Don’t reaccommodate me, bro

A United passenger onboard in Chicago to fly to Louisville was dragged from his seat Sunday evening because the trip was overbooked and he declined to follow the airline’s order to make way for airline employees. United called airport law enforcement authorities to have the noncompliant passenger/customer dragged from his seat. Below is the video posted by Business Insider.

We still don’t know the passenger’s name, which is perfect. He is Everyman. We identify.

We know the name of United’s CEO. It is Oscar Munoz. Munoz, however, also fits an archetype. He is every mealymouthed corporate executive we love to hate. He personifies the unpleasantness we associate with commercial air travel.

Munoz issued a classic statement yesterday afternoon:

This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.

Munoz is a sort of master in the art of double-talk. Someone has surgically removed his ability to speak candidly in straightforward language. CNBC has posted more from Munoz here. He’s sticking with it for now but he won’t be for long. Munoz acknowledged to employees that the company could learn lessons from the incident, but said: “I emphatically stand behind all of you.”

Who stands behind Munoz? We shall see.

UPDATE: The Louisville Courier-Journal identifies the passenger in the story “David Dao, passenger removed from United flight, doctor with troubled past.” If Dao’s past was troubled, he has a great shot at a bright future.

MORE: Scott Adams weighs in via Robots Read News.

STEVE adds: I flew United from LAX to Denver on Sunday, on a completely full 777. In coach. The 777 used to be a great flying experience, but this one wasn’t because the seats are now so small. United’s 777’s used to have a 2-5-2 configuration, but now have a 3-4-3 configuration, which means they have squeezed in one extra seat in every row. Great: as Americans get larger (mea culpa), airline seats get smaller.

United, and most other airlines, have a total failure of economic literacy when it comes to overbooked flights. I get why they overbook: statistically it makes sense, given no-shows, changed plans at the last minute, missed connections, etc., that would too often result in empty seats if they didn’t do that practice. But for the occasions when they do have oversold flights, they mismanage the compensation drill.

A flight coupon of $300 or $500 is not worth it to me. But $1200 might be. I know an economist who likes to get bumped on oversold flights, but what he does is write a much larger figure than offered (like $800 of more) on a slip of paper, and hand it to a gate agent or flight attendant (he has done this more than once on a flight he has already boarded, like the man in Chicago). His offer is almost always accepted, since the gate agents have discretion and are in a hurry to get the thing done. In this situation in Chicago, the airline’s last resort should have been to hold an onboard auction, open to all passengers, raising the bid until they got enough volunteers. Even if the price had to go to $3,000, it would be a bargain compared to what United is now going to face.

P.S. It was the late, great Julian Simon who first came up with the compensation scheme for bumped passengers. I can only imagine what Julian would be saying today if he was still with us.

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