(SALT LAKE CITY) — In the wake of one of United Airlines’ biggest PR fiascos to date — a video of a bloodied passenger literally being yanked from his seat that quickly went viral — other United customers are also complaining about alleged mistreatment by the airline.
A Utah couple en route to their wedding on Saturday told ABC affiliate KHOU that United kicked them off a flight to Costa Rica after they moved up a few rows to avoid disturbing a man they said was sleeping in their assigned seats. The couple, Michael Hohl and Amber Maxwell, said the incident took place on United Airlines Flight 1737 between Houston and Liberia, Costa Rica.
“They said it was not their problem — their words exactly, not their problem,” Hohl said. “Life goes on, but the way United handled this was absolutely absurd.”
According to Hohl and a statement United provided to ABC News, the incident began when the couple, who had purchased seats in economy class, instead moved to “upgraded seating.” The couple had moved from a standard row in the economy cabin to “economy-plus” seats, which boast a few extra inches of legroom. What happened when crew members noticed that the couple had changed their seats is a matter of dispute and a classic case of he said, she said.
Hohl said he and his fiance offered to pay for the upgraded seating. United said that the passengers were “offered the opportunity to pay the difference in fare” but “declined” to do so.
Hohl said the pair eventually moved back to the right row, while the airline contends they refused to follow crewmember instructions to return to the seats they’d originally purchased.
Hohl said they were escorted off the aircraft by Federal Air Marshals. But both United and the TSA, which runs the air marshal service, denies FAMS officers (or any other law enforcement personnel, for that matter) were involved.
“We’re disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t measure up to their expectations,” United said in a statement. The airline added that it offered the couple a discounted hotel rate and rebooked them on a flight the following day.
But for his part, Hohl warned: “They’re gonna start losing money if they keep treating their patrons like this.”
Already, the high-profile video of Dr. Dao, the passenger involuntarily bumped off the flight and dragged down the aisle last Sunday — as well as the incidents that have come to light since then — have hit a chord with consumers. In the immediate aftermath of the Dao video, United stock plunged 4.4%.
In a statement on Monday, United CEO Oscar Munoz called the incident with Dr. Dao “a humbling experience” and said it would “prove to be a watershed moment” for the company.
The incident also puts the airline in a particularly precarious position when it comes to dealing with aggrieved passengers.
Immediately dismissing customers’ concerns could put United at risk of being called tone-deaf — an accusation leveled against Munoz after he initially defended his employees and accused Dao of being “disruptive and belligerent.”
(He later clarified on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his initial response failed to communicate “what we were feeling…shame and embarrassment.” He also apologized publicly to Dr. Dao, saying, “no one should be treated that way, period.”)
However, as ABC’s legal analyst Dan Abrams points out, quickly settling lawsuits with passengers could encourage more of them.
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