Three months ago I blogged about the doctor who was dragged off a United plane in Chicago and the airline’s response to the incident. The CEO claimed it was a system problem, but I thought human error and a lack of common sense were the major factors.
I ended that April 17th post with three predictions:
1. The United fiasco will be forgotten by the end of this month.
2. People who said they will never fly United again will do so when they need to go somewhere serviced only by United or when United’s fare is the cheapest.
3. United will experience another “system error” very soon.
Number 1 more or less occurred. I’m not sure about number 2. Regarding the third, here are some of the “system errors” United has experienced since then.
A rare giant rabbit being shipped from London was found dead in the cargo area at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. No explanation of the cause of death was forthcoming. Probable human error.
Two newlywed passengers recorded a video of jet fuel pouring out of the wing of a United plane about to take off from Newark to Venice. The husband “ran to let the crew know that something wasn’t right, but said they ‘yelled’ at him and told him to sit down, saying everything was normal.” When a crew member finally looked out the window, the flight was canceled. The couple was hassled when they asked United to book them on another flight. Eventually a Delta flight was arranged but they had to sleep on the floor at Newark Airport. Several human errors—left the fuel door open, dismissive of the passenger, minimal help after flight canceled.
A woman who speaks only French was bound for Paris from Newark. However because of a last-minute gate change, she boarded a plane which took her to San Francisco instead. Her boarding pass was seen by at least two airline employees. Human error.
United managed to practically destroy a 24-year-old disabled man’s $42,000 custom wheelchair which had been carried on a flight he took from France to Newark. He was embarking on a 27-day trip to the US with some friends. A video shows the extent of the damage. The loaner United provided lacked many of the features of the man’s wheelchair and broke down during the group’s travels. Human error.
A woman had to hold her 25 lb 2-year-old son on her lap for an entire 4 hour Houston-to-Boston flight because the airline gave his seat which the mom had purchased to a stand-by passenger. The airline claimed the problem arose because the boy’s ticket was “incorrectly scanned at the gate.” Recalling the saga of the doctor who wouldn’t give up his seat in Chicago, the mother did not complain. Unsurprisingly United gave her a hard time when she later requested a refund for her son’s ticket. Bar code scanner didn’t read ticket properly is hard to believe. I say human error.
Another baby case occurred when a plane was delayed from departing due to bad weather along the route. The plane sat on the tarmac in 90 degree heat in Denver for so long that the child became dehydrated, and required treatment at a hospital. Human error. Sometimes you have to break the rules.
United issued a typical corporate response: “This should never have happened. We are profoundly sorry and apologize to our customer and her child for the experience they endured. We are actively looking into what happened to prevent this from occurring again.”
I bet it will happen again.
Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.