Long Stranded Passengers Revolt – Is United at Fault?

By | July 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Stranded United Ai...

A United Airlines flight was scheduled to leave Shanghai on Wednesday, but its passengers ended up stranded till Saturday.

Maintenance problems ground airplanes all the time. To be realistic, what is the alternative? Would any passenger rather fly on an unsafe plane? But it took that many days for replacement parts to arrive, which is shocking in this modern global economy.

What about flying in an extra plane? For an airline like United, they have many aircraft, but they are usually all scheduled in use or in maintenance checks, as is the case with most airlines. If it isn’t flying, it is losing money. For an airline to add an extra section on a domestic route is more logistically possible than positioning a plane for a 13 hour flight.

What about renting a plane? That is an option many airlines do not try, but realistically, it is not as if one can go down to the local Wright Brothers Rent a Plane and secure a 200+ seat aircraft that has the range to operate Shanghai to Newark.

What about rebooking on another airline/flight? That may work for 25-50 people, but with capacity down and load up, finding empty seats for that many people is difficult.

That isn’t a defense of United Airlines. More an explanation of how complicated airline logistics is. Even if you cancel the next flight and use that plane to bring the stranded passengers home, what is better: 200 people 3 days late, or 600 people, 1 day late?

Back in Shanghai, United opted for the former, prompting passengers to stage a revolt and a blockade, trying to prevent the next flight from boarding. They relented when they were promised their plane had been fixed and was ready to go. However, by the time the revolt was sorted out, the crew had exceeded their hours, and the flight had to be delayed once more.

Five years ago, in July of 2007, a Continental(now United) Airlines plane en route to Newark from Caracas was diverted to Baltimore. The passengers organized and staged a protest till they were allowed to deplane. Events like these encouraged the DOT to create tarmac delay rules.

In a story we reported on five years ago, China’s aviation authority asked fliers to stop complaining about air travel there, after Chinese passengers had apparently been fighting back by refusing to leave aircraft until compensation is paid for late flights, storming runways in protest, and breaking down locked doors when herded into lounges after unannounced diversions. Bad airline service is what they revolt about, as opposed to all of the other problems China has.

In the United States, a country known for emphasizing individual freedom, we just take it. What was United’s response?  “The situation clearly didn’t go as smoothly as we would like. We did not meet these customers’ expectations. We hope they will give us another chance.” To ensure that, along with their refund, they received a $1000 travel voucher on United, because there is nothing passengers who nearly revolted over their last airline experience want to do more than try again.

What do you think United should have done? Difficult logistic situation, major mess? Leave your comments.