In addition to an ambitious new ten-step customer service plan, United also issued a document entitled United Express Flight 3411 Review and Action Report. You should read that, but also read United’s letter to the Senate Commerce Committee for even more insight.
The public report begins with a detailed account of the incident, attempting to tell the story in an objective manner.
United Express Flight 3411 is regularly scheduled to fly Sunday through Friday from O’Hare to Louisville, with a planned departure of 5:40 p.m. CDT and an arrival of 8:02 p.m. EDT. Seating capacity is 70 customers.
Before boarding, flight 3411 was overbooked by one customer. Despite early attempt by United, via website/kiosk and multiple announcements at the gate asking for customers willing to take later flights, there were no volunteers. As a result, one customer who had not yet been given a seat assignment, was involuntarily denied boarding. The customer received a check as compensation and was booked on another United flight. The other customers were then called to board the plane.
At the same time, an earlier flight to Louisville, originally scheduled to depart O’Hare at 2:55 p.m. CDT was experiencing a maintenance issue (it was unclear if this issue could be fixed, but regardless, it would depart after 3411). Booked on this flight were four crew members, scheduled to operate the early Monday morning United Express flight from Louisville to Newark. Without this crew’s timely arrival in Louisville, there was the prospect of disrupting more than 100 United customers by canceling at least one flight on Monday and likely more. With this in mind, the four crew members were booked on flight 3411, creating the need to identify four customers who would not be able to take the flight.
United agents began to seek four volunteers, this time while customers were seated on the aircraft. The agent offered an $800 travel credit plus the cost of meals and hotel accommodations for the evening, but no customers were willing to accept the offer. The agent then followed the involuntary denial of boarding selection process to determine which customers would be asked to leave the airplane.
Once the four customers on flight 3411 were identified, the United supervisor spoke with two of the customers, a couple, who then departed the aircraft and received compensation. The next customers approached were Dr. Dao and his wife. The supervisor apologized and explained they would also need to depart the aircraft but Dr. Dao refused. The supervisor was unable to convince Dr. Dao to depart the aircraft. Given Dr. Dao’s unwillingness to deplane, the supervisor left the plane and spoke to the United zone controller, who indicated that authorities would be contacted. The supervisor went back on the plane to request again that Dr. Dao deplane and advised him that authorities would be contacted.
At this point, one customer onboard the aircraft volunteered to change flights for $1,000 but United needed two volunteers in order to avoid having to remove the Daos. No other customers would volunteer unless United could guarantee an arrival in Louisville later that night. Given the fact that the 2:55 p.m. CDT departure remained on a maintenance delay, with a possibility of cancelling, United could not make that commitment.
Officers from the Chicago Department of Aviation, which has authority to respond to such airline requests and historically has been effective in getting customers to voluntarily comply, answered United’s request for assistance. These security officers were unable to gain Dr. Dao’s cooperation to depart the plane voluntarily.
At this time, the United supervisor left the aircraft and attempted to call a manager about the situation, and Dr. Dao, as evidenced by widely reported video footage, was physically removed from his seat by the Chicago Department of Aviation Officers. After being forcibly removed from the aircraft, Dr. Dao ran back onto the airplane and Chicago Department of Aviation Officers removed him for a second time. He was later taken to a local hospital.
All customers then deplaned. After approximately 40 minutes, the flight re boarded without the Daos and departed for Louisville.
My Thoughts on United’s Narrative of UA3411
In the intro, United states plainly enough–
We can never apologize enough for what occurred and for our initial response that followed. United Airlines takes full responsibility for what happened.
Yet even in the very title of the report United seeks to cast blame off itself. It highlights this was a “United Express” flight, initaitng a subtle blame shift. The incident occurred on United Flight 3411, operated by Republic doing business as United Express. United Express does not have its own flight numbers.
I also draw your attention to the second to last paragraph of United’s narrative above. Notice what United does in emphasizing that there were no United personnel onboard during the removal. This is a method to shift blame to the Chicago Department of Aviation, perhaps even eventually in the form of an impleader in Dr. Dao’s civil trial.
So United takes blame in the “buck stops here” fashion, but still uses this report to passive aggressively blameshift. Note that I’m not saying that is an unreasonable action…just something that jumps out at me.
Second, I’m curious why the one passenger who eventually volunteered was not taken off the flight in addition to Mrs. Dao. Interestingly, we did not hear a peep from her. She may have been petrified by the incident or the husband’s reaction, but if she did not have patients in the morning perhaps she could have stayed behind while her husband flew?
Present in the Senate letter but not the public report (h/t to View from the Wing for posting it) is a bit more info. There was a later flight operated by United Express to SDF. It was booked full. There is no mention of whether an attempt to accommodate passengers on an ORD-SDF AA flight was made. At the time, the offer was $1,000, a hotel room, meal vouchers, and seat on the ORD-SDF UA flight the following afternoon.
We understand now why the flight crew had to be on this flight at the last minute. The rolling delay of UA4448 meant a very uncertain departure time than threatened the mandatory rest period for the crew. The ripple effect of a cancelled flight is real. I think IDBs are good policy on utilitarian grounds.
But if these four Republic crew members were traveling positive space (confirmed) on the delayed flight, couldn’t the four bumped passengers have been placed on that flight and still arrived same-day, just later? The Senate letter reveals only one of the bumped passengers was accommodated on that flight, which left several hours late from ORD. We know Dr. Dao and his wife were at an area hospital unable to make the flight…
We now have United’s play-by-play version of UA3411 on the record. While there are no startling revelations, I do pick up a subtle blameshift from United despite unequivocally bearing the blame in the introduction. What do you think?