19 April 2017

Hawaiian Airlines CLO calls out rival United over current PR crisis

United Airlines' reputation is circling the drain after the forcible removal of a passenger from one of its flights went viral and made international headlines last week.

By Kathryn Higgins

Vytautas Kielaitis

The company has faced a heated backlash from customers, policymakers and the media after video footage surfaced of one passenger, Mr David Dao, being dragged from a United Airlines flight that officials falsely believes was overbooked. The video shows Mr Dao being dragged from his seat and along the floor of the plane, which was awaiting take-off at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Lawyers for Mr Dao reported that their client, a physician from Pennsylvania, sought treatment for unspecified injuries at a local hospital following the incident.

‘A case study on what not to do’

In a recent interview with industry publication Corporate Counsel, Hawaiian Airlines chief legal officer Aaron Alter said that there are important lessons to be learned from the current crisis of reputation facing United. ‘We are making this a case-study on what not to do and then reinforcing what one might do in a similar instance,’ he said, adding that all airlines and their lawyers should be doing a ‘post-mortem’ of the incident.

Overbooking policies

In particular, Mr Apfel believes that the incident should prompt airlines to re-examine their policies and procedures around overbooking flights, as has been called for by several politicians in the wake of the incident. Several other airlines have already responded to the incident by adjusting their own action plans for overbooked flights – Delta Air Lines has reportedly authorised employees to offer up to $10,000 to incentivise passengers who need to give up their seats in order to accommodate crew members, while American Airlines has adjusted its Conditions of Carriage to ensure that no passenger who has already boarded one of its flights will be asked to give up their seat for someone else.

Sources: Corporate Counsel; USA Today

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