United’s Official Report On Flight 3411 Raises More Questions Than It Answers; Plus, The Excellent Customer Service Changes That United Will Make Going Forward

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Update: In a surprise to nobody, United has settled with Dr. Dao, effectively bringing the matter to a close. The settlement amount will remain confidential…anyone care to take a guess as to how much United contributed to Dr. Dao’s retirement fund in order to avoid dragging the case out in court?


United has released their official report on what happened on flight 3411 earlier this month when Dr. Dao was dragged off the plane by Chicago aviation police officers.

I wrote my original thoughts on the incident here.

You can read United’s report above, but allow me to cut through some of the corporate speak and add some of my own research:

United flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville on 4/9 was operated by an ERJ-170 with 70 seats (6 first, 16 economy plus, 48 economy minus). It was scheduled to depart at 5:40pm and was overbooked by 1 seat. All of the passengers refused to volunteer their seats, so one passenger without a seat assignment was involuntarily denied boarding at the gate and handed a check on the spot. That left 70 passengers to board the flight.

Meanwhile, United flight 4448 (United fails to mention the flight number in the report) from Chicago to Louisville on 4/9 was operated by an ERJ-145 with 50 seats. It was scheduled to depart Chicago at 2:55pm and was carrying 4 deadheading United crew members on their way to Louisville to work on United flight 3658 from Louisville to Newark, scheduled to depart on 4/10 at 6:55am. That flight was experiencing mechanical issues and United was unsure that they were going to be able to fix the plane. The crew left flight 4448 and went to flight 3411 after it was already boarded. United had to get the crew to Louisville or else the flight to Newark and more flights afterward would have been cancelled. Thus United wound up needing to find 4 more volunteers to give up their seats from flight 3411, after it had already boarded.

The United report completely fails to mention United flight 4771 from Chicago to Louisville on 4/9 which was operated by an ERJ-135 with 37 seats. Flight 4771 departed on time at 9pm. It’s unclear if this flight was full as the flight is not even mentioned in the report.

-It’s not clear from the report why the crew didn’t switch from flight 4448 to flight 3411 before flight 3411 had boarded, which would have spared the entire incident.

-It’s also unclear from the report as to why the passengers onboard United flight 3411 were told that they wouldn’t be able to fly to Louisville until the next day, when several seats aboard flight 4448 were apparently just vacated by the crew. Why weren’t they offered the ability to fly on flight 4448, with the caveat that it was undergoing maintenance and might be cancelled?

-And why couldn’t the passengers onboard United flight 3411 be offered travel on flight 4771? Even if that flight was full and there were zero no-shows, United could have tried to find other people to volunteer their seats from that flight.

In 2008 I was bumped off of 7 United flights over a 2 day span from Chicago to Cleveland while I racked up vouchers and kept getting reaccommodated in first class on the next flight, despite the next flight being oversold. So United agents are definitely able to move volunteers onto another flight, even if it is oversold.

 

Flight 4448 did get its mechanical issues fixed and wound up departing Chicago at 9:42pm. It’s unclear how many passengers were aboard as the report glosses over that issue.

 

Back to flight 3411. The gate agent was only authorized to offer $800 in United funny money, a hotel for the night, and a flight to Louisville on 4/10. Nobody accepted. If the gate agent would have offered a flight later that day it’s very likely that they would have found volunteers, but the gate agent did not offer a same day flight.

The computer generated the names of 4 passengers to involuntarily remove from the flight based on who was in the cheapest fare class, who checked in the latest, and who wasn’t an elite member, an unaccompanied minor, or a disabled traveler.

2 couples were chosen. The first couple deplaned and were presumably given an involuntary denied boarding check for 4 times their airfare (capped at $1,350). Dr. Dao and his wife were also chosen and of course he refused and the police were called. He was physically abused and removed from the flight by Chicago aviation police officers who lied about what happened and are now on administrative leave. Dr. Dao subsequently ran back onto the flight and then had to be removed for a 2nd time. The entire flight was then deplaned and reboarded, with the 4 deadheading crew members taking the seats of the 4 bumped passengers. Flight 3411 departed Chicago at 7:42pm.

 

United admits to 4 shortcomings. Calling the police when nobody’s safety was in jeopardy, rebooking the crew members after the flight was boarded, not offering enough compensation for people to volunteer their seat, and not training their employees to properly deal with a situation like this.

United is clear to note that none of those were the fault of the gate agent or flight attendants. United’s policy about calling the police was vague, United policy allowed for deadheading crew members to bump paying passengers off a plane, United didn’t allow the gate agent to offer more than $800, and United didn’t train the agent for the situation.

United steers clear of blaming the crew for not intervening when they saw how the Chicago aviation police officers were treating Dr. Dao. Then again they were likely just as in shock as most passengers were about what was going on.

United is frustratingly vague about the other flights and whether the gate agent should have offered to at least try to accommodate passengers on the other 2 flights going from Chicago to Louisville that night, despite the mechanical issues that one of the flights was having.

 

At any rate, good things will come out of all of this:

1. As of 4/12, United will no longer call on police to remove customers from a flight, unless there is a safety issue.

Then again, Delta just kicked someone off a plane for using the bathroom under the guise of it being a security threat, so pretty much everything on a plane can be construed to be a safety issue.

2. Effective today, United will no longer involuntarily remove a passenger once they are seated, unless there is a safety issue.

3. Effective tomorrow, United will authorize gate agents to offer up to $10,000 in United travel vouchers to get people to volunteer their seat. This should effectively eliminate the need to ever involuntarily deny boarding.

I doubt United will ever have to offer nearly that much money, but it makes for good clickbait titles which will surely go viral. In practice people will grab the offer when it’s much lower than $10,000.

4. By June, United will make a team to assist gate agents with creative rebooking solutions, such as flights on other airlines, other airports, and ground transportation when needed.

This is something that savvy travelers already do. Gate agents often don’t see options that Google Flights make easy to see. They’re typically more than willing to listen to suggestions if you tell them your desired alternate routing options. But it’s good that even non-savvy passengers should benefit from this.

5. As of 4/14, United requires that deadheading crew members heading to work on another flight be booked for travel at least an hour before departure.

I have to wonder if this will really be enforced. Will United really be willing to cancel a flight from another airport if the only way to get crew there is by booking them within an hour onto a full flight? Truthfully, with the new compensation levels they can still book them and find people more than willing to volunteer their seat.

6. Training will begin in August for gate agents and flight attendants to deal with situations like the one on flight 3411 without involving the police.

7. Later this year, United will allow passengers checking into oversold flights to enter how much compensation, if any, that they would accept to be bumped off of the flight. United will take the lowest bids and give the bumped passengers the compensation they requested.

While you might think you’re clever by entering $10,000, there’s likely someone else willing to get bumped for $500.

8. United will reduce overbooking on flights with low volunteer rates. That is beneficial for United, especially with the new higher compensation levels. United says this reduction in overbooking will focus on the last flights of the day to a destination, when an overnight stay would be required. That seems to me to imply that flight 3411 was the last flight of the day, though as we know, it was not.

The last 2 items are general customer service improvements, which are both excellent:

9. Later this year, United gate agents and flight attendants will be empowered to award passengers miles, travel credit, or other forms of compensation when things go wrong.

You shouldn’t need to email customer service to get compensated for a problem. Once this system is rolled out, United will be able to deal with issues on the spot.

10. As of June, United will stop asking for proof of what was in your checked luggage when they lose your luggage. Instead they will cut a check for $1,500 cash per lost bag, no questions asked. You can still file proof of loss if there was more than $1,500 of covered items in the bag.

This is long overdue as well. There’s no reason for an airline to force you to find documentation of items purchased when they lose your bag.

 

All in all these are some very customer friendly changes, it’s just a shame that it takes a horrific incident for them to be implemented. I just wish United was a bit more forthcoming about the other flights that operated that evening from Chicago to Louisville…

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53 Comments On "United’s Official Report On Flight 3411 Raises More Questions Than It Answers; Plus, The Excellent Customer Service Changes That United Will Make Going Forward"

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Pillan

“United steers clear of blaming the crew for not intervening…”

Nor should the crew intervene with LEO.

lisa

wow!! great review Dan, thank you!! still ashamed at United for what happened..

AsherO

Is it normal for airlines to release such reports while there is pending legal action?

David

There has been a race to the bottom for so long.

All of these are common sense changes that shouldn’t have needed a viaral incident to inspire. Imagine if an airline took a different approach and tried to value customer service and customer experience. If these policies had been in place they would have overall saved money by avoiding this one incident, and many more customers would have had a positive experience from United.

Red

@AsherO

Their urgent need to fix their public reputation vastly exceeds whatever they’ll have to pay in a settlement, even if they might be admitting fault here. They’re hemorrhaging loyalty and customers and putting a stop to that is PR-1, to borrow their parlance.

Anonymous

The rules with bumping should legally change, once passenger is boarded. The term “denied boarding” is not suitable for this case as the passenger already boarded. Media reporting fails to mention that it is only a for hr drive to louisville from chicago. United could have either driven there crew, or offered the passengers an uber, + more compensation.

Jack out of the box

The whole fiasco could have been avoided by just sending crew, or duly compensated passengers, on a 5 hour taxi ride if all the flights were indeed booked solid.

JohnnieD

The whole, stupid incident, would have been avoided if the gate agents had increased the cash offer which I guarantee would have been accepted by the time it got to $1700. United is 100% at fault in spite of the “police” using their alternative reality for their “reports”.

Doug

While not defending United, this should have never happened, I find it interesting that no one puts any blame on Dr Dao. He resisted law enforcement, that usually never ends well. The fact is law enforcement had the right to remove him. He could have been a normal civilized person and left like the other 3. Video shows he was on the phone with his lawyer as the police approached him. He purposely screamed and flailed around and basically resisted. His own actions caused his injuries. He faked out the police and came running back on the plane knowing everything was being video taped. It seems likely Dr Dao had his own motivations. Looking at his reputation only confirms that thought. I have shed no tears for the Doctor who was banned from practicing until recently and is banned from ever treating anyone in a hospital.

Moish

@Doug:

I am not sure the law enforcement had the right to remove him. He wasn’t violating any criminal law. It was more of a civil disagreement.

Doug

Trespassing.

Cubs Fan

Do you anticipate a nice CC offer now on the mileage explorer card?

Dumb

Sorry to say but if law enforcement instructs you to do something – you listen! You can then call the president himself and sue the whole world – but had he of followed that part of the law it would have avoided all this.

Anonymous

Number 7 is terrible. Typically you would show up at kiosk/gate and volunteer to be bumped. They would have you board last, and if they needed you to be bumped, you were always able to negotiate up. This will significantly depress compensation.

joe

@Dumb

why ? he will get a 7 figure settlement. If he would have just listened to law enforcement & gotten off the plane he would have gotten $800.00. He is smart!

mareh

Good article, well researched and well written – good job Dan

jake

@AsherO: who says there is a pending action? no info regarding anyone filing suit has been made public. i know, your gonna say that his attorney asked a judge to order united to retain all evidence. granted. however, that doesnt mean an actual complaint or lawsuit was filed. there is a process and without getting into much detail, no lawsuit has commenced as of yet. it could be they feel its in their best interest to release a report for customer service benefits but then again, we’re all speculating

Joetraveller

Will passengers who agreed to a lower bump price be offered the same amount as other passengers who held out for more?

AsherO

What do you think of the following policy United recently threw into their apology advertisements?

“• We will eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags with a new no-questions-asked $1,500 reimbursement. “

Anonymous

@jake:

Unless he already negotiated a settlement, why wouldn’t he sue?

NYSF

Did anyone else get the below email from United? Interesting that they are giving their employees even an app to give one-off “goodwill gestures”. Still not sure this is going to make me “truly proud to say, ‘I fly United.'”

Dear ____,

Each flight you take with us represents an important promise we make to you, our customer. It’s not simply that we make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.

Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes. We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words.

For the past several weeks, we have been urgently working to answer two questions: How did this happen, and how can we do our best to ensure this never happens again?

It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.

Fixing that problem starts now with changing how we fly, serve and respect our customers. This is a turning point for all of us here at United – and as CEO, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we learn from this experience and redouble our efforts to put our customers at the center of everything we do.

That’s why we announced that we will no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.

We also know that despite our best efforts, when things don’t go the way they should, we need to be there for you to make things right. There are several new ways we’re going to do just that.

We will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000 and will be eliminating the red tape on permanently lost bags with a new “no-questions-asked” $1,500 reimbursement policy. We will also be rolling out a new app for our employees that will enable them to provide on-the-spot goodwill gestures in the form of miles, travel credit and other amenities when your experience with us misses the mark. You can learn more about these commitments and many other changes at hub.united.com.

While these actions are important, I have found myself reflecting more broadly on the role we play and the responsibilities we have to you and the communities we serve.

I believe we must go further in redefining what United’s corporate citizenship looks like in our society. If our chief good as a company is only getting you to and from your destination, that would show a lack of moral imagination on our part. You can and ought to expect more from us, and we intend to live up to those higher expectations in the way we embody social responsibility and civic leadership everywhere we operate. I hope you will see that pledge express itself in our actions going forward, of which these initial, though important, changes are merely a first step.

Our goal should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, “I fly United.”

Ultimately, the measure of our success is your satisfaction and the past several weeks have moved us to go further than ever before in elevating your experience with us. I know our 87,000 employees have taken this message to heart, and they are as energized as ever to fulfill our promise to serve you better with each flight and earn the trust you’ve given us.

We are working harder than ever for the privilege to serve you and I know we will be stronger, better and the customer-focused airline you expect and deserve.

With Great Gratitude,
Oscar Munoz
Oscar Munoz
CEO
United Airlines

Anonymous

@Joetraveller:
Dream on. That’s why it will significantly depress compensation. Some ppl are unaware of volunteering, and now that the system will prompt every1 and ask for an amount, it will be a race to the bottom.

ExGingi

While the changes are very welcome, and hopefully are only a start for the industry (while #7 bidding on being bumped at time of check-in is already practiced by DL, though the implementation is a little lacking), we are still missing a real change in the “contract of carriage”!

I understand that policy changes go a long way, and that many of these things cannot be put in the contract, but the way the “contracts of carriage” are currently worded, they really protect the airlines 100% and give the public close to nothing in the form of guarantees.

Simplifying the contracts of carriage, and making them a little more even handed, is what we should hope for. Let the airlines compete on service, and on the favorability of the terms of their contracts.

IsraelMatzav

Probably worth letting people know that after the pilot and the co-pilot, the person with authority in the cabin is the purser. That’s what they call the chief flight attendant. Last year, I got denied an upgrade on American coming out of Paris because an agent in the lounge told me I had to choose between a Kosher meal and an upgrade when they could have just brought up my meal from economy. Spoke to the purser afterward and ended up being comp’ed 15,000 miles.

Yossi

Does it matter if you purchased tickets with points? Will you be compensated less if you bought with points?

Mike

And he already settled.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/27/united-settles-with-passenger-dragged-off-flight.html

United Airlines has settled with Dr. David Dao after he was dragged off a flight earlier this month.

The settlement amount remains confidential.

Legal representation for Dao said that United should be applauded “for this acceptance of corporate accountability.”

tivoboy

it’s over anyway, he settled with them. probably got 5M in my opinion

Dave

THANKS DR. DAO!

however, I do find it ironic that the 3 other passenegers who were invlutarily denied boarding only received 800$ and they obeyed commands, albeit unfair ones.

Just in that United just settled with Dr. Dao for an undisclosed amount… lucky him…

Doug

No thanks Dr Dao. You did exactly what you were going for. Your attorney is pretty good because he told you exactly what to do as the officers approached and you followed directions. People can hate United as much as they want, can expect more from airlines, can expect more rights on airlines even though they mostly do not even now the difference, but this is completely ridiculous. Dr. Dao planned this and made his own fate for millions of dollars. Yes he did not mind slamming his head into the seat which made him lose a couple of teeth and bloody his face. The concussion HE created yielded him millions. I am pretty sure there are many who would do the same. If he was trespassing on an office building and pulled the same ridiculous act, no one would care. This was planned and blew up because the public is sick of putting up with flying nowadays. This guy is a sad excuse for a Doctor should receive no accolades from people hoping for greater rewards from being bumped. Good luck with that. Like many mileage games, those days are probably over. Look for the next thing.

YY

Regardless of the Settlment with United, Dao still has another swing at the Chicago Aviation Police Sept. for their aggressive treatment and injuries.

Charles

@Doug: I see this incident in a different light, specifically;
1, I doubt he planned it but he did call his personal lawyer when he felt he was being singled out. That was not the big shot lawyer he called after being assaulted.
2, I have no way to judge his professional skills, you must know him professionally to be so aware of his skills. He did show respect for his job by refusing to be deplaned with a payment just because he had a schedule the next day.
3, Unlike many dansdealers, I work and have professional responsibilities. I do not have the freedom of extending my breaks. I had hello to pay when I missed patients because of a LH strike a few years ago.

Doug

Actually the settlement is final and he cannot pursue any further legal action. This is an insult to law enforcement. Good luck getting $10K for being booted off a flight. The airlines will go out of business very quickly handing out those awards. They will be very rare. Times are a changing like the mileage game itself. This game is over.

Anonymous

Dan what’s your guess?
$5 M sounds about right.

SOZ

@Dan:

1) On Incident + Day 2, I predicted $5MM (30% to attorneys).

2) On Incident + Day 7, I suggested a VDB opt-in/auction at check-in.

3) Anyone need a great stock tip?

J

10-20mm without doubt

Anonymous

@J: UAL doesn’t suffer $10MM verdicts when the passenger dies in a crash.

Anonymous2

Would have to agree. $10M sounds excessive. Around $5M sounds more reasonable.

Anonymous

@SOZ:

We still have no proof your prediction of a $5mm settlement was correct.

Alex

United downgrades business traveller seat due to overbooked flight. United has more issues to solve. It’s still a terrible airline.

Benjamin

@Doug:
This guy probably walked away with atleast 10 million.
Call me crazy, but I’d do the same thing. Guys a genius
genius

Reality Check

I would guess about $100K-$200K.

All those who think its in the 5-10 Million range are watching movies and Attorney Advertisements. People who don’t have lasting damage to their profession and/or ability to work, and who have a very sketchy past, have very little in the way of negotiating for the big bucks. EVEN in high profile cases!

The vast majority of injury cases are settled for less than $50,000(especially where the Company -United- was not really at fault (the police were for the most part)). United probably just payed whatever their attorneys fees here would have been minus about 20% due to the risk the doctor had in going to trial.

The bad press was long since over, and a jury trial would have brought up the fact that he reentered the plane after leaving it. This would have made him a contributor to the event in a MASSIVE way. Typically the jury would have assigned 50% of the blame on him, thus cutting any award in half. then the jury would have likely assigned the Chicago Police with half the blame, thus cutting the United payout in half again.

Of any award given (IF!!) United would have payed out about 25%, most likely, or appealed at that point and then settled for even less.

So don’t get too excited for this doctor.

GTR

I’m with Reality Check. This is a police brutality case. Surely United paid a premium to keep their name out of the courts but his case against United was weak.

Kingwing

Wow Dan very well written. Shows you did your research. Maybe you should think about investigation reporting…
Thanks for the update

Shaul

Dan,
What are the crew rest rules the night before the flight?

It’s possible that they didn’t want the crew to get in as late as either of the other 2 flights due to rest rules, which would have then delayed their 655am flight.

Richard

Dao is a professional poker player. Also a felon. He’s been around the block a few times. No way is he walking away with a paltry $100k-$200k. My first instinct was $5mm, but I’m thinking $5mm after fees.
@Reality Check – I think you’re way off.

Dave

Exactly. Ual shouldn’t have given him a dime.

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