Tone-deaf United does it again: Will only reimburse passengers who promise not to sue

Already reeling from the disastrous fallout from the airline knocking a passenger unconscious, breaking his nose, knocking out two teeth, and then dragging his seemingly lifeless body down the aisle in order to make room for a United employee who wanted the man’s seat, United Airlines apparently felt that it wasn’t hated quite yet enough.

CNN just announced that United’s promise to reimburse the cost of the flight to the other passengers who had to witness this carnage now comes with a price: You have to promise not to sue United, or you don’t get your money back from the flight of the damned.

Unconscious United passenger — after Chicago police threw him into a headrest, giving him a concussion, breaking his nose, and knocking out two teeth — being dragged out of the plane.

If you’re asking WTF, you’re not alone.

United has handled this issue disastrously from the beginning. The airline started by blaming the unconscious bloody passenger for the incident, and praising the behavior of its crew who thought this was a good idea. After the uproar got too loud even for United’s tone-deaf CEO Oscar Munoz, Munoz changed his tune and offered a full-throated apology.

But that was yesterday.

Today, newly-emboldened by some equally tone-deaf lawyers, one assumes, United is saying ixnay on the free tickets unless the other passengers promise not to sue.

Please join the over 75,000 people who have called on United to fix this situation now, and change its policies to ensure this never happens again. United still clearly doesn’t get it.

The other passengers can sue? That’s what I’d be thinking if I were one of those passengers. If United wants you to sign something promising not to sue, then you might have a real case against United in court — they seem to think so. And after United reneged on the deal to compensate them, with no strings attached, I’d be hopping mad, and ready to drag United down the courtroom aisle — just out of spite.

What could United possibly be thinking? Hasn’t that been the question all week. Hubris doesn’t stand down easily.

Today was already bad enough for United, with the Dr. Dao’s (the passenger) attorney, Thomas Demento, holding a tour de force of a press conference this morning in Chicago. Demento was amazing. (Someone on Twitter tweeted “Demento 2020.”) And after that performance, United should have been running for cover. But this is United. Never one to miss an opportunity to create an even larger public relations disaster, United responded to Demento’s devastating press conference by acting like an even bigger bully.

One wonders about the conversation in United’s board room this morning:

Munoz: That Demento presser really killed us, huh?

United PR flak: Yep.

United lawyer: Hey, how about we tick off a couple hundred more people who are contemplating suing us?

Munoz: That’s why I pay you the big bucks.

It’s harder to know who is worse at their own PR, United or Carter Page?

Please join the over 75,000 people who have called on United to fix this situation now, and change its policies to ensure this never happens again. United still clearly doesn’t get it.

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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19 Responses to “Tone-deaf United does it again: Will only reimburse passengers who promise not to sue”

  1. dcinsider says:

    Or for the atheists, happy Sunday.

  2. Zorba says:

    Alithos Anesti!

  3. Pedro says:

    Yup it was Hobson’s choice to a degree. As flawed as Clinton is,she’s not the Devils spawn the Alt Right agitprop makes her out to be. She left her NY Senate seat with a 65% approval rating.
    It seems the red States didn’t know Trump’s true history and personality and he played them like a fiddle. That is the only true skill he has. The skill of a grifter.
    As for ” refreshingly blunt ” since when is abuse ,insult and sexism refreshing? You are right that desperate people needed to take a gamble.
    The Dems did neglect their broad base in cosying up to Wall Street. We are all guilty of bowing down before the mighty dollar to the point of decadent venality. Why are we surprised that it’s finally nipping our a$$es?

  4. JosephP says:

    I can see why people would think that perhaps it was time to vote for someone that was different—a complete political novice with refreshingly blunt talk. Perhaps people felt that it was the only way to reject the corporate takeover of both parties. Of course he was nothing but a con artist, but Hillary so exemplified what people hated about politicians (did Hillary really have to kick the Sanders supporters in the teeth and hire Debbie Wasserman Schulz on the same day she resigned in disgrace from the DNC when the leaked emails proved her bias against Sanders?). This was a populist election, and in such an election you run a populist, not a career politician with as much political baggage as Hillary.

  5. Demosthenes says:

    Off topic: Happy Easter, John and fellow commenters:

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  7. RepubAnon says:

    Yes, it’s standard practice to request a release – but standard practice isn’t always smart practice. Here, the risk of the other passengers suing United successfully seems low (police were called to enforce the lawful demands of the flight crew, the police used force to remove the passenger). Really bad optics, outrage-provoking… but unlikely to be successful in a court of law.

    However, this is being tried in the court of public opinion. Offering to refund everyone’s fare with no strings attached would help mitigate the damage to United’s brand. Treating it like a standard settlement agreement causes more damage in the public’s eyes – and makes the other passengers think maybe they should sue … after all, why else is United requiring a release?

    And binding arbitration is always a bad idea – limited discovery, and the arbitrator isn’t bound by precedent or the law (no real right of appeal due to errors of law). Plus, those arbitrators don’t come cheap. Arbitration is just as expensive as traditional litigation, except one has fewer rights.

  8. RepubAnon says:

    It’s not as though United didn’t have advance notice of the impact of social media -perhaps United’s new motto should be – if we can’t break your guitar – we’ll break your face:

  9. Demosthenes says:

    I agree that United Airlines sucks in general (I avoid flying them), and specifically acted stupidly here.

  10. Demosthenes says:

    I agree. John is a sharp guy, so this is surprising.

  11. Badgerite says:

    Good insights. But the world is changing and it will not go backwards. Anymore than the Earth will start spinning the other direction. I wonder if CEO Munoz even saw the video. If he did, how could he not have the same reaction that the rest of us did.
    And that Dr. Dao’s attorney did. Just flat out unacceptable.

  12. Houndentenor says:

    Corporate executives are having a hard time adjusting to the internet era. I know they’ve had about 20 years now to get used to it, but it hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t until Millenials are running things. They are used to a one way form of communication and being able to pressure mass media outlets to quash or minimize stories. For an example: here it Texas there were some problems with Dillard’s Dept stores’ security officers roughing up suspected shoplifters. No daily newspaper would run any story on this (and it’s not as if reporters hadn’t pitched the stories to editors) because Dillard’s is a huge department store chain in this part of the country and they buy multiple full page ads almost every day, a major source of revenue. Corporate CEOs are used to being able to do what they want and not be questioned, and this especially applies to lower level customers, in this case, people who fly coach. They pull this shit a lot, perhaps not this extreme, but bad enough and it just didn’t occur to them that multiple people on that plane were making video recordings of the event which they could upload to the internet instantly. In fact it’s clear from the videos that other people are recording so why would they not work to de-escalate the situation? Because they are still not operating under the assumption that citizens can make a story go viral as easily as CNN if the story is interesting enough to enough people, as this one obviously was. This isn’t the first time someone has been caught doing or saying something that got them into trouble oblivious to the idea that someone might be recording the event and might not be friendly to their agenda. This tone-deaf continues and I think it’s so much a part of corporate culture that only a generational shift will reduce it and even that probably won’t eliminate it. Having worked for CEOs back in my corporate gig-whore days, I saw how out of touch with reality people are in the executive suites. It was almost like being in an alternate reality. It would never occur to the CEO of a major airline that roughing up a passenger would cause them any problems and that attitude trickles down to the lowest level employee in the company.

  13. Houndentenor says:

    I give corporate America a lot of shit (which they deserve) but a cash payout after a problem is a settlement. You can’t take a settlement and then come back and ask for a bigger settlement. It just doesn’t work that way. I’m a little surprised that John doesn’t know this or finds it unusual.

  14. Badgerite says:

    Yes but as John points out, in terms of human relations such a requirement is seriously tone deaf. They are already facing a uphill battle to find any juror who will be even remotely sympathetic to them. In this particular case, don’t you think it might be to their advantage to behave like human beings first and bean counters further down on the list? If they have any real defense to this action, that of Dr. Dao and his attorney, I can’t imagine what it is. And if I had been a passenger on that flight, simply minding my own business, I would consider having to witness an unjustified beating and injury of another passenger not fully compensated by simply reimbursing me the price of my ticket. That would be a deeply troubling thing to witness. And after seeing it, I would refuse to sign any Goddamned thing they gave me to sign. Anything. Their treatment of this man was a breach of trust. And I would want to do anything I could to support him.
    We are all humans here. And humanity and law are supposed to go together.
    At least that is what we claim.

  15. Pedro says:

    As a centrist, liberal, retired senior corporate executive,when seeing how ,grindingly oppressively, autocratic Corporates have become, I begin to understand why rust belt desperates threw common sense under the bus and voted for a prime exemplar of that Corporate attitude.
    Time to ramp up Dodd Frank type legislation across the board.

  16. Demosthenes says:

    Confession: I’m a lawyer who represents large corporate interests. I know from personal experience that cash payments like John discusses are always accompanied with “Release and Settlements” so the corporation won’t give the money away and then still be at risk for getting sued.

    I’m of two minds regarding binding arbitration. For large disputes I’m no fan. For small consumer claims they are actually a great deal for consumers.

  17. Houndentenor says:

    Isn’t that the standard practice? At least unlike employees everyone wasn’t forced into binding arbitration that almost always favors the corporation.

  18. UncleBucky says:

    Knocking out two teeth… Maybe breaking bones is what is necessary to get staff to fly for virtually free?

    That’s the limit then. Dr. Dao should sue them to the hilt.

  19. Demosthenes says:

    Of course United will only reimburse passengers if they won’t sue. Why would they do it any differently? (I’m serious, John). No company will allow someone two bites at the apple.

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