Flying the friendly skies? Not on United Airlines
United Airlines' treatment of its passengers is insulting
Mr Oscar Munoz, United Airlines' chief executive officer, needs to be "re-accommodated". Right out of his job.
Along the way, he needs to give back the Communicator of the Year award given to him by PR Week just a few weeks ago.
And he can certainly kiss the US$500,000 (S$699,000) of his US$14.3 million salary pegged to customer satisfaction goodbye.
You must be living under a rock if you have not seen the viral video of a United customer being brutally dragged off a plane on his back screaming, with blood streaming down his face and his glasses askew.
Passengers cried out in protest as they recorded the whole thing on their phones and promptly posted it online.
The tone-deaf first response from Mr Munoz was victim-blaming - that it happened because Mr David Dao, the passenger, "refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily" when he was randomly selected to be bumped along with three others to make room for United employees.
The statement from Mr Munoz also said: "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologise for having to re-accommodate these customers."
Then he doubled down by saying the passenger was "disruptive and belligerent", but a video that surfaced later showed he was no such thing.
It was only when United's stock sank a billion dollars - it subsequently recovered, unfortunately - that Mr Munoz woke up to the fact that the Communicator of the Year better communicate an apology, however insincere. That took two days.
I was on a United flight from London to Los Angeles when I first saw the video.
The first thing I did after my initial horrified reaction was to look down at the aisle. I realise just how narrow it is in economy - any adult dragged down it would be severely battered and banged up.
It is no wonder Mr Dao suffered a broken nose, a concussion and two missing teeth.
He subsequently filed a lawsuit from his hospital bed, and I have no doubt he will fly first class for the rest of his life after the settlement.
That is if he does not end up owning United and cancelling Mr Munoz's severance.
A frequent flier on United for 15 years, I just passed the million-mile mark, for which I was given permanent priority boarding and a plastic plaque.
Anyone who travels as much as I do - 160,000km each year - would expect delays, cancellations and lost baggage.
These things happen because of overbooked flights, bad weather and incompetent baggage handling. But the discomfort of flying is something else.
There is now a term for it - "calculated misery" - where airlines make their services so sub-standard that passengers are counted on to pay extra to buy themselves a little comfort, like advance boarding.
Checked baggage is charged, creating more hand baggage and a shortage of overhead space.
You are lucky if you get a free soda and peanuts.
Add to that the tiny seats with no leg room, the even tinier bathrooms and the rude flight attendants.
I was once told to go back to economy "where I belong" when I tried to use the only vacant bathroom at the time, which happened to be in business class.
Do not even try opening your laptop on the tray table if the person in front retracts his seat.
The infuriating thing is that the taxpayers bailed out the airlines when they were going through a downturn.
Now, not even a tiny portion of the billions they are making in profit is passed along to the passengers, despite the fact that oil prices have been low for years.
Because of my status, I do not have to pay for checking my bags, I get a free sandwich on short flights, which other passengers have to buy, and I get priority boarding so I am sure of overhead baggage space.
But I was looking through my sent e-mails for the complaints I still made to United, and found three.
Three I actually sent among the dozens of times I was upset with my travel experience.
Like the time I was locked on the jetway (the access way between the gate and the plane) for an hour, after which my twice-delayed 16-hour midnight flight from Mumbai to New York was finally cancelled.
Then there was the time when, after another 16-hour flight in coach, my onward flight from New York to Los Angeles had a plane switch to a smaller one, and my confirmed upgrade disappeared.
I was re-seated in the worst seat on the plane - the middle seat in the last row (where the seats do not retract but the ones in front of you do, so you are boxed in on all four sides) - and they took away my hand baggage as there was no more storage room.
And when I went to India this February, another passenger mistook my bag for his own, and took off with it on a connecting flight to Goa.
Dozens of calls to the clueless airport staff and to the special baggage line in Houston were made to locate the bag.
The passenger actually offered to drop it off at the Goa airport so United could fly it back to me in Mumbai through its Indian partner airline.
Simple, right? Oh, no. United refused as they did not have a desk at the Goa airport.
I was on my own. I subsequently managed to get the bag on a bus at my own expense.
So now the dilemma is - should I fire United?
After that horrific video and the hamfisted handling of the public relations nightmare, that should be an easy decision, right?
But it took me 15 years of flying United, most of it in coach, to earn my status.
That is how they get you.
You are caught in the spiral of keeping your status by keeping on miserably flying with them.
The passenger loyalty only goes one way, as more indignities are suffered the more you fly, so I am still thinking about it. But one thing I am sure of.
Mr Munoz should forever fly in the middle seat of the last row.
That is the only way Mr Dao will be vindicated.