By now, most of us have seen the cellphone footage of a man being bloodied and dragged off a United Airlines flight.
The video went viral, prompting outrage around the world after four people were chosen at random to be bumped from the plane travelling from Chicago to Louisville, Ky. as the seats had been oversold — a common practice in the airline industry to maximize profits.
Three of those chosen to be "re-accommodated" — the term used by United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz in a memo to staff — got off without incident, but the fourth, later identified as Dr. David Dao, refused and law enforcement were called, leading to his being violently removed.
Munoz has since apologized for the incident and said the company's policies will be changed so something similar doesn't happen again.
This week's Unconventional Panel gathered on The Calgary Eyeopener to discuss whether incidents like this are simply the price we have to pay for low-cost travel, or whether passengers need better protection.
Ravin Moorthy, Calgary-based engineer
"It was wrong for that guy to get roughed up and pulled off the plane, that for sure I don't support. But to get to the original point, air travel used to be this really glamorous thing and I think we all aspire to get on a plane and go somewhere. If you watch Mad Men, Don Draper made it look fantastic, but I think right now it's like getting on the bus. The glory days are gone and for me, if airlines have to oversell their planes so we get an opportunity to get lower fares, I'm OK with that. They've got to make money and they want to keep their planes full."
George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Industries
"I loved the tweet I saw this morning that said 'United Airlines, we put the hospital back into hospitality.' This was a disgrace. I do understand overbooking. Yesterday on one of the talk shows they were talking about the fact if you bought a Flames ticket and showed up and they said 'Oh, we sold this seat twice,' you'd be mad. But on an airline, people expect to be able to not show up and still get a refund, or not show up and go on another flight, so there's a balance happening. But what happened on that airplane is absolutely unbelievable, and it starts with the CEO, who should probably be fired by the board right now... I thought the whole thing was just terrible."
Anila Lee-Yuen, CEO of the Centre For Newcomers
"Of course that was heinous from a humanitarian perspective. I couldn't even watch the full video, I started hearing the woman scream, I saw a little bit of it and I said, 'OK, that's it, I can't even watch it, that would upset me way too much.' But I think from a consumer perspective, we should allow the free market to decide to a certain degree. Where airlines go wrong in having overbooking is if you make it very explicit to a consumer… and be able to say, 'this is not a guarantee for you, this is the process, this is what's going to happen,' and let people decide. So if you are somebody that does not expect to be taken off a flight, then you're going to choose an airline that doesn't do that and the free market is going to decide what's more important to people, whether it is that customer service or the lowest price.
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With files from The Calgary Eyeopener