Why We Still Fly The Unfriendly Skies

Why We Still Fly The Unfriendly Skies

Richard Branson was unique: he looked at the airline industry and decided he could do it better…and he did. The former Virgin Atlantic Airways, which he founded in 1984, was famous for their customer service. Ironically Branson’s inspiration came from being booked on a cancelled (undersold) flight from Puerto Rico to BVI. He was so incensed that he decided to charter his own flight and offered the other passengers who were also stranded with a ride for a small fee ($39). The rest as they say is history.


After chartering his first flight to BVI, Branson thought that this would be a good time to get into the airline industry because, as he said, “In those days they didn’t care about people at all.” Boy have times changed: Richard Branson meet Dr. David Dao.

By now most people are familiar with the video of a United Airlines passenger (Dr. David Dao) who was bloodied and removed by force from United flight #3411 because the flight was “overbooked” and United was reported as needing to make room for “airline staff.” After boarding, four people were asked to leave and one refused: Dr. David Dao. Three cops later, a bloody face, and a video being viewed online by millions of shocked viewers and all of a sudden we are back to the future. Over three decades after Branson’s epiphany and many airlines like United still act like they truly don’t care about people at all.

I have been bumped from flights in the past but never carried-out by force. At least not yet that is…I haven’t flown United in years. Most airlines will offer incentives (money, flight miles and vouchers, etc.) for people to remove themselves from oversold flights and most the time it does not require 3 cops to enforce after boarding. According to reports, passengers in United #3411 were offered $400 and a hotel to take a flight the next day. After boarding, United increased its offer to $800 and nobody volunteered. At that point, four were told to leave. Did anybody at United understand economics? Nearly everything comes at a price – including paying the right amount of money to get boarded passengers to leave an oversold plane to make room for “airline staff.” United may have tried to save a few hundred dollars while getting an “F” in economics on flight #3411 but the damage now will add many more zeros to that number once the dust clears from this.


I have been a business traveler for a number of decades and like most other American’s I have been tethered to legacy airline programs based largely by where I lived at the time. Our politically orchestrated hub-and-spoke system of airports and airlines basically make the consumers choice of who to fly about as diverse as the options currently provided by the Affordable Care Act State Exchanges. If you live in places like Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, etc., your choices are very limited – especially if you fly often. The airlines who control these hubs know this and offer frequent flyer perks that make your alternative options effectively obsolete. I wonder if Dr. David Dao was a frequent flyer of United since he was flying out of Chicago (United’s hub)? After all, frequent flyers are supposed to be treated better than regular passengers – right David?


Despite the near universal hatred of legacy airline flying, some people are much better off than others. I live in Phoenix so that means I fly Southwest Airlines nearly all the time. Of all the major airlines I have received frequent flyer status and perks from, Southwest has been by far the best. Moreover, I would be shocked to see somebody like Dr. David Dao dragged from one of their planes. If anything, Southwest would simply give him so many free drink coupons (like they do me) that he would pass out first. Southwest also places hearts all over their planes so I guess that means something good both culturally and symbolically. I wonder what United could use for a symbol now: perhaps a picture of Ronda Rousey after her defeat to Holly Holm? Or how about Rodney King’s LAPD mugshot? Or maybe Dr. David Dao’s bloodied face will suffice.Southwest United


In addition to avoiding oversold flights, you may also want to delay upcoming funerals as well. Just ask Bryant Raburn’s family when his body was finally delivered two days late to his own funeral service with only an hour to spare. Apparently Delta Airlines didn’t know how to deliver the body on time which was stuck in a cargo hold and only released after a family member had to fly to Nashville to find a way to get the body on a plane to make his own service. My guess is United would have found a more creative way to quickly get a body removed from a cargo hold…memo to Delta.


Business travel is never easy and we have all tolerated a lot over the years. Seats are getting smaller, we have to now pay for checked and carry-on bags, flights are increasingly over-sold, and most airlines still continue to act like they do not care about people at all. Perhaps we flyers will one day look at Dr. David Dao in a similar way that we looked at Rodney King. Maybe…maybe not. Until then I will squeeze into my seat, pray nobody large takes the middle seat, and be thankful when the business I am paying tens of thousands of dollars to each year doesn’t beat me up and remove me by force.

Or maybe, just maybe I will be lucky and Richard Branson will get bumped along with me on my next flight and I can catch a ride with him instead. After all, this was the same man who once said that “business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”

I wonder what new business opportunities are now coming along thanks to United flight #3411…

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