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United Airlines fiasco symptom of much bigger problem in America

34 Comments

The United Fiasco could have happened to (most) any airline and it was a matter of time. The problem is not just with the airlines, but with the decline American customer service levels and the Stanford Experiment effect. Steven Riznyk, a negotiator who has dealt with international kidnappings, extortion, blackmail and various business issues, explains why this was inevitable.

Regrettably, 9/11 hurt our country in a number of ways, and its effects are still reverberating. What was once an industry based on pleasure has become more of a military installation. Airlines have embraced the powers afforded them through 9/11 and instead of treating passengers as customers, they often act as if they are doing the passenger a favor by transporting them. They key is that both empathy and discretion seem to be missing at the lower levels of staffing at the airlines and it has led to an exponential, not gradual decline in customer service levels. Granted, the airlines have tried to raise their valuations by hiring lower level staff to save money; their mistake is in not covering themselves by having a senior decision-maker at airports who is trained in decision-making rather than simply using a one-size fits all mentality to problems. When the lower level staff know that they can make adverse decisions with no consequences, being human, they will simply keep pushing the envelope. What happened on this United Airlines flight is no surprise.

The second factor to consider is the danger with how people think. As a negotiator having dealt with people from over 50 countries, there are certain patterns among people that are quite universal, and even more pronounced in certain cultures. There are certain "hotspots" that people have, and if you mention them to someone, people will instantly judge, with no regard as to truth. To see this at work, if you want to destroy someone’s reputation, merely publicly accuse (an innocent person) of being a child molester or someone who is abusive of their spouse. The truth is irrelevant, and most people will instantly judge that person, make a determination, and maybe even spread the news and seek punishment. The truth is irrelevant. Same problem at the airports. Ask the wrong question, or be at the wrong place, and the airline workers immediately summon security as United did. The fact that United sold this gentleman a ticket for which he paid, or that he has obligations on the other side of this journey was irrelevant. No empathy and no discretion. Why? Because they "could" (do what they did).

The third factor to consider is the Stanford Prison Experiment (August 14-20, 1971). A very famous study in which students were assigned roles as guards or prisoners in an experiment; it was cut short due to the guards’ behavior on their fellow classmates that some characterize as torture. A fascinating study with middle class persons who were thought to be psychologically stable. It demonstrated that a predisposition is not required for people to take on the role that is situation-based and internalize it. The experiment also demonstrated the power of cognitive dissonance; keep in mind these were fellow classmates and this was just an experiment, but some of the guards treated their fellow (prisoner) classmates brutally. This is human nature at work.

Given that America has become very much a country that deals with things with muscle and kindness and patience have taken a back seat, and that it is a judgmental culture, it’s not hard to imagine that an airline’s customer service levels are so punitive. Some airlines provide their staff with the power, place little emphasis on customer service, and hire low-level staff who lack either the empathy or intelligence to make a decision that avoids a fiasco such as this one. Were it not for cameras on phones, this could have taken years to expose. The problem? The staff is not geared to be customer-service oriented; they can have anyone arrested for questioning them: they are power-oriented.

Hindsight, granted, is very good, so let’s examine some of the underlying issues and how this could have been better handled.

  1. The core of the problem is that four of United’s people had to get to another destination to avoid their future flight being cancelled.
  2. Most passengers are not aware that if they purchase a ticket on a plane it does not guarantee a seat.
  3. Passengers have their own lives and obligations.
  4. The airline is being greedy because it is being paid twice for seats if it is selling them and then selling them again.
  5. Passengers will start flying the next international airline that will guarantee they don’t use this tactic.
  6. United’s staff lacked the common sense and empathy to realize the damage they would cause by having a passenger dragged off an airplane, especially one who paid for the seat in full.
  7. Many airlines seem to have the attitude that one passenger here or there who has been severely put out is not a problem, as there are few airline choices available.
  8. Airline personnel have been granted broad discretionary powers and can have people arrested at a whim, using the same defense police officers routinely use: obstruction, or one of its variants.
  9. No senior staff person was available to make the right choice.
  10. The United personnel who made the decision to call security did not have the sense to realize how this would affect the other passengers (let alone the country or other countries). In China, the equivalent of Twitter brought in 100 million views regarding the topic.
  11. America has a reputation of using force rather than discussion (ie stories about police, airport issues, etc), which has hurt our international image, and a low-level person with no understanding of consequences at United only reinforced that perception.
  12. The security guards were obviously untrained and did not use common sense. Just because one has the ability to use force and power does not mean that it should be used, especially in such a dehumanizing manner. They were removing a paying passenger, not a criminal.
  13. The CEO, Oscar Munoz, apologized “for having to re-accommodate customers.” Appalling. There was no concern over the passenger who was treated that way. Perhaps everybody should have had a free movie and it would be fine.
  14. In conclusion, for enough frequent flier miles or future flying credit, someone would have sold their seat, the staff should have simply offered more. Now, the company’s stock has lost almost $1 billion. One person with a customer-service attitude could have prevented all of this.

Munoz could have easily apologized for the event and taken responsibility for the lack of training the staff have in proper customer relations or that he has a low-level staff that cannot think at those levels. Anything reasonable would have been accepted by the public. Additionally, the passenger should have been offered five years or a lifetime of free flights (for the way the security guards handled him); people rarely can take advantage of this offer as they have to earn a living. This would have been a good soft cushion for United in light of what was about to happen. They anticipated they could treat a person this way and get away with it.

Instead, United, afraid of admitting fault (i.e. the contract allows it, so we can do it) took the high road to prevent a lawsuit. The settlement of the lawsuit would have been far cheaper than a billion dollars, one would think, not to mention that this will remain in people’s minds for a good five years or so; one cannot unring a bell.

It was time that this happened to one of the airlines, as customer service levels are deplorable and if anything is questioned, one is routinely threatened with arrest or being denied boarding. It’s the tail wagging the dog.

Steven Riznyk is the CEO of San Diego Biz Law and a high-level negotiator and business strategist who is hired to analyze and resolve complex issues worldwide.

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34 Comments
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An excellent piece of writing.

I'd like to hear this guy's view on some of the hotspots around the world currently in the News and how he would propose resolve them.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

America is now ruled by fear and fear is used as a tool of oppression.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Great insight. The one size fits all mentality when it comes to problems, exercised by low-level, poorly trained staff, is also prevalent among the TSA.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Good points and well put! It is one sided, but the morals are spot on. The reality is though that in the States, if you mess around or disobey or even disrespect a flight attendant, it could mean trouble. They repeatedly tell you it's against the law to not obey them and the captain at all times and to comply at all times. Good to remind them they can't bully individuals though...it's the age of the smartphone and social media!

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Excellent article and excellent posts. My 2 cents: America is a country that opts firstly for violence to get what it wants. That is the mentality. Add to that the morphing into a police state after 9/11 and what do you get? Exactly what happend on United.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

One aspect not directly mentioned was the race of the passenger. I wonder if the passenger was "white" would the Chicago officers have shown more reserve in their response. A similar incident happened with a female Black medical doctor on Delta traveling to California.

This year has been a big wake-up call for all Asians in the US or Asians wanting to come to the US. Whether it was visa denials or deportation has been interesting to watch especially for middle easterners. There was also an issue with Airbnb. The idea in some of their minds and the mind of some others that they are "practically white" is not playing out as expected. I have even heard some from East Asians in Japan including Japanese individuals describe themselves as such.

This article has a lot of incites. Now apply these same observations to the society as a whole. Hopefully, some suffering from cognitive dissonance will have better understanding of some of the other issues in US, for example, police and minorities.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is a good article. I think the larger problem is the dominance of large corporations without effective antitrust enforcement. For example, any large corporation you may do business with now will generally treat you like crap (I give exception to Amazon where I get good customer service). I think antitrust enforcement must be multiplied exponentially.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The core of the problem is that four of United’s people had to get to another destination to avoid their future flight being cancelled.

You put this out as a fact. Is this just another falsehood put out by United to justify their terrible treatment of a paying customer? "We HAD to do this or terrible things would have happened." The airline did not know this flight was 100% full? How far in advance did they decide to move this crew to Louisville? Did they even think to buy a ticket for their crew on another airline? Too many questions that have not been answered. After this incident why would we believe these clowns?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Terrible customer service and heavy-handed use of authority, that basically sums up air travel in/through the US these days (including airline staff, airport staff and especially the TSA).

On a related note, in my experience flying United through Chicago is best avoided. United is not a great airline to begin with, but Chicago is by far the worst airport I've ever used; the airport staff and TSA are of a very low standard. Accordingly I usually spend a couple hundred bucks extra for flights that aren't routed through Chicago.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I would like to also mention the disgusting way that the man's past was uncovered. His past had nothing to do with the situation and this behaviour not only happens in America but also my home country to try to get the public on one side of the debate.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

SimondBAPR. 13, 2017 - 07:37AM JST An excellent piece of writing.

Really? I thought it was rather terrible. Riznyk's arguments about management are better, but his arguments about the social factors influencing this incident are so tenuously supported they may as well constitute vague hand-waving.

Don't get me wrong, I think his argument is probably right. But I really do think he's failed to justify most of it.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Is incredible that, in one year, I left a United plane excited for the incredible service I got and now I am thiking twice to use it again.

When I went to Vegas in 2014, I got an unexpected promotion to first class in the flight to Los Angeles and this was wonderful for me considering that the trip takes more than 3 hours and I got sick before boarding the plane. And of course I enjoyed the rest of the trip (except for a delay that almost compromised the trip back to Guadalajara).And in the next year I did not doubt to take the flight to Los Angeles through the same company and , this time I got a little dissapointed because my lugagge stayed one more night in USA.

However I had a good image of United all that time and I was expecting to use it again, except for two details: the absurd lugagge fee they input last year in all american companies and the Trump government. And now this..

0 ( +1 / -1 )

His point on the Stanford Prison Experiment is spot on. In a society where power, wealth, success, and status has such a mythical and irresistible allure like in America, all actions that appear to conflict with someone is taken as hostility and the only way to save face is to react almost punitively, as if the goal is to humiliate and punish. You can see this clearly in America's shocking justice and legal system, and so it is natural for it to be a core American moral. This I think is one of America's deepest moral flaws not seen anywhere else in the world, and it's only getting worse now as you can add political polarization to this conflict list.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@silvafan In the same breath, if the passenger were black, would it then be a racial issue instead of another type of problem? These days the answer would be a resounding yes and that is also a "one size fits all" mentality that won't get us anywhere constructive.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I believe America has an education issue that causes all these problems. Japan has a bullying problem. All countries have their own issues. Live with it as it will not change.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

...vague hand-waving.

What is. Ague hand-waving?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

*vague

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@the personiamnow

In the same breath, if the passenger were black, would it then be a racial issue instead of another type of problem?

It wouldn't be either/or. It would be an additional layer to the most underlying problem. Depending on who is looking at the situation, people may focus more on one than the other based on their own experiences or understanding.

There are countless studies that show how race plays a major part in all aspects of US life, for example, opportunity, perception, and especially punishment. Some may call it "tribal" but to each their own.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Mr. NoidallAPR. 13, 2017 - 01:03PM JST What is vague hand-waving?

It's making an argument where the premise has the most tenuous of connections to the conclusion, but with a tone of certainty implying it's been rigorously proven. Imagine the written equivalent of a speaker who instead of rigorously building their argument in rational (if slightly boring) steps, simply waves their hands wildly while speaking until casual observers and people inclined to agree with the speaker's conclusion forget to look for fallacious reasoning because they're too focused on the emphatic presentation. See also: every campaign speech Trump has ever given.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Silvia fan Race plays an issue in ALL countries wherever you go. I'm mixed blood, and have been to 6 continents and I can assure it's not just here or there.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's making an argument where the premise has the most tenuous of connections to the conclusion, but with a tone of certainty implying it's been rigorously proven. Imagine the written equivalent of a speaker who instead of rigorously building their argument in rational (if slightly boring) steps, simply waves their hands wildly while speaking until casual observers and people inclined to agree with the speaker's conclusion forget to look for fallacious reasoning because they're too focused on the emphatic presentation. See also: every campaign speech Trump has ever given.

Thanks. I even looked it up. It's true you learn something new everyday.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Great article except I would change the first sentence to: The United Fiasco could have happened to (most) any American airline and it was a matter of time.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@thepersonIamnow

wherever you go. I'm mixed blood, and have been to 6 continents and I can assure it's not just here or there.

Then I would like to ask you "What's your point?" I mentioned race also playing a factor in this incident. You said race plays factor everywhere. I agree not just in the US. You seem to agree with my points. You have told us something personal about yourself. I appreciate that.

However, you still haven't told us what you think about the situation in the article.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Corporate culture that couldn't see fault onto itself and admit to say sorry............ until it's too late

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well these days when someone brings up the race issue I think it's important to not label things as I feel they do in the States a lot these days. You mentioned that if he were white, there may have been a difference in the outcome. Well what do you think? I think it would depend on the situation. However just like with guns and shootings in America, it's not certain races that the police are shooting like the media would want you to believe. The problem is that the police shoot and kill everyone there. Black and other minorities are shot at a higher rate, but they are also commit crime at a higher rate than others. I personally feel that in America it's just a rather violent nation that uses a lot of force and authority on people. In Japan it would be extremely unlikely that the airport staff would have used sudden and violent moves so quickly on a customer. But what happened to that guy on United Airlines is pretty much standard with any security guy in the States. If you don't immediately comply, fists (and worse) fly. We've seen it time and again. Resorting to violence and even deadly force, for regular problems. If that guy was in the street would the police have killed him for not complying? They would have shot him. My point is that America is a violent nation. I think that's the main problem.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@thepersoniamnow - Exactly what you said. America has a predisposition to authoritarianism and resolution by violence. "The land of the free" - unless you fail to obey orders.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Don,t blame 9/11 for the state of bigotry in the USA. USA has a long history of abuse regarding people ethnicity. He was Asian who english was not the best.He was the perfect candidate to give up his seat. If you had to choose a person who had to be drag out, it would of been in the aisle seat. Not the window seat. The biggest concern about this is these police had guns which could easily been lifted during the struggle. Check out the video. Why have guns ? No one would have a weapon, which demand that guns would be needed. What is more alarming is that the bloke escape and got back on the plane. Three Copper with hand guns drag him out. What If that was a terrorist who was arrested ? So from a security point another 9/11 could happen easily again if a unarm small male could escape and get back onto the plane after being arrested by three fit trained armed Policeman, First the Airline should be disciplined with some sort of Money fine. The police sacked for total lack of basic arrest processgors. I hope He sue the back side off them. But I fear that there will be a big lou pool in that The Captain of the vessel has to take total responsibility for what happen under his control form the time he steps on board. So he might be seeing the Captain only.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a decline in the quality of services almost everywhere, also in Japan it is noticeable, quick money is now more important than a longer vision on quality, image not longer important, people are accepting anything, get shocked 1 day and then ready to accept it next time...those corporations are taking advantage of this sheep attitude (and so are the politician), time for people to wake-up, if it is not too late thought...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@thepersoniamnow

Black and other minorities are shot at a higher rate, but they are also commit crime at a higher rate than others.

Actually, research shows do to prejudice and racism they are often profiled, convicted and given harsher sentences than others especially whites. Therefore, it isn't that black people in the US commit more crimes than others, but racism makes it more likely for them to be convicted and produce the stats which you mentioned. Judges have been prosecuted for the doing just such thing because for one reason they were getting kickbacks from private prison corporations.

Which means minorities are immediately seen as a threat and are dealt with more violence than whites. So, I think white cops dealing with white person on a flight acting the same way in the same situation is more likely to come out of that situation unharmed compared to a minority. There so much research to back this up.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Actually I completely disagree with you on that point Silvafan. Many minorities in countries DO commit crime at higher rates than the majority of the population. It's not racist to say so. However if you look at America, black people were enslaved, bred, beaten and disrespected. Obviously only 2 generations removed from slavery and horrific circumstances does not allow for a wholesome environment, and the nation bears responsibility and needs to fix the problem it's created. American police will shoot you dead if you resist or run away. They will shoot you dead regardless of your color. I have done research on how people are shot and killed there and the ratio too. I do agree that minorities are treated worse, however, the Airplane incident and the people shot by police....the MAIN thing isn't racism in my opinion. Even if there were no minorities in the States, they would still probably be a dangerous country, where the police use deadly force.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Actually I completely disagree with you on that point Silvafan.

Which point?

Many minorities in countries DO commit crime at higher rates than the majority of the population. It's not racist to >say so.

Who said the opposite of that. In addition, you are talking about minorities in countries. That statement doesn't apply because minorities can have several meanings. I'm not talking about minorities in countries. I was talking about African-Americans in particular, so you are not on the same page here. Being first or second generation immigrant who willing relocated is totally different place is totally different than being forced against your will to live in a country for more than two hundred years. (Apples and Oranges)

I have done research on how people are shot and killed there and the ratio too.

That's irrelevant just like you offering the information that you are biracial. It isn't bad, but it doesn't add anything to your credibility in this conversation. Shot and killed can be very broad once again. Are you talking about police, by criminals, or in disputes with acquaintances? (Apples and Oranges) I am talking about minority interaction with the police. Simply having the numbers doesn't tell you the whole story. They need to be interpreted and followed-up with more research or questioning to understand. So, for African-Americans and some other minority groups, I explained the research that has been done by experts in their fields from the US living in the US that specifically explained why African-Americans and some other minorities numbers are higher. In fact, the same research showed that African-Americans percentage was not that much different than Whites, and that the racism whether it was conscious or subconscious plays a significant role in those numbers. Basically, Whites with similar situations and criminal histories were less likely to be convicted of felony for a nonviolent crime than other minorities which affect the overall numbers. Therefore, if people like yourself just simply accept the numbers at face value, they will be more likely to believe that minorities are threat, so they will respond more violently.

the MAIN thing isn't racism in my opinion.

No one said that is was the main reason, I personally mentioned that was another factor not specific discussed in the article. You have been making assumptions since I commented on this thread. This is the reason why asked, "What's your point?" I wanted to understand these leaps in logic that you are making in this thread.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Never mind dude, we obviously won't agree since everything I say is irrelevant . I'm not trying to prove my credibility to you, and I don't need to. Anyways, I'm sure if you wanted to know what I meant instead of trying to find holes in everything I say, we would have something to talk about.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This power tripping in the USA has been going on far longer than Sept 11, 2001. I have been abused by US customs and border agents several times just because they could. United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines and NorthWest Airlines were treating us like crap back in the 90's and being bumped was common then too. What do you expect in a country where the 2nd amendment has been twisted out of time to the point that it's almost as if you'd be attacking someone's religion if you told then they did not have the right to bear arms? Add to that problem the current millennials' mindsets and you can bet this is only going to get worse.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

bad

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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