Right now, United Airlines seems to make any decision that could affect their public image by asking themselves “what would a Nazi pedophile do?” Their most recent alleged act of image self-immolation involves kicking a honeymooning couple off a flight for switching their seats. Or maybe the destination-wedding couple actually was terrible? Who the hell knows, anymore.
Here’s what seems to have happened; please keep in mind that there’s no video, and the behavior and attitudes of everyone involved can’t really be proven.
Michael Hohl, the groom, and his very-soon-to-be wife, Amber Maxwell, were flying to Costa Rica yesterday afternoon, where they are going to get married and have their honeymoon. As they changed planes at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, they were the last to get on their connecting flight to Costa Rica.
As they looked for their seats on the half-full plane, they found that their row, 24, was entirely occupied by a man sleeping across three seats. Since seats were available, they decided not to wake the guy, and grabbed two seats in the empty row 21.
Here’s the problem: on the Boeing 737-800 they were flying on, the row they picked wasn’t actually economy, but United’s very-slightly upgraded Economy Plus. These are seats that usually command a premium of $100-$150 over regular Economy, and offer 3-5 inches more legroom. They’re a little roomier, but hardly the dizzying, decadent luxury of a first-class seat.
According to the couple, they were approached by a flight attendant who asked them if they were in their assigned seats, they fessed up that, no, they weren’t, they asked for an upgrade, they were denied, so they returned back to their original seats, and presumably either woke up the sleeping guy or just all cuddled up with him in a big pile. That detail was not specified.
After complying with the flight attendant’s demands, a U.S. Marshal entered the plane, and asked the couple to leave, which they did.
United’s statement paints a slightly different picture:
“We’re disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t measure up to their expectations. These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them on flights tomorrow.”
It’s the ‘repeatedly’ part that I guess is the issue, if true.
The couple was booked on a flight the next morning, and their original flight left after a short delay.
It’s not clear exactly what happened, if the couple was actually causing a disturbance or not, though it is hard to give United the benefit of the doubt, for well-known reasons. Also, I’m almost certain I’ve been on half-empty airplanes where I’ve been told I can move and wherever I wanted in the general Economy class, and that included the slightly-upgraded Plus seats.
In fact, that seems to be exactly what happened on this flight, once it was airborne. Is that the key? Wait until the ground and its grim, unyielding rules fall away?
Hell, United seems to sometimes bump passengers to Economy Plus for free just because they have so many. So what was the big deal here?
I suppose the couple could have asked repeatedly for the better seats; while that may be annoying for the crew, I’m not sure that’s a reason to involve a Marshal. Could they have been belligerent or disruptive? Sure, I guess so.
Alternately, could this be yet another needlessly cruel and destructive decision on the part of United? Yep, sure could.