US Airways has responded to A. L. Bardach’s article (fisked here by yours truly) on the Carol Gotbaum incident. I received the letter in an email. It is reprinted with permission after the jump.
To the Editor:
There are substantial inaccuracies which are leading to unfortunate and misleading conclusions in A.L. Bardach’s Oct. 14 op-ed piece, “Why Flying Now Can Kill.” In the piece, Bardach attempts to link airline overbooking to the tragic death of Carol Anne Gotbaum, who died in police custody at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Sept. 28.
Bardach’s premise, and many of her facts, are simply incorrect.
For example, Bardach states incorrectly that Mrs. Gotbaum did not get on her connecting flight to Tucson, even though, Bardach says, Mrs. Gotbaum arrived at the gate 25 minutes before departure. Actually, Mrs. Gotbaum arrived at Sky Harbor from New York at 12:18 p.m. and held a confirmed seat on a 1:13 p.m. connecting flight to Tucson. Her arrival gate was three gates away from the Tucson departure gate; however, she did not get to the Tucson gate until 1:05 p.m. for the 1:13 flight – after the door had closed and the jetbridge pulled from the airplane. (The police report, widely publicized on the Internet, mistakenly says the flight was due to depart at 1:30 – we’ve contacted Phoenix police to correct the report).
Airport employees at that point told Mrs. Gotbaum she could stand by for the 2:58 p.m. flight to Tucson. She arrived for that flight with someone else’s boarding pass, which was not accepted. As employees continued to try to find her a seat, she became extremely agitated. Police were called, and she died later in police custody at the airport.
We’re disappointed that Bardach is attempting to link Mrs. Gotbaum’s tragic situation with her own overbooking experience earlier this year. For the record, overbooking is a standard industry practice, in which airlines sell more seats on their flights to compensate for the historical number of no-shows for individual flights. As a rule, airlines do this accurately. According to the most recent Department of Transportation statistics, just 1.4 passengers out of 10,000 will find themselves involuntarily denied boarding because of overbooking on US Airways.
The overbooking issue, however, just does not apply to Mrs. Gotbaum. She did not get on the flight because she arrived after the flight had closed.
We have no interest – and frankly, no place – debating with Bardach or anyone else about who was “responsible” for Mrs. Gotbaum’s tragic death. This is an extremely painful and personal time for the Gotbaum family and that’s why we have refrained from commenting on this story to this point.
We will not, however, allow anyone to irresponsibly and incorrectly attempt to blame this tragedy on the hard-working employees of US Airways. We appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.
SVP, People, Culture and Communications