Cape Town - It’s been a nightmarish couple of weeks for US-based United Airlines - but even more so for some of its passengers.
The latest incident from the airline involves Michael Hohl and his fiancée Amber Maxwell who were flying to Costa Rica for their wedding on Saturday afternoon, 15 April.
The bride- and groom-to-be were reportedly removed from a United Airlines flight after moving to an empty row to allow another passenger to stay asleep in their seats.
After moving a few rows up in economy, flight crew reportedly denied their request to pay a supplement for the seats, which United sells as "economy plus", and told them to move back to their original seats, Hohl said.
"We thought not a big deal, it's not like we are trying to jump up into a first-class seat," Hohl is quoted in a Khou report. "We were simply in an economy row a few rows above our economy seat."
The airline released a statement saying, "We’re disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t measure up to their expectations. These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them on flights tomorrow.
The bride and groom were rebooked for another flight the next morning, but Hohl said they won't be flying United again and described the whole situation as "quite strange."
Hohl called the way United Airlines handled the incident "really absurd", saying “I think customer service and the airlines has gone real downhill.”
UPDATE: United Airlines dragged passenger will need reconstructive surgery - lawyer
The incident comes as the airline deals with a strings of public relations disasters - with a video showing security officers dragging a bloodied passenger off an overbooked United Express flight in Chicago going viral last week.
Dr David Dao, the 69-year-old Vietnamese-American suffered a concussion and lost two teeth when he was dragged off the United Express flight, and his lawyer state he hopes the 69-year-old becomes "a poster child" for the mistreatment passengers suffer at the hands of the airline industry.
Associate Press reports, Attorney Thomas Demetrio indicated on Thursday Dr David Dao will sue United and the city of Chicago, which employs the officers who pulled Dao off Sunday's Louisville-bound flight.
In widely shared cellphone video, Dao is dragged down the aisle on his back, his face bloody. United has since apologised and offered to pay compensation to the passengers on board the flight
Truth be told, the latest incident involving the couple would have been an ideal opportunity to do some damage control - considering the flight was half-booked and the seats the couple moved were empty. But it was not to be.
While it is common practice across the globe for airlines to overbook flights, most passengers don't entirely understand the practice.
According to the Head of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa Chris Zwiegenthal, the overall aim is so that airlines can maximise revenue around load factors as well as avoid having empty seats that are either not used due to no-shows as well as being able to accommodate passengers on standby who urgently need to travel.
While policies vary from airline to airline – allowances are made for the offloading and overbooking practice in South Africa in the Consumer Protection Act in article 47, detailing parameters of due process that should involve prior notification and compensation where possible.
SEE FULL DETAILS HERE: What SA travellers should know about airline overbooking and offloading policies
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