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A smarter way to handle the forcible and bloody removal of United Airlines passenger?

Are you outraged by the forcible removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight?

You can read a fuller account below of the incident – but very basically:

  • security forcibly removed a passenger (chosen at random)
  • to make room for airline staff
  • as all airlines are legally entitled to do


Horrified fellow passengers videoed and shared the incident and United Airlines faces a boycott and (in my opinion) irreparable reputation damage.

I hope other airlines learn from this incident – so it doesn’t happen again. When incidents like this occur, I often ask myself what are other ways to handle a situation. This is good practice for when I help clients work out how they would handle difficult situations. Of course, it’s much easier in hindsight – but still valuable for organisations to anticipate and prepare for difficult situations.

According to the article below: airlines regularly over-book flights knowing they can legally move passengers from a plane to another flight – often getting volunteers to ‘hive up their seat’ by offering financial incentives. The airline makes an initial offer (in this case $400), then if no-one accepts the offer is increased (in this case $800).

I’m sure the airline followed its usual procedure.

In this case, the passenger claimed he had to get to work as a doctor.

My point is : airlines should be aware that during cerain times of year – including  Easter, Christmas – the bulk of passengers want to get to their destination and getting there is more important than financial incentives.

Maybe, around these times of year – the ‘incentive range’ should be higher.


Apparently, in this case, the passenger was chosen randomly to be removed. I understand that the random choice seems fair – but sometimes the random choice gives you the wrong result. Do you persevere with the random choice – or choose randomly again?

My opinion: don’t be too rigid with the random result. Random isn’t always right.

The airline security people are probably used to removing people from planes. To me, there seems to be a big difference between someone who is being disruptive or drunk or ‘dangerous’ and someone who is deemed to be ‘unco-operative’ (by not obeying commands).


It ‘looked bad’ to have these big dudes drag the passenger off the plane.


In Australia, when I travel through Customs etc. I often see kindly-looking mature people directing and controlling the crowds. They seem super-efficient but certainy not intimidating.

Maybe, it would help to have instead of big, burly security to have firm friendly-looking  (non-intimidating) security people to take people off a plane – in this sort of case where a passenger doesn’t seem drunk or ‘dangerous’. (Just an idea/option from a problem-solving process I use where you work out what the problem seems to be and what would be the opposite of that problem).

These are my thoughts based on my experience and background.  If you disagree or have other suggestions, please add in the comments section below.

Here’s a link to a fuller story about the incident:

police drag bleeding man off flight


I look forward to seeing how United Airlines (and other airlines) improve the way they handle these sorts of challenges.

I wouldn’t be surprised if competitor airlines gain market share by ‘doing the opposite’ – and publicizing for example that they don’t overbook flights and passengers don’t face the risk of being taken off a flight.









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This entry was posted on April 11, 2017 by in Uncategorized.
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