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What's loyalty got to do with the United Airlines incident?

I was really surprised when Quartz published an article shaming loyal United customers for defending the airline. That's bleed-over from partisan politics in my opinion. Everyone needs to stop vilifying people on the other side of an issue. A more thoughtful analysis of the incidence as an example of 'privilege' was offered up on the New York Times without saying that loyalty programs are a part of the problem. 

Here's why I think "loyalty" has little to do with what happened when United forcibly 're-accomodated' a physician recently. 

  • Loyalty flows both ways. The airlines reward people who comply with their rules. (Some rules are cruel and need to be outlawed. The rule that you couldn't get health insurance if you had a congenital health defect was cruel. Non-smoker discounts are not cruel.) Loyalty rules, in general, are a good thing, encouraging customers and companies to support each other.

  • The direct cause of the incident was poor decision making by United employees. Those employees could have presented their challenges to all their passengers differently and gotten compliance. They didn't need different rules, they needed better skills in using them. (That's good customer relationship management, which they definitely failed to provide.) 

  • United policies, culture and management are ultimately responsible for having front-line employees who behave poorly. The subsequent behavior by the CEO indicates that the problem goes very deep at United. The company is not "customer centric."

  • Loyal United customer could have intervened for the guy, but I'm thinking they were just too stunned to see the situation go off the rails. I know I would have been cowering in my seat. If I had been asked to participate, I hope I would have said, "He's a physician, I'll take his place." United didn't give the other customers a chance to help, as far as I know. 

United deserves to be punished but the loyal customers who complied with the rules are not the ones who got violent with a customer. I've seen many veteran customers intervene and help new customers over the years. I don't believe a loyalty program interferes with kindness. 

If you are a United customer with a high status in the loyalty program, what do you think United should do? Do you think they should change their policies? 



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