar Munoz’ head will roll over this.

This is a STELLAR example of being technically right about a bureaucratic policy, but having an emotional IQ of minus 12.

There’s something very very important we all need to glean from his awful apology.

So before I get to the meat of it… let’s give United Airlines the benefit of the doubt.

  • Let’s set aside the fact that United has been financially mismanaged for decades. Let’s forget about the massive government bailouts, the strikes and union conflicts.
  • Let’s ignore the fact that whenever I fly United, I always notice their flight attendants seem beleaguered and stressed. I look in their faces and I see men and women who appear to be working and living in a toxic environment.

Let’s suspend all that for awhile.

  • Let’s assume that because of the thin margins and economics of the airline industry, United really and truly had no choice but to overbook the flight.
  • And let’s imagine that United really and truly had NO CHOICE but to get 4 passengers off that plane. Let’s say they really did have to, for some reason, put 4 crew members on that plane instead.
  • And let’s acknowledge that nobody on that plane wanted to go.
  • And United really was between a rock and a hard place.

Then if I were CEO Oscar Munoz, here is what I would have said:

"So many options for growing my business, but what should I do NOW?" Tell me your most pressing business problems and I'll show you your BEST next step.

“I was as horrified as all Americans everywhere when I witnessed a 67 year old doctor being dragged from one of our airplanes.

“As CEO of United, I take full responsibility for this. It is utterly against our values for any passenger to be treated that way. I have personally called this man and apologized and asked if he will meet with me and our board members privately, so that all of us can express our sorrow over this incident.

“For a very complex set of reasons, the airline had no choice but to ask four passengers to de-plane. In this particular situation, none of the passengers were willing to re-route. We have never encountered that exact situation. Our policy manual did not provide an appropriate set of actions for our crew.

“Had this passenger been carrying weapons or behaving inappropriately, then the use of force would have been entirely appropriate. But it was not appropriate for this 67 year old doctor. So we will be revamping our procedures. We will also closely examine the systems that led to this flight being overbooked in the first place.

I apologize to our employees, our passengers, our Club members, and all airline patrons everywhere. We will make sure this never happens again.”


The only way to get forgiveness is to issue a GOOD apology.

One of the things they never teach you in business school, or PR school, is how to issue a sincere and meaningful apology.


And if you can’t apologize properly, you’ll never be forgiven properly.

This incident dinged United’s stock price and gave them a black eye in front of millions of people.

From now on, every time United overbooks a flight and has to ask passengers to re-route, this story will be murmured throughout the entire plane. This incident cost the company somewhere between $10 million and $100 million.

Everybody knows that regardless of any policy or situation, no passenger who bought a ticket and who was promised a seat should be violently dragged from their seat.

And yes, somebody is guilty.

Swallow your pride, Mr. CEO (ALL of us are guilty at times, are we not?) and admit your guilt.

I promise you, everything will go FAR better afterwards.

Perry Marshall

P.S.: This abomination is what happens when PROCEDURES matter more than PEOPLE.

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

65 Comments on “United Airlines CEO supplies a [email protected]#$%-ing priceless lesson for us all”

  1. If people would only obey the word of God we wouldn’t have these problems. Romans 13:1-2. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

  2. They say that alcohol is a truth serum, and a lot of us have had the experience of dating someone who is great to be with and around, until, they get drunk and then the real person comes out, and it’s not pretty. They’re belligerent, arrogant and disrespectful of everyone, embarrassing you in front of your friends and family members. Well businesses are not immune from their own truth serum, which instead of alcohol, comes in the form of pressure, stress and deadlines. When these things occur and the company has to interact with it’s customers, the truth serum kicks in and they are exposed for the company they really, truly are at their core.
    This incident simply showed the world how United Airlines truly feels about their customers and gives us insight as to what the real conversations they have behind closed doors concerning how to regard their customers, which in this case seems to be in the same belligerent, arrogant and disrespectful manner in which that date does everyone around them when they’ve had a few too many drinks.

  3. Potential new United Airlines slogans:

    “We put the hospital in hospitality”

    “Board as a doctor, leave as a patient”

    “Our prices can’t be beaten, but our passengers can”

    “We have First Class, Business Class and No Class”

    “Not enough seating, prepare for a beating”

    “We treat you like we treat your luggage”

    “We beat the customer. Not the competition”

    “And you thought leg room was an issue”

    “Where voluntary is mandatory”

    “Fight or flight. We decide”

    “Now offering one free carry off”

    “Beating random customers since 2017”

    “If our staff needs a seat, we’ll drag you out by your feet”

    “A bloody good airline”

  4. The Doctor and his wife were aboard the flight, I would have targeted single passengers to begin with and if there were no takers I would have considered alternative solutions like (1) if it was absolutely necessary for the company employees to be somewhere the next day one could have chartered a small jet to get them there (by the time the lawsuit is over they could have bought the smaller aircraft) (2) rented an automobile and let them drive to their destination or provided a driver along with the auto. These are just two alternatives. Now to the bullies who pummeled the man, it would be their last day on the job; I, personally, would have refused to bodily remove the man even if it cost me my job. What kind of mentality rests in a man’s soul to treat an elderly person the way they did? Criminals and Prisoners of war get better treatment than that. There is an old saying “the customer is always right” something that United needs to live by.

  5. United is STUPID, I am pretty sure if they had kept increasing the price to their CUSTOMERS to give up a seat they would have had a HAPPY CUSTOMER, willing to give up their seat and catch another flight. Instead they tried to use “force” to take… I mean DRAAAAG the Customer out after they beat the $%^^& out of him. I am not a lawyer but again pretty sure once you pay for the ticket, board the plane, and take YOUR seat they can not legally make you give it up. They can stop you from boarding but once you are on board it is YOUR seat.

    Now they are going to pay Big Time!!

  6. The pilot is in charge of the plane. The pilot, and crew members need to have ownership airplane and what happens to the passengers. Instead they call the government goons to inflict pain on a passenger who is their care. The pilot and crew detached from there responsibility for passengers following there power granted by the government.

  7. I am not sure you all will not forget this shortly. And will continue to fly them. I used to fly United, left them many moons ago…..
    One thing I learned early on in my career – there is no such thing as bad press as long as they spell your name correctly. Has anybody even thought if this was a planned incident to get free publicity for the troubled airline?. Some food for thought……..

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