What security practitioners can learn from the United’s failures

The United Airlines incident is now internationally known to the point of actually becoming an international incident, where Asian fliers believe United’s treatment of Dr. Dao is how they treat all Asians. It is clearly a massive failure of many processes, and when I began to look into the incident, most of the issues that caused the incident to escalate beyond imagine.

Given my belief that organizations should learn from failure, and ideally the failure of others, this is a great opportunity to see if your security program suffers from the same underlying issues as United. It is important to stress that despite United being an airline, and the incident seemingly a customer relations related incident, it was very much a security incident that all professionals should examine.

Relying on outside security teams

While I do not defend United’s business processes that instigated the incident, the most incendiary aspect of the incident, the injuries to Dr. Dhao and him being dragged unconscious off the plane, was the result of actions by police. It was the police who caused Dhao to hit his head, and the same officer dragged his limp body down the aisle.

All of the internet memes and criticism levied on United were primarily the result of the actions of the police, and not United employees. I am usually remiss in criticizing police officers in stressful situations, but from observation, it would appear that the officer could have hurt bystanders in how he wrestled with Dhao. While I can hypothesize about alternatives, the actions were wrong and possibly the result of poor training.

Even more a sign of poor training on the part of the officer was that he dragged Dhao after he was rendered unconscious. As a person who is certified Emergency First Responder, if someone hits their head and is rendered unconscious, you assume a neck injury. Unless there was a life-threatening situation, you stabilize the neck and call for a trained medical professional. The officer’s action could have caused serious injury to Dhao. Despite United having no control over the actions of the police, they are being held responsible for their actions.

Apathetic employees

I’ve personally flown more than 2 million miles across many airlines, and I can say that the worst incidents I’ve experienced on an airplane were almost always when I flew United and Continental. It was generally the result of actions of the flight crew. On one flight for example, when the crew did the obligatory, “It was our pleasure serving you,” a passenger yelled out, “You could have fooled us.”

Apathetic employees become rude and create a hostile environment that can quickly escalate incidents that wouldn’t otherwise escalate. Instead of treating customers who are being erred with compassion, those customers are being unnecessarily antagonized, creating incidents that would never otherwise occur.