United Airlines Leaves Clues for Handling Mistakes [Video]

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A video of a man physically forced off a United Airlines aircraft has gone viral. On Sunday, three Chicago Department of Aviation security officers dragged the passenger from Flight 3411 as passengers took out their phones and captured the painful incident. The man continued to resist and ran back onto the airplane with a bloodied face from the incident. Amid the backlash, United Airlines leaves clues for handling mistakes.

Although the airline is standing by its decision to drag a passenger in such a forceful way, the truth is they should own the error and apologize. The famous playwright named George Bernard Shaw, when speaking of mistakes, said:

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

The real deal is everyone makes mistakes. No matter the many efforts to seem flawless, frailties continue to abound. In fact, mistakes are the perfect opportunity to learn and grow. When an organization blows it, the company knows it. No big revelation or social media backlash is required. However, what matters most is the ability to acknowledge and own the mistake and utilize those times as an excellent opportunity to expand employee’s development.

The incident on United Airlines leaves clues for handling mistakes, even if the company itself does not learn the lessons available. For the rest of the world, the following tips will help with these transitions:

  • Admit It: Nothing delays growth more than the refusal to admit an error. What most do not realize is admitting to a mistake is also one of the most liberating experiences. Once the error has been owned, it becomes a personal power for growth. Energy spent avoiding responsibility for a mistake is wasted energy.
  • Learn From It: The only bad experience is the ones people refuse to grow from. Think of it like this, learning from a mistake is like doing an autopsy. Cut it open and find out what went wrong. There is no true resolve, nor can the organization really move forward until it understands the cause of death. This type of mistake has the possibility to put the airline on life support.
  • Spread the Wealth: What good is it to have access to life changing information if no one else benefits from it? The brand of any company has a better chance of recovery by owning, correcting, and sharing the lesson learned. The way to success is through empowering others.

The man was forced to endure this public shame because the airline overbooked his flight. According to the established rules, “any time a carrier does this, it must first see if any passengers volunteer to give up their seat prior to attacking and forcefully removing customers.” The airline, owned by United Continental Holdings, released the following statement, per the director at JLS Consulting and an aviation expert named John Strickland:

Overbooking is a necessity for airlines due to different levels of no show passengers experienced on different routes. It’s normally a highly sophisticated process based on extensive detailed statistical analysis. Even when passengers are forcibly denied boarding, the idea is to handle this as tactfully and sensitively as possible.

The randomly-selected victim of United Airlines refused to leave his seat while stating he was a doctor and needed to see his patients at the hospital the next morning. Apparently, the decision was not negotiable and he was forced off the aircraft. Overbooking a flight to accommodate for passengers who do not show should not result in this type of mishandling of a customer.

True to the media’s style, allegations of the man’s past have now surfaced as if any of this justifies the treatment he received from United Airlines. Regardless of the man’s past, no passenger deserves such destructive treatment after voluntarily purchasing a ticket to fly to a certain destination. This unfortunate incident by United Airlines leaves clues for handling mistakes that could benefit others when dealing with conflict.


Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)


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Photo Credit:

All Images Courtesy of Christian Junker | Photography – Flickr License