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Still Flying the Unfriendly Skies: United Breaks with Policy, Again!

Only a few months after United Airlines’ massive controversy surrounding the treatment of passenger, Dr. David Dao, who was dragged off a flight with blood on his face in order to make room for an airline employee, the airline is back in the limelight following another incident when a mother was forced to give up her child’s seat and travel with her 27-month old son on her lap, unsecured. The FAA has announced that they will be investigating the incident which seems to be a clear violation of the federal regulations that require individuals who have reached their second birthday to have their own seat and safety belt.  Were the FAA to find that United did in fact violate the safety regulations, United would be levied a fine of more than $32,000.

The latest incident involved Shirley Yamauchi, a teacher from Hawaii who was forced to give up her son’s seat after they were both already seated on a United flight and instead hold him in hers for the duration of a 3-hour long flight.  The airline did issue an apology indicating, “we inaccurately scanned the boarding pass of Ms. Yamauchi’s son. As a result, her son’s seat appeared to be not checked in, and we released his seat to another customer.” The incident is a direct violation of one of United Airlines’ own policies about traveling with children, which states that “once infants turn two years old, they are required to have a purchased ticket and occupy a seat.” The two recent incidents reveal much more than just policy violations. They reflect deeper issues within the airline’s culture that seem to place higher priority on profits than they do on customer satisfaction, and, more importantly, safety.

Forbes contributor John Goglia made the statement that “as a long-time airline safety advocate and accident investigator, it is stunning to hear of such a basic safety requirement as wearing a separate seat belt being flouted by an airline. It is also dismaying to imagine a flight attendant forgetting basic safety training, more so to imagine an entire cabin crew ignoring this very basic safety requirement. After all, flight attendants are on board aircraft first and foremost to serve a safety function. How much more basic a safety function than ensuring each passenger required to have a seat and be appropriately strapped in, is in fact appropriately seated with a seat belt?”

One would expect that after the incident involving Dr. Dao, and the subsequent changes that were made to United’s policies, that an incident like this would not have happened—at least not so soon.  And it will again, and again, until United begins the process of re-examining its core values,  and retraining their staff, empowering them to make decisions in the interest of their most important stakeholders, the customer.  

Evan Knox is a 3rd Year Business Administration Major at Georgia Tech and an Undergraduate Research Assistant for REUL Lab.

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