James Fallows offers a piece in The Atlantic today following up on the family who was removed from a United flight for complaining about the in-flight movie and also following up on my own expulsion from United flight a week later after a rogue FA lied about me taking pictures onboard.
In response to the ejected family, United has amended its in-flight movie policy, now showing only movies rated PG or G on overhead monitors. A victory for them to be sure, though I believe it is not necessarily the rating, but the specific content–overt violence or sex that cannot be edited like language can–that renders certain films unsuitable to be shown to general audiences.
More interestingly for me was a letter sent into Fallows from a legacy United captain regarding my own ejection:
I am a Captain with United Airlines. I have been with UA for over 25 years. There is no excuse for the way you [actually Matthew Klint] were treated on your Newark Istanbul flight.
Let me tell you how the incident should have been handled. I had a very similar incident on a Las Vegas-Dulles flight. A flight attendant told me of a disruptive passenger that would not move his underage son out of the exit row. I went out of the cockpit to see what was going on. I went to Customer Service and had them come back to the airplane. I spoke with the man. I wanted to hear his side of the story. He began to tell me how UA had put his special needs son in a different row than him. He had moved the child to the row because the FA had not listened to him, but ordered him to move the boy. While he was telling me his side the FA immediately tried to interrupt. I told her to let the man speak. When he was through I told him not to worry the Customer Service person would re-seat them so that we could get on our way.
I wanted to point out the difference in approach to the situation. The flight attendant had told me what she thought was going on. She told me how they had to move or be thrown off the airplane. As a professional I wanted to get all the facts before just arbitrarily removing someone from the airplane. The situation was defused and we went on our way.
I did not come out of the cockpit with the preconceived notion that I was going to throw someone off the ac. In your situation I would not have overreacted over pictures. I did not know such a rule even existed. I am confused about the picture thing anyway. I would have listened to you before I made a determination whether you had to leave.
You need to know that United was not always so anti passenger in the past. Since continental took over our management they have brought in all kinds of rather strange and illogical rules.
1. You cannot take pictures, I assume because of security, but they are paying to have the secondary barriers that protect the cockpit removed from our aircraft.
2. You cannot pay cash for your food or drinks in coach.
3. You can order special meals such as Hindu, but you will most likely get a burger because management is from Texas and everyone likes beef right? (Didn’t work out so well with a group of Indian Hindu engineers in First Class coming from London. You know the sacred cow and all. I apologized to them, but the damage was done.)
We are supposed to speak to our CEO like he is a close friend or something. If you don’t call him Jeff he becomes upset. [JF note: This is Jeff Smisek, well known to all United travelers because of the video ads featuring him that precede the safety instructions on each flight.] They call everyone co-workers. They setup a human resource complaint system so that anyone can file formal complaints against their fellow workers for the littlest thing. You can be terminated. We have over 200 complaints being investigated just for the pilots so far.
My point is the new UA management is anti-employee as well as anti-passenger. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on everyone. Some people handle it differently than others. I think your case is a perfect example.
I on behalf of all United Airlines employees would like to apologize to you to your ordeal. Management might think they are too important to apologize, but I think you would find the people that make the airline work don’t think that way.
I like what he has to say, though I’ll start with a few minor criticisms.
First, I’d love to know more about how/why United is removing secondary barriers to the cockpit. I did find a Bloomberg article stating that United has not only foregone, but paid Boeing to remove the secondary barrier from the 787.
In her letter to the president, Saracini said United Continental Holdings Inc. recently paid Boeing Co. to remove the secondary barrier from Dreamliner 787s it had ordered.
I am just speculating here, but I think the captain is referring to the “wire cage” that latches across the aisle just in front of the galley on legacy United 757-200s to block passengers while the flight deck door is open. Because the galley cart serves essentially the same purpose, I do not quite see the problem here.
Second, I understand why United (and all the legacies) have done away with cash–I’ve talked to FAs who have admitted that cash from liquor sales is used to augment their income! With alcohol free in the forward cabins, there was far too little accountability in collecting cash from onboard liquor and food purchases. Plus, who doesn’t carry a debit or credit card anymore?
Third, I agree that “since [C]ontinental took over our management they have brought in all kinds of rather strange and illogical rules” but it was a legacy United crew on my Newark-Istanbul flight. I generally find Continental crews to be more lazy and apathetic while UA crews are more prone to trot out the “but 9/11” mantra for anything they are uncomfortable with. Having said that, I can only think of two incidents in my decade of flying legacy United in which that happened–once on this flight and the other time when a JFK-based FA screamed at me to sit down when I got up to take something out of the overhead bin during a p.s. flight in 2007 when the flight deck door was open (this despite the aforementioned “wire cage” being deployed).
His revelation that United has a system in place to rat out employees, if true, is quite disturbing. Nothing creates a culture of fear, mistrust, and hostility then in making it easy for employees to tattle on each other for any reason without recourse.
Most importantly, I like the way he handled his own passenger controversy. Many defended the captain who thew me off the Istanbul flight for taking the side of the FA, arguing his focus had to be on getting the flight out on time and it would have undermined this FA, his ability to gain trust from all his FAs, and potentially created a hostile working climate if he had taken time to hear both sides before kicking me off.
This captain makes a fine counter-argument, showing that a few minutes of genuine concern and leadership can get to the bottom of the matter and solve it. We must not forget how serious it is to throw a passenger off the plane, particularly on the pretense of a mistruth.
What do you think about the captain’s letter? A thoughtful and insightful letter that reveals the deep fissures between management and pilots at United Airlines or a letter from a disgruntled pilot angry that life under the new United seems worse than before?