Disruptive Decency

Well, this turned out to be very much a different post than what I’d first thought.

Last Thursday, CIO published an article titled “Your Pebble smartwatch will live on when Pebble’s servers shut down” that had good news for owners of the Pebble smartwatch:

But now that Pebble has been acquired by Fitbit and is presumably nearing the end of its life, Pebble users fretted that their watches would cease to work once Pebble dies. That’s not the case.

Pebble just rolled out an iOS and Android update that frees its watches from cloud-based online servers. That means when Pebble goes offline, your watch will still work.

Coincidentally, this was one year to the day since I posted “Google’s Parent Company is Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest”, which talked about Nest’s decision to brick the Revolv home automation hub rather than continue to support them. Fitbit’s decision was a refreshing departure from the attitude demonstrated by Nest (and lampooned by xkcd above). The punchline was going to be: basic human decency seems to be a disruptive tactic these days.

And then I launched Twitter Monday morning:

By this point, I would assume Sunday night’s, incident needs no explanation on my part. Details are still coming out, but regardless of what develops, United Airlines is the loser in this scenario. There’s an old saying is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The old saying is wrong:

The tweet above has plenty of company in the twitterverse, none of it flattering to United or beneficial to its share price. Tweets like this haven’t helped:

The perception that sticks is that an older man, a doctor, was violently removed from a plane in order to allow United to get four of its flight crew to Louisville and United’s CEO is upset about having to “…re-accommodate these customers” (not exactly what’s said, but certainly what will be taken away from that garbled message). Additionally, the poor job done on that earlier message completely undercuts the perceived sincerity of the latter one:

Given United’s past problems with customer service, one might expect more effort would have been spent to prevent incidents like this and they would have been better prepared for dealing with the aftermath of something that did go badly.

Wrong on both counts.

An excerpt from a recent interview of Oscar Munoz (United’s CEO) on Business Insider makes the situation all the more egregious:

Here, in Chicago, it’s miserable because if you don’t leave by a certain time, you are just dead. “I’m going to get there and there are going to be a billion people and the damn TSA line.” By the time you get to sit on one of our seats you are just pissed at the world.

So how do we make all of that a little bit easier? This is the thing. You’ve got that broad issue of anger and anti-industry noise. We’ve lost the trust and respect of the broader public, and so every action we take, they don’t particularly like, they see it negatively. We have to work on that broad communication. I am going to do it at this airline and allow myself to differentiate in the flight-friendly mode so that people don’t immediately have that visceral reaction.

Dragging people off a flight (literally) probably doesn’t fit into the mold of a “flight-friendly mode”.

So I will return to my original punch line: basic human decency seems to be a disruptive tactic these days.


4 thoughts on “Disruptive Decency

  1. I fly United. . .a lot. The whole model for long haul airlines in the States is broken. Three years ago United stated that all ticketed passengers had a seat. This is at odds with this event and others that did not get as much press regardless of carrier. Disruptive decency only makes sense if a radical element can enter the market (a la Lyft or that other car sharing organization). In the airline industry the barrier to entry is too high. Maybe the disruptive element with be “somewhat” decent.


    • Agreed…lots of barriers that get in the way of real competition (not that that’s always a bad thing given the potential safety issues).

      This high-profile incident is leading to others coming out of the woodwork (at least 2 I saw today), so they’re getting an Uber-style pile on. I’m hoping the bad publicity may help tamp down the anti-customer service culture a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And this is why I just *love* Twitter. United didn’t drag anyone anywhere. The video clearly shows that. Not that that’s going to deter the TwitMob any. In fact, no United employee could have affected the outcome in any way at all.

    This does display something about the TwitMob hive mentality, though. The collective that used to target the TSA has declined to target the TSA here in favor of targeting an airline. I find the insight into the priority system interesting.


    • The TSA wasn’t involved. The police officer who did the dragging was from the airport PD (& was suspended afterwards). United, however, was responsible for bringing the airport PD into the situation. United was also responsible for creating the situation in the first place – trying to kick passengers off the plane once they’ve boarded is not a smart move, regardless of whether it was legal. I’m pretty sure they could have paid for an Uber from Chicago to Louisville and had some change versus what they paid out to make this go away.


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