United Airline, Inc. is one of the world’s largest airlines providing customers with domestic and international flights all around the world. In the past, the company has made quite a lengthy list of horrible headlines like the one where two teenagers weren't allowed to board a flight because they were wearing leggings as bottoms. The most recent incident that left United under scrutiny was in April of 2017, when a man was dragged off an overbooked flight, beaten up and bloody. Dr. Dao, a passenger, boarded his flight and was seated when the flight announced that it was overbooked. They asked passengers to volunteer to give up their seats for some of the four extra crew members that needed to board that flight. When no one volunteered, they randomly selected Dr. Dao and his wife as some of the passengers that were going to be removed. Removing passengers from flights due to overbooking is legal in the United States, but the problem was how they removed the man off the flight and handled the situation after the news made headlines.
When Dao refused to get off the flight after crew members asked him and his wife to give up their seats, security enforcement was called in to try to escort him off the plane and that’s when things went south. After he still refused to get off the flight, saying he was a doctor and had to make the flight back home to get to work the next day to see his patients, the security officers forcibly dragged him off the plane. Video footage taken by other passengers showed the horrific incident resulting in Dao losing his two front teeth, getting a concussion, a broken nose, and other injuries. The footage taken of him being dragged off the plane went viral, sparking outraged complaints from thousands of people. To only make things worse, the CEO of United, Oscar Munoz, released a statement about the altercation that was insensitive and didn’t offer a sincere apology to Dao or anyone about how the employees handled the situation. He later then sent out an email defending and praising the employees for how they handled the situation, calling Dao “disruptive and belligerent”. (Shen)
|United's stock activity after Dr. Dao's incident went viral.|
There were many stakeholders affected by how United Airlines handled the entire situation. First off, shareholders were affected when the news of the story went viral. People boycotted United and it brought so much bad press that United lost $1.4 billion in shares the day after the video was posted and went viral. That didn’t last long though since United’s share surprisingly slightly increased in the following month since investors decided to join in and buy the extra stock because they were expecting United to do better as a company after the incident. The shareholders that left United were affected because they not only were upset with the treatment towards customers but many didn’t think the company would do well with these reoccurring negative headlines they were receiving. Consumers who previously flew, were going to fly, or wanted to fly with United were outraged and disappointed with the airline. The airline was mercilessly mocked on social media. It brought fear to people who booked flights, fearing a similar situation could happen to them. United employees were also affected. Passengers on the flight called out and harassed the flight crew that had taken the seats of the removed passengers blaming them for what had happened. Though what happened wasn’t their fault, it still affected them because they had to board an awkward and tense flight. Everyone on the flight that witnessed the violent incident were also affected. Kids were crying and people were traumatized. Dao was another but certainly the most important stakeholder affected by this incident. He was disrespected by the airlines employees including the CEO. He was violently removed from the flight, physically harmed, humiliated, and fears he can no longer do his job as a doctor due to the brain damage caused by the physical abuse. Dao said that since that day, no one from the United company had tried to communicate with him and offer any apology to him. His lawyer was the only one who spoke to anyone from the company. The CEO, Oscar Munoz was also affected by the story. This brought an incredible amount of bad publicity to him and his company. The PR team took a hard hit and had to work and find a way to help bring a positive image back to United. They did make a few changes on their policies and how they would handle overbooked flights. Dao agreed to an undisclosed settlement with United Airlines.
As defined in the in-progress book, The Case Manual by Professor Heather Salazar, Individualism states that “Business actions should maximize profits for owners of a business, but do so within the law.” (Salazar, Pg. 17) An individualist may view this case and say United acted unethically and should’ve done the complete opposite of what was done in order to maximize profits for the business. An individualist would say that the security enforcement should’ve escorted the man without forcefully dragging him off the flight. A more calm and respectful approach should’ve been used to get him to get off the plane. If he was still dragged off the flight, CEO Oscar Munoz still could’ve avoided a total PR nightmare by releasing a very sincere apology to Dao, his wife, and to everyone else involved in that situation. He should’ve also contacted Dao himself to apologize and figure out what happened and find a way to make right of what had happened. This could have helped United not further destroy their reputation and help keep their shares from dropping and losing potential profits for the company since the point of individualism is to help maximize profits.
|Dr. Dao being dragged off his flight by airport security.|
Utilitarian’s would have a slightly different approach to this case study. They would deem United's actions as ethically wrong. As defined in The Case Manual, utilitarianism follows the rule that "Business actions should aim to maximize the happiness in the long run for all conscious beings that are affected by the business action." (Salazar, Pg. 17) In order for everyone on the flight to be happy, including Dao and the four extra crew members, United wouldn't kick anyone off the flight. For that to happen, the airline would make sure in advance that they didn't overbook the flight in case extra passengers had to be boarded. If nobody had to be kicked off the flight then Dao would remain on the plane and make it to his destination. The entire incident would be completely avoided, not causing the company to lose any shares. This would keep United, their employees, and their customers happy which is the main goal of Utilitarianism.
The Case Manual describes kantianism’s ethical rules as "Always act in ways that respect and honor individuals and their choices. Don't lie, cheat, or manipulate or harm others to get your way. Rather, use informed and rational consent from all parties." (Salazar, Pg. 17) A Kantian would say that United was unethical, violated almost every rule in that definition, and didn’t follow the formula of humanity. First off, the company did not honor or respect Dao's choice to stay on the flight. The security officers harmed Dao to get their way which was an open seat for the extra flight crew. They didn't use Dao's rational consent to get him off the plane. What a Kantian could recommend that the security could've done is talk to Dao with respect. They should've asked him why he didn't want to get off the flight and offer to find him an alternate solution to get back home in time for his next day of work. They could've explained that with the $800 voucher they offered him if he had got off that flight, he could've went and tried to book a flight from a different airline to get to his destination. They also could've offered him more money on the voucher or randomly select another passenger to ask to depart the flight.
|Photo of Dr. Dao's injuries taken by another passenger.|
As described in The Case Manual, Virtue Theory follows the rule, "Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits." (Salazar, Pg. 17) A virtue theorist would state that United acted unethically in this situation. There are many virtuous traits but there are four traits in particular that virtue theory emphasizes which are courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. For this specific situation, a theorist could recommend that the aggressive security enforcement would have had to adapt the trait of temperance when dealing with Dao's refusal to get off the plane. This trait would've helped them remain calm and restrain themselves from using brute force on Dao. The security team should've calmly approached Dao and talked to him with honesty, explaining that he was going to have to get off the flight regardless, even if he fought against it but they were going to help him find another way home and were going to reimburse him for his ticket. The CEO of United, Oscar Munoz could've also stopped a lot of the extra bad reputation by having the courage to publicly announce where the airline went wrong and give Dao justice by apologizing to him and offering him a settlement for his damages as soon as this incident was known. Oscar Munoz would've also avoided sending out the email bashing Dao and praising his employee’s actions for how they handled the situation. If all the company employees involved had more temperance, sincerity, and empathy, then maybe Dao would’ve understood why he needed to depart the plane and comply with the airline.
Disparte, Dante. “United Airlines and Reputation Risk.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Apr. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/united-airlines-and-reputation-risk_us_58eda924e4b0ea028d568e26.
McCarthy, Sky. “United Passenger Dragged off Flight Settles with Airline for Undisclosed Amount.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 27 Apr. 2017, www.foxnews.com/travel/2017/04/27/dragged-united-passenger-settles-with-airline-for-undisclosed-amount.html.
Reklaitis, Victor. “United's Stock Falls 1.1%, Wipes out $255 Million off the Airline's Market Cap.” MarketWatch, 12 Apr. 2017, www.marketwatch.com/story/uniteds-stock-is-set-to-fall-5-and-wipe-1-billion-off-the-airlines-market-cap-2017-04-11.
Shen, Lucinda. “United Airlines Stock Drops $1.4 Billion After Passenger-Removal Controversy.” United Airlines: Stock Drops Following Passenger Incident in Chicago | Fortune.com, Fortune, 11 Apr. 2017, fortune.com/2017/04/11/united-airlines-stock-drop/.
Shen, Lucinda. “United Airlines' Stock Has Recovered After a Doctor Was Dragged Off a Plane.” Fortune, 12 Apr. 2017, fortune.com/2017/04/12/united-airlines-stock/.
Zdanowicz, Christina, and Emanuella Grinberg. “Passenger Dragged off Overbooked United Flight.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 Apr. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/04/10/travel/passenger-removed-united-flight-trnd/index.html.