Friday, 14 April 2017

Bumping passengers off of planes

Bumping passengers from planes is much different that removing passengers from planes. The former is done because the planes are overbooked. The latter is done because passengers are creating unnecessary disturbances.

My wife and I have flown around Canada, the United States, Hawaii, Europe, Africa, South America and Asia and it was only once in those many flights, that  I was bumped off of a plane. We were flying from one Hawaiian island to another and for a reason I was never told about, they had one passenger too many. The flight attendant made an announcement. “I need one passenger to leave the plane and catch the next one an hour and a half  from now.” No one volunteered. She walked to where my wife and I sat and looked at me and said, “I am sorry Sir but I will have to ask you to be the person who will leave the plane.” I asked her to wait for a minute. I spoke to my wife and told her where in the airport to wait for me. Then I left the plane. Two and a half hours later, the same plane returned and half and hour later, I was reunited with my wife. I knew the owner of the airline and when I told him what had happened, he was most apologetic and said that had I told the flight attendant that my wife and I were sitting together, she would have chosen someone else. I actually did tell the flight attendant that we were man and wife but it didn’t matter to her.

Air Canada was ordered by the Canadian federal government to pay compensation in cash to bumped passengers on domestic flights. It pays $200/$400/$800 in cash, depending on the length of the delay, for flights within Canada and from Canada to the U.S. It pays up to $650 and $1,300 for bumping delays involving flights from the U.S. to Canada.

Now that may be satisfactory to some passengers if the delay isn’t too long and it isn’t an overnight delay and they haven’t booked a hotel at their next destination or they are catching another plane at their next destination or are attending a conference and they are the guest speakers.  

Airlines who bump passengers from flights when airlines sell tickets to more people than they can transport, are essentially gambling with their bumped passengers’ time and schedules. 

Why do they sell tickets to more passengers than the planes are able to carry?  The reason is that many times, there are cancellations and the extra ticket sales will make the passenger list whole again. Unfortunately, when there are no cancelations, the airline ends up with more passengers than the plane can carry.  

The airline’s hungry pigs want full planes and to guarantee that they will always have full planes as they slurp in their troughs, they don’t care that they have to bump some of their passengers and thereby causing havoc with their bumped passenger’s schedules. It all comes down to greed.  Well, as we all know, greed can have serious consequences. Just ask King Midas who faced the problem that everything he touched turned into gold—including his daughter.   

Compelling ticketed passengers to give up a seat because the plane is overbooked can be costly, and as United Airlines has learned, it can be very damaging to an airline's reputation and its shares and ticket sales.

A day after the forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky provoked a social media furor in the United States.  A similar outcry followed in China, after state-run news outlets there described the man as being of Chinese descent. Further, millions of people word wide watched on their television sets, as the airport security goons were dragging the screaming passenger from the plane while children on the plane were crying at what they were seeing and hearing. The reason for the removal? The plane was overbooked.

By the evening of April 14th, the hashtag “United forcibly removes passenger from plane” was the most popular topic on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, garnering more than 270 million views and more than 150,000 comments. Many Chinese social media users accused United Airline of racism, while many others called for a boycott.

What really harmed United Airlines' and Chicago's airpport's security's images was the cellphone of a passenger who videotaped the incident for everyone world-wide to see on their television screens. 

The controversy has threatened to hurt United’s revenue in China, where the airline began flying in 1986 and has steadily built a loyal customer base. As of last May, United had 96 departures a week to cities in mainland China and Hong Kong.   

This would be a good time for the airline, Cathay Pacific to take over that route. My wife and I have flown on that airline’s planes many times in South Asia. One day while my wife and I were boarding one of their planes,  its pilot said to me, “You must really like our planes. I often see you in them.” It is a good airline.  The Chinese would love that airline to take over the China mainland Hong Kong route also.  If that happens; United can then fly home using its rhetorical broken wings.

United has said that the passenger and three others were selected to be removed from the flight after no one accepted the offer of a flight voucher to leave voluntarily. The other three passengers left without incident. United’s chief executive, Oscar Munoz, apologized for “having to re-accommodate these customers,” called the episode “upsetting” and said the airline was conducting a review. I wonder if he apologized to the Chinese passenger personally.

Now we have all learned that the Airport security goons broke the man’s nose, damaged his sinuses which will require reconstruction surgery, broke two of his teeth and caused him to suffer from a concussion. He has now sued United for five million dollars. No doubt the airline will settle out of court since they don’t want the case to go to court and have all their dirty laundry put on display.  He has included the City of Chicago that controls the airport for the actions of the airport’s security goons that dragged the Chinese passenger off the plane in that claim.  

If you were a bumped passenger who was flying to a city where in two hours later, you were to sign a contract worth millions of dollars and if you didn’t arrive on time and your competitor subsequently got the contract, would United’s voucher and an apology from the president of the airline smooth your ruffled feathers?  I doubt it.

 I can’t even imagine in my wildest thoughts as to just how many millions of dollars this particular airline is going to lose as a direct result of their latest fiasco.  I would be surprised if their ticket sales didn’t suddenly get sucked down their rhetorical toilet. I for one; will never fly on a United Airline plane and not just because of this particular glitch in the airline’s history. Flying on one of United’s planes is not unlike buying a used car that has been in many accidents and continues to rattle on.  

An Ontario woman was given an United Airline fight voucher because she volunteered to be bumped off their plane she was on that was going to Orlando Florida. The woman said that she and her family waited 10 hours in the Newark airport before getting on the next flight. She says they didn't get to Orlando until after 1:30 a.m., which meant they couldn't use one of the day passes they had bought for Disney World.

In early May, the woman went on the United Airlines website to use her voucher to book another flight to Florida over this year's Christmas holidays. But when she entered the voucher's PIN, she says it didn't work. She then called United's toll-free customer service number and was told her voucher was not valid.

United Airlines apologized to the Ontario woman for mistakenly cancelling the $1,000 travel voucher she received for volunteering to give up her seat on an overbooked flight, delaying her trip to Disney World in Florida. But United hadn't said why it didn't respond to the woman's complaint for more than six weeks, and only responded and fixed the problem after being contacted by CBC News.

Airline consumer advocates say that getting off an overbooked flight in exchange for a voucher can be a crapshoot because flights are so full these days, you might not get another flight for the day you want. Experts say the offer of a voucher also highlights the gamble passengers take when offering to give up their seats in return for a voucher that offers a discount off a future flight.

Passengers shouldn't voluntarily give up their seats without getting a boarding pass for the next flight, "because a promise that you're going to get on the next flight isn't the same as getting a seat assignment." If you do get off the flight, instead of a voucher;  passengers can and should demand cash.

In 2009, Canadian musician Dave Carroll tried and failed to get United to pay for a guitar he says was broken during a flight. Frustrated by United's response, Carroll wrote the song United Breaks Guitars. The YouTube video went viral. Four days after it was posted, United's stock had fallen 10 per cent. United apologized and asked to use the video to train its employees and help change its corporate culture.  If they were trained, the results are not apparent yet.

United is still struggling to fix customer service issues after some well-publicized mistakes in the past hit them in their corporate butt.

According to the Department of Transportation data, U.S. airlines forced only six out of every thousand passengers to give up their seats on oversold planes last year. It is the lowest rate since the government began tracking the practice in 1995.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a total of 631,939,829 passengers boarded domestic flights in the United States in the year 2010.  This averages to 1.73 million passengers flying per day. Considering just how many thousands there are in 631,939,829 passengers, this could amount to thousands of passengers a year that are bumped from their planes. The way I see it, the airline industry  has to improve their problem of overbooking.

First of all, once they have booked everyone who purchased the tickets either ahead of time or at the counter and those persons are on the plane, none of those passengers should be ordered to leave the plane so that someone else will take their seat. If the airline offers cash as an incentive and a passenger accepts the offer to leave the plane; then that is OK.             

Every passenger plane has a bumper seat in the cockpit so if another captain is flying to another city to fly another plane; that is where the captain will sit.

In the days when passengers would be permitted to visit the cockpits to watch the pilots flying their planes, on one of my many trips, at my request, I was brought to the cockpit by the flight attendant. When the captain asked me why I was flying to San Francisco, I told him that the California Department of Corrections had invited me as a criminologist to visit all of their prisons.  The captain and co-pilot were intrigued as I told them of the prisons in the USA and Canada that I had already visited.  As we were flying over the City of Oakland and approaching the bay that separates Oakland and San Francisco, the captain said it was too late for me to return to my seat and invited me to sit in the empty bumper seat. I am probably the only passenger who ever sat in the cockpit of a plane while it was landing at an airport.  

And now, I am going to tell you a true story that will make you will see the irony. Many years ago, a politician was a late arrival and demanded that someone be taken off the plane that was already full. A young man was chosen to vacate his seat and leave the plane. The politician said to the young man, “Don’t fret sonny. Some day in the future, if you ae a politician, you can also take over the seat of a passenger,” Twenty minutes later when the plane was in the air, it suddenly took a nosedive and crashed. Everyone in the plane was killed.

I would have loved to have seen the expression on the face of that politician as the plane was spiraling downward. Unfortunately, I would have had to also be in that plane to see his face.

Considering just how many passenger planes there are in flight in the world at any one time, the chances of being killed in a plane crash is very remote. But as fate would have it, I ended up in one such crash.

I was in a plane that crash-landed at an airport. The rear engine caught fire when the plane hit the runway and the captain quickly moved the plane to the terminal so that everyone could get off safely.  

I was sitting in the window seat but I couldn’t undo my seat belt since I had broken my right upper arm years earlier and the bone fused my arm to the extent that I can’t move it backwards. My wife who was standing in the aisle tried to unbuckle me but she was pushed away by the passengers who were moving very quickly to the forward part of the plane. Within a minute, I was the only person left in the plane. The smoke began choking me so naturally I was scared that I would be burned to death. My wife told one of the flight attendants that I was still buckled in my seat. The flight attendant ran into the plane (I was in the middle of the plane) and she unbuckled me  and dragged me out of the plane.

Was it fate that saved me?  They say that the chances of being killed in a car crash is very slim indeed  considering how many cars are on the road at any one time. Well I was in a car crash when another car T-boned my car at a hundred miles an hour. It took the firemen twenty minutes to release me from the car. I end up in the hospital for two weeks.  

I am a survivor. I am in my eighties and no matter how many times I have cheated death (including three heart attacks and living with only 27 % of my heart functioning) I am still around.

What is my secret to longevity?  Only the good people die when they are young. My wife says I am so bad, I will actually outlive God. But then, she tends to exaggerate. I have told my wife a million times not to exaggerate. 

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