Bernie Sanders had strong words for airlines after the disturbing incident involving United Airlines and one of its passengers, 69-year-old David Dao, who was dragged off one of its flights by the Chicago aviation police after he refused to give up his seat. In a statement on CNN's State Of The Union with Jake Tapper, Sanders strongly criticized "dysfunctional" airlines and said that the Congress ought to take a "hard look" at the airline industry where "inappropriate practices" take place at the expense of travelers.
Sanders said the problem of overbooking — when an airline accepts reservations well beyond its capacity — is not unique, but rather a common occurrence. "I have been on airlines many, many times where people have been asked to leave," Sanders told Tapper.
Overbooking in the airline industry is not exactly a new phenomenon. In fact, according to a Bloomberg report, overbooking has been going on since the 1940s. In order to combat with dwindling profits due to no-show passengers, airlines turned to a practice of over-packing their planes. Since a no-show passenger carried a negative influence on an airline's revenue, overbooking must have seemed like the best solution.
Sanders pushed for a unified response to such practices in the airline industry. "What we do need is to take a hard look at the airlines in this country and make them much more responsive to the consumers than they currently are," he said.
This isn't the first time a politician has highlighted the issue. According to the Bloomberg report, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith from Maine also criticized airplanes for overbooking way back in 1956.
Sanders is joined by other Democrats who claim to be deliberating legislation to combat issues within the airline industry. Several have tweeted their opinions on Dao's case, which outraged Americans throughout the country.
I will not fly #United anymore. Further, it's time for govt to investigate their repeated abuses toward passengers.— Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) April 11, 2017
Absurd: ”UA is not liable for its…removal of any passenger….The passenger’s sole and exclusive remedy shall be [a refund].” #RipOffClause— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) April 11, 2017
It is worth remembering that this is not the first time an airline has "bumped" a passenger off one of its planes. ABC News reported that 40,000 passengers were booted off flights across various airlines in 2016. Among them, over 3,000 were reportedly United Airlines passengers. Although the CEO of United Airlines Oscar Munoz issued an apology for "re-accommodating" passengers after Dao's incident, the debacle on airlines overbooking and inconveniencing paying passengers has taken the nation by storm.
Discomforting passengers isn't just a PR disaster; it has a financial dimension and a pretty heavy price to pay. In United Airlines' case, its market value dropped off by $250 million after videos emerged of Dao being dragged from the plane.
As the debate continues between those in favor of securing profits by practicing overbooking and those critical of prioritizing revenue over consumers, one thing is clear. Many airlines seem to value money over customer happiness. The irony here, as Sanders pointed out, is that by obsessing over cost-cutting, the industry giants overlook the comfort of the very people they need to run their enterprises.