What can HR learn from the United deplaning debacle?

What can HR learn from the United deplaning debacle?


United Airlines is facing a PR nightmare after a video emerged showing a passenger being forcibly removed from an ‘overbooked’ flight. While the debate rages on regarding passenger rights when an airline requests ‘volunteers’ to give up their seats, are there lessons that HR can learn from the incident?



In an internal email to staff, United CEO Oscar Munoz initially defended employees’ conduct, saying the passenger in question had been “disruptive and belligerent” and praising staff for going “above and beyond”. Here, it can be argued that he failed to truly investigate and confirm the facts of the incident before deciding on a course of action.



This initial muted response, which did not include an apology, led to severe backlash across the globe, with the video of the injured passenger going viral on the news and social media. The passenger was David Dao, a 69-year-old physician, who is now in hospital being treated for his injuries. After Munoz’ early statement, he then retracted and has since issued several apologies to the press about the way the customer was treated. He told ABC News:



“He can’t be. He was a paying passenger sitting on our seat in our aircraft and no one should be treated that way. Period.”



He went on to blame the incident on ‘system failure’ and insufficient training from the United Airlines company:

It was a system failure. We have not provided our front line supervisors, managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense.



The airline has since reimbursed everyone on-board the flight for the price of their ticket and placed the officers who removed the passenger on administrative leave. There are here two HR issues to consider. Should the internal emails, as private business documents, have been shared? Should companies back their employees unconditionally, regardless of the consequences, or do they need to be more aware?





For advice and guidance from a leading UK specialist in Employment law, HR and Health and Safety Services, please contact HPC.

Link to HR Review article on this issue:

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