United Airlines eschews duct tape — could this be its redemption?

Max Berry struggles against his restraints on Frontier Airlines

Ever since it broke Dave Carroll’s guitar, United Airlines has been the poster boy for doing everything possible to abuse customers in the air. Now it has finally found a niche. United vows not to duct-tape passengers to seats like other airlines.

Four years ago, I wrote about companies that somehow manage to demonstrate over and over again how they mistreat customers. That group includes Uber, Facebook, Comcast, and United Airlines, a carrier that knocked out a passenger’s teeth while dragging him off the plane to make room for employees, let a scorpion fall out of an overhead bin onto a passenger’s head, and refused to allow a passenger who’d paid for a first-class ticket from Hawaii to fly in his assigned seat.

The duct-tape manifesto

Finally, United has found a way to be better than other airlines.

According to Newsweek, United has told its in-air staff not to use duct tape to manage unruly passengers.

This might not be notable except that there’s a rash of duct-tape incidents happening in the air this year. Frontier Airlines duct-taped a drunk and loutish passenger named Max Berry to his seat after he groped two female flight attendants and punched one of their male coworkers. As Frontier passively stated later, “Unfortunately, the proper policies for restraining a passenger were not followed.”

And American Airlines in-flight staff attempted to use duct tape to restrain a passenger who was threatening to kick out a window. In July, American flight attendants duct taped a woman who they said had tried to open the door and exit the plane during the flight.

United is also the fully vaccinated airline

United is also the first big airline to require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 25, or possibly five weeks after the FDA grants full approval to a COVID vaccine, which should happen shortly. And they’re giving an extra day’s pay to all vaccinated employees.

Whether you agree with this or not — and I do — this is a clear differentiator for passenger safety. It’s unusual for airlines not to move in lock-step on policies like this.

“We suck less” is a path to redemption

Flying is always a soul-sucking experience. And among big airlines, the suckage has been pretty uniform. Based on its reputation up to now, United was the first among non-budget airlines in highly publicized incidents of passenger abuse.

“We don’t duct tape passengers” and “Our employees are vaccinated” aren’t really qualities enough to hang your reputation on. But given the amount of rage in the air and the pressure that airlines are under, they may be just enough to bust United out of the position of maximum suckiness.

What’s next — free lollipops and enough space for your knees?

No, that would probably be going too far.

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  1. What alternative is there to a passenger who is out of control, possibly placing other passengers at risk? I’m all in favor of duct-taping some fool who’s trying to open the emergency exit while the plane is in the air, or attacking flight attendants.

  2. The case for zip ties.

    Re: Dave Carroll. He had it right, and United had NUMEROUS opportunities to keep him from going viral with his clever song and effective recounting of the incident[s] related to his Taylor guitar. It made a wonderful case history in customer relations, i.e., what not to do.