My thoughts on Oscar’s e-mail to employees – #Bumpgate

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I wonder what the world would be like without Twitter, and hashtags such as #Bumpgate.  Imagine that.  After United’s latest incident which I addressed earlier today, CEO Oscar Munoz addressed his employees.  I haven’t seen any positive reactions to this e-mail bar Mathew’s Live and Let’s Fly post.  Although I am appalled by what happened to this poor customer, I also believe it’s debatable whether United is fully to blame.  Again, I am very saddened about what happened to the passenger.  That being said, I only partially agree with Mathew’s take.

Here’s what Oscar told his team on Monday afternoon:

Dear Team,

Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.

As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.

I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.

Oscar

Summary of Flight 3411

  • On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight.
  • We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.
  • He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.
  • Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.
  • Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.

Hits

  • It’s positive that Oscar is backing his team up.  It demonstrates good leadership, unlike the many who believe he should’ve flat out blamed his ‘terrible team’.  That wouldn’t register well with the team moving forward, and Oscar needs them to jump in the ‘Make this right’ bandwagon immediately.  Remember that quote form the tv show Lost: “Live together or die alone”?  True in this case.  Oscar needed to reassure his team that he’s there for them and will stick his neck out in their behalf.  Live together.
  • It’s also good that Oscar summarized what, up to this point, has been discovered about the incident to prevent any further speculation , at least from the United team.  Employees need to be in the know, especially in these circumstances.

Misses

  • The first paragraph sounded to me to some degree like Oscar was putting some blame on the passenger.   1) Even though this is at least partially true, it just doesn’t look good.  It doesn’t sound like the airline one wants to do business with.  2) If the details are still evolving then why use the word ‘defied’ at this point.  Again, it will look to 99% of the public as pointing the finger at the customer instead of owning part of the blame.
  • Generalizing when he says ‘Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”, instead of specifically acknowledging the issue at hand, and the result to the customer.  To me it felt like there was a lack of personal interest or empathy for the man who was injured.  Regardless of who was right, what ended up happening was unfortunate and Oscar could’ve made this clear by stating that he felt sorry that the passenger went through that experience, or something along those lines.

If Oscar wasn’t sure of what to say, Stephen Toulouse could’ve solved that for him.  He tweeted a response that would’ve covered pretty much every issue that folks and I have with Oscar’s response:

One last thought.  We also have to consider who the recipient of this e-mail is.  Oscar was addressing the United team, and we have to understand that when communicating to different audiences, the communication is certainly modified accordingly.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  I’m assuming Mathew took this into consideration when writing his post.  But Oscar should’ve known that this would go public quickly, and perhaps should’ve addressed his people with a more universal sentiment.

Let’s see what United does on the next few days and months to ‘make this right’.  I hope they don’t end up simply saying that they were well within their rights to do what they did because, again, even if they were (which it looks like they were) it doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.

Give me your thoughts