The Los Angeles Times reports (my emphasis added):
Fearns needed to return early so he paid about $1,000 for a full-fare, first-class ticket to Los Angeles. He boarded the aircraft at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai, took his seat and enjoyed a complimentary glass of orange juice while awaiting takeoff. Then, as Fearns tells it, a United employee rushed onto the aircraft and informed him that he had to get off the plane.
Apparently United had some mechanical troubles with the aircraft scheduled to make the flight. So the carrier swapped out that plane with a slightly smaller one with fewer first-class seats…
“I understand you might bump people because a flight is full,” Fearns said. “But they didn’t say anything at the gate. I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”
Fearns complied, took a middle seat in coach (under unusually grim circumstances, even as middle seat travel goes), and then tried later to get some compensation. It didn’t work out too well. Read the whole story – it’s worth your time.
The writer of the article also quotes a business professor, who maintains that “What United and all companies need to do is to train and empower workers to deal with specific issues as they arise,” she said. “Don’t just follow whatever is written in your policies.”
I took a look at some of the comments under the LA Times article and found this:
Oh, kind of like zero tolerance policies in schools.
Pretty much. Procedure trumps common sense.
Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?
There are faint signs that United CEO, Oscar Munoz, (who emerged from his meme-torn bunker to speak to ABC) might be beginning to catch on (again, my emphasis added):
“We had not provided our front-line supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, and procedures that allow them to use common sense,” Munoz said. “That’s on me. I have to fix that.”