On Sunday, April 9, 2017, passenger David Dao was forcibly removed from United Airlines flight 3411 after being randomly selected because the flight was overbooked. Videos of the incident went viral, causing immediate backlash. The public response was swift and voluminous: according to Google Trends, the number of Google searches for the term “United Airlines” spiked to a ten-fold level relative to normal.
In addition to the potential brand impact, this incident may have a substantial economic impact on United itself and on the entire airline industry: just one day after settling with the passenger for an undisclosed amount, on April 28 United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a letter to customers apologizing for the incident and indicating that United will increase incentives up to $10,000 for voluntary rebooking. Given that more than half a million passengers were bumped from U.S. airline flights in 2015, costs could skyrocket if the industry follows United’s example.