You might have thought 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year, but then again, you probably don’t work at United Airlines, where 2017 is starting to make last year’s existential shitshows look like halfway decent days.
The latest incident involves a violin and a wrestling match. Trying to fly on United from Houston to Missouri where she plays with the Missouri Symphony Orchestra, Yennifer Correia was told she would have to check her 17th century violin, worth thousands.
Understandably, given all of the horror stories about how luggage and, more specifically, musical instruments are treated when checked, Correia didn’t want to do this, and was asking for other options when things apparently escalated.
Correia explained the situation to Houston station KPRC:
She said when she asked for the supervisor’s full name, the supervisor tried to remove the airline luggage tag from Correia’s luggage attempting to get Correia’s name as well.
“She proceeded to throw herself on top of my suitcase. So she could take the rest of the sticker from my suitcase. At this point, we’re both struggling — pulling the suitcase — and I’m trying to get her not to take the sticker from me,” Correia said.
For what it’s worth, in 2014, the FAA ruled that carriers must allow passengers to bring musical instruments onboard flights so long as certain conditions are met and there’s room for the instrument. Though, in 2016, United was the first airline to limit overhead bin usage for certain passengers (it’s not known if Correia was one of those unlucky flyers).
A spokesperson for United told Mashable in a statement, “We’re disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that does not live up to his or her expectation. We fully refunded Ms. Correia’s ticket and reached out to her to gain a better understanding of what occurred and to offer assistance.”
Problem is, “anytime a customer has an experience that does not live up to his or her expectation” is happening so frequently now with United, it’s hard to keep them straight.
A string of controversies
The airline’s under intense scrutiny now thanks to the dragging incident involving Dr. David Dao—as well as the airline’s bumbling response to it—which means more attention to incidents. But these aren’t small incidents like a lost suitcase or a frustrating flight cancelation.
Take, for instance, the experience of Henry Amador-Batten, who was flying with his son on a United flight and was wrongly suspected by the flight crew of fondling his son. In a Facebook post, Amador-Batten’s husband suggested homophobia played a role in the incident by using the hashtag “#homophobiaunitedairlines.”
Airport police were waiting on them when the plane landed, and the investigation was closed.
But United still had to issue an apology about the incident, telling CNN, “After speaking with the customer, authorities determined that no further action was necessary. Our customers should always be treated with the utmost respect and we have followed up with our customer to apologize for the misunderstanding.”
It was just a new miserable low in 2017 for United customer service, including the Dao incident, the booting of a couple on their way to be married, and, of course, those banned leggings.
If the treatment of human beings weren’t enough, United’s also had some nature-related stumbles, too. There have been two (TWO!!!!) incidents on United planes this year involving scorpions, both out of Houston, including one where a passenger was stung.
And don’t forget poor Simon, the giant rabbit who met his untimely end after a trans-Atlantic United flight, who was then cremated by airline staff (not that animal deaths are anything new to United).
So what now?
United’s done a lot of apologizing this year. And they’ve rolled out new policies to prevent the sort of thing that happened to Dao from happening again.
But given that many of these incidents occurred after the Dao incident, stretch beyond the rebooking policy that spurred the Dao incident, it’s pretty damn clear that United has a hell of an issue on its hands, top to bottom.
And it doesn’t seem like they’re learning their lesson anytime soon.
This week, United heralded the significant drop in bump passengers in May (a drop of 79% over May of 2016. And, speaking in Chicago, United Airlines President Scott Kirby said of the post-Dao era of the airline:
“While our incident in April was unfortunate, disappointing and was a setback, United Airlines is running the best airline in the country today,” Kirby said. “That one incident was not representative of who we are … and the thousands of times every day that our employees are going above and beyond to take care of our customers.”
Well, sure: It’s true that there haven’t been other incidents of passengers being violently dragged off a United plane. Low bar, no?
But United’s (still) hardly the best airline, at least according to flyers. Far from it, in fact. In the 2017 American Customer Satisfaction Index survey, conducted before the Dao incident, United ranked 8th out of 10 airlines on satisfaction, above only budget airlines Frontier and Spirit.
Traveling by air is terrible and if Kirby’s attitude remains the default in the face of animal deaths, passenger mistreatment, and everything else the experience throws at flyers, airlines, including United, won’t be making any changes any time soon.