The airplane had an “overbook situation.” The crew needed “volunteers.” One passenger “refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily.” So he was “re-accommodated.”
It’s hard to imagine things could have gone worse aboard United Express Flight 3411 on Sunday, when security officers dragged a man off a plane in Chicago when he wouldn’t give up his seat for airline employees.
But United seemed to invite ridicule with a pair of awkwardly worded responses to the incident.
After video of the man being violently pulled out of his seat went viral Monday, United responded with a brief statement:
Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.
Later, United chief executive Oscar Munoz followed up with some remarks of his own:
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” Munoz’s statement read in part. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
The combination of airline jargon and public relations spin didn’t sit well with many people — especially when contrasted with the images of three officers yanking the man out of his seat and pulling his limp body by the wrists down the center aisle. Other videos showed the man pacing around the plane’s cabin with blood dripping from his mouth.
The Internet mocked United’s responses mercilessly.
The popular consumer affairs blog Consumerist called on readers to tweet their definitions of “re-accommodate,” which included the simple yet effective, “Knock a man out and drag him away.” The slang website Urban Dictionary also posted a definition, reading, “to beat up and violently drag paying passengers off an airplane in order to make room for airline crew on stand-by.”
And Joe Thomas, an offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns, offered a visual explanation of “re-accommodate”:
Jack Holmes of Esquire argued the statements from United were as bad as the incident itself.
“The idea that a man who was physically dragged off the plane, wailing in pain as blood rushed out of his head, was just ‘re-accommodated’ is grotesque,” he said. “It’s closer to another Airplane Term — ‘water landing,’ which is, of course, a plane crash.”
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel seemed to agree.
“It’s like how we ‘re-accommodated’ El Chapo out of Mexico,” Kimmel said, referring to the Mexican drug lord who was recently extradited to the United States.
“That is such sanitized, say-nothing, take no responsibility, corporate B.S. speak,” Kimmel added. “I don’t know how the guy who sent that tweet didn’t vomit when he typed it out.”
The Louisville-bound flight was overbooked on Sunday, and crew members needed to make room for several United employees, The Washington Post reported. No one volunteered when passengers were offered vouchers to change their flight. Crew members asked an older man to leave, but he refused. Eventually, police officers were called to remove him.
Kimmel took aim at the airline’s decision to overbook the flight — a common practice that went awry this time around.
“I’ve been to a hundred games and stadiums with 50,000 seats,” he said. “They never sell the same seat two times to one person, but for some reason, airlines cannot figure this out.”
The airline’s suggestion that the passenger refused to leave “voluntarily” also drew scorn.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary reported that searches for “volunteer” spiked 1,900 percent Monday after videos of the incident were circulated. It defined the word as “someone who does something without being forced to do it.”
“Some of the interest in the definition of volunteer may come from the wording of the statement from United,” Merriam-Webster wrote on its blog, “since a person who did not volunteer to leave was then described as refusing ‘to leave the aircraft voluntarily’ — and subsequently being forced to do it.”
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