The Ethics Sage and United’s Ethical Blunder

It gives me great pleasure to report that the Ethics Sage has written about the United Airlines Incident. Here’s an excerpt:

The first reaction of United CEO, Oscar Munoz, was to apologize “for having to re-accommodate the customers,” but not for the overbooking that prompted the whole mess.  Apologizing for having to “re-accommodate” passengers is like apologizing for re-positioning someone’s nose after a barroom fight.

There is no doubt that under its rules, and that of other airlines, United had a right to replace passengers on a plane when overbooking occurs, which is common to offset the perceived likelihood of no-shows. Federal rules dictate a carrier must first check whether anyone is willing to voluntarily give up their seat before then bumping flyers involuntarily if nobody comes forward. Passengers agree to this policy when they book a flight, but it is questionable whether the airlines fully disclose this information in an easy-to-understand manner.

The ethical lesson to be learned from the United fiasco is a company might have a right to do something – legally – but that does not mean it is the right thing to do. Ethics is all about how we treat others. Dr. Dao was treated in a despicable manner.

What could United have done differently? It should have continued to raise the payment for the fourth passenger to voluntarily deboard. So, what if it cost $2,000. That is a lot better than facing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

The Ethics Sage

One of the things that I found a concern was one paper’s reporting that the man removed from the flight had a felony. That story was just developing when I wrote my comment some days ago. Steven Mintz discusses this aspect of the case quite intelligently and I refer you to the larger post.

I think the victim here is in a sense all of us, because we are all potential victims for this kind of giant corporate squeeze and we are all the continual victims as standards of service and human decency disappear from the American landscape. While amenities for the wealthy are substantially increased, the rest of us are increasingly squeezed for the last dregs of profit.

This is not good business ethics. The divine human spark dwells in all of us not just the rich and the influential.

James Pilant