The Ethics Sage and United’s Ethical Blunder

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

4 thoughts on “The Ethics Sage and United’s Ethical Blunder

  1. I’ve thought a lot about my blog since publication. What could other passengers have done differently? What if it had been their son or daughter dragged from the plane? Ethical decision making may seem impersonal at the start but we personalize but putting ourselves in the position of the individual potentially harmed by our decisions and actions. What if a passenger got out his or her seat and proactively sought to stop the madness by taking hold of the arm of the security officer and asking in a loud voice: Why are you mistreating this passenger? It is quite possible that another passenger would have done the same. Someone has to be first to start a chain reaction of ethical behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, this new case of the mother with a stroller has a passenger who intervenes – you might want to elaborate on that now that it has happened. I think the public no longer trusts the airline to act intelligently and is starting to stand up.


    2. I made this point about the lack of intervention by other passengers on southwerk’s post on this incident. It’s easy to understand why nobody stood up to take action given the kind of “police state” activity we’ve seen in our nation in recent years. But this kind of incident reminds us of the old adage about the Nazi rise to power;

      “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Socialist.

      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Jew.

      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”


      1. I think your point is well taken. I think a lot of inaction was the result of people not being aware of just how badly the airlines were treating people. Now that’s out there, there is going to be more citizen action.


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