It decency. All of us frequent flyers have

It was horrified as everyone else watching that video of a United Airlines passenger being forcibly dragged from his seat, knocked down and bloodied, to make room for a crew member. At what an epic failure this whole episode was, and continues to be. Industry experts have criticized outdated overbooking strategies. Policy experts have criticized laws and regulations that make such evictions legal. Everyone has criticized the public-relations response.
Above all, though, the United Airlines fiasco represents a failure of leadership up, down, and across the organization. This incident will be scrutinized for years as a case study in what can happen when leaders at every level don’t do their jobs; don’t ask obvious questions; and otherwise stand by as “policies and procedures” trump common sense and human decency.
All of us frequent flyers have a clear sense that once we board a plane, the pilot is in charge. If there’s a question about safety, or security, or just about anything else, it’s the pilot who makes the final call. So my question is: is the pilot of this flight proud of how things went? Could he or she not have left the cockpit; worked things out with the gate agents; had a few one-on-ones with passengers, and somehow figured out how to make sure this flight did not become a fight club? Pilots love to exude an air of authority and command. Why didn’t this pilot actually show some authority and use some common sense in his or her command of the flight? And if the pilot chose to okay the response, what does that say about his or her judgment in a turbulent situation?
As CEO of a big, consumer facing company, Munoz is trying to lead a lot of different groups of people at the same time – and often those groups don’t have the same objectives.
Shareholders want maximum returns. Customers want good service and prices. Employees want fair compensation and a good working environment. And those of us who write about airlines hear from all three constituencies, all the time.
I asked United employees especially how they feel about Munoz’s remarks, and at least from the sampling I heard, it seems they still support him enthusiastically. Among the comments I heard from current United employees:
• “He’s a good leader and accepts responsibility. I stand behind him!”
• “Never forget it – take it as a learning experience a teaching moment and we should always remember common sense is not that common.”
• “Personally I feel we shouldn’t dwell on the past incidents. United took responsibility and should add protocol to prevent it from future.”
• “Oscar Munoz is by far the best CEO United has ever had. He has brought people together, instilled pride and camaraderie in our company, and shown that he cares…”
Contrast this to the reaction to how Munoz reacted at first, last year, when he basically blamed the dragging incident on the passenger who was dragged.
Here, I think he struck the right tone. He made clear he thinks these kinds of headline-grabbing, “horrific” events are the exception to the rule.
But he also acknowledged how important they are – and all but asked to be reminded of the worst of these events “constantly.”


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