United Airlines and 10 Other Times Companies Treated Customers Horribly
You’ve seen the video: Airport security officers drag a screaming man off a United Airlines flight in Chicago. The passenger was one of four on a flight to Louisville who the airline chose to rebook on another flight after it discovered it didn’t have enough seats for crew members who needed to fly.
The video sparked widespread outrage. United’s stock plummeted, and it prompted calls for a boycott (though many people will find avoiding the carrier difficult, even if they want to, according to the Washington Post). A tone-deaf response from CEO Oscar Munoz didn’t help matters. In an email to employees, he dismissed the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent.” He later tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.
Perhaps the viral video will cause the suits in the United C-suite to have a change of heart and decide to start treating passengers with a bit more respect. In the third quarter of 2017, the airline did manage a record 28 days where not a single passenger was bumped. United does appear to be trying to do better, suggesting the PR damage from the passenger dragging incident might have had a lasting effect. But other companies are less responsive — they habitually treat customers like crap and get away with it.
Check out these 10 other examples of badly behaving businesses, most of which are still thriving despite some well-publicized incidents of screwing over regular folks.
When it comes to companies treating customers badly, one offender probably springs to mind right away: Your cable provider, especially if you’re unlucky enough to have Comcast. The company has been named the worst in America and horror stories from disgruntled customers are legendary.
There was the rep who told a recently widowed woman that only her deceased husband would be able to cancel the service. There was the $1,775 early termination fee one man was charged. There was the man who ended up having to sell his house after Comcast mistakenly told him it could provide him the internet service he needed to do his job. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve rounded up even more stories of people’s nightmarish dealing with Comcast here.
Next: One of the world’s most popular banks.
2. Wells Fargo
Sometimes, an entire company gets flack when one or two employees go rouge. But in other cases, the problems aren’t isolated issues. Take Wells Fargo. In 2017, the company agreed to pay $110 million to customers who had fake accounts opened in their names. That’s on top of $3.2 million the company has already paid out to customers, as well as a $186 million fine. The company only agreed to the settlement after its attempts to resolve the issue during closed-door arbitration were killed. (Corporations like arbitration proceedings because they generally don’t favor the little guy.)
Ultimately, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 people because of the scandal, many of them lower-level employees who’d been under intense pressure to meet new account quotas. To meet targets, workers opened more than 1.5 million fake accounts for customers, as well as over half a million credit cards. Some customers ended up being charged fees for accounts they didn’t even know they had. And others might have had their credit scores dinged, which could have affected their ability to get a mortgage, credit card, or apartment.
Next: A chocolate company that’s not so sweet.
If you’re in the business of selling food for infants, you definitely don’t want to be tagged with the label “baby killer.” But that’s exactly what happened to Swiss food company Nestle in the 1970s. Activists accused the company of getting mothers in less-developed countries hooked on formula, even though breastfeeding was cheap, and, more importantly, safe. Formula, on the other hand, was expensive, and poorer women started diluting it in order to stretch limited supplies. Babies weren’t getting the nutrients they needed, and they began to starve. In other cases, mothers used contaminated water to mix the formula, leading to disease.
One official blamed Nestle and other formula companies for 1 million infant deaths. People around the world called for a Nestle boycott. International rules about marketing formula were eventually put in place, but not everyone was satisfied. And the boycott is still going on today, more 40 years later.
Next: Your favorite cheap breakfast spot.
Your favorite place for a cheap breakfast hasn’t always welcomed every customer with open arms. In the 1990s, numerous black diners accused Denny’s of racial discrimination. People complained that staff at restaurants across the country refused to seat them, made them pre-pay for meals, and taunted them with racial epithets. The chain ultimately agreed to pay more than $54 million to settle lawsuits filed by thousands of customers.
Since then, Denny’s has cleaned up its act. The company hired more minorities and expanded the number of black franchisees. Still, accusations of racial bias at the ubiquitous diner chain occasionally surface today.
Prepaid debit cards are supposed to make everyday financial transactions easier for “unbanked” customers. But it didn’t quite work out that way for people who signed up for RushCard, a prepaid card company founded by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. In October 2015, a system breakdown left tens of thousands of RushCard customers without access to their funds for days or weeks. Others had extra money credited to their accounts by mistake, which they inadvertently spent. When frustrated cardholders — many who couldn’t pay their bills or access paychecks — reached out to the company for help, the response was underwhelming.
A few months after the debacle, RushCard agreed to pay affected customers $19 million as part of a class-action settlement. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also recently ordered RushCard and Mastercard to pay affected customers $10 million in damages. Simmons, for his part, got out of the prepaid card business altogether. He sold UniRush (RushCard’s parent company) to rival GreenDot.
7. Corinthian Colleges
For-profit colleges don’t have the greatest reputation. Students accused numerous schools of tricking them into enrolling by misleading them about graduation rates and job placement data. One of the biggest offenders was the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges chain. In addition to lying to students about the value of their education (including advertising programs that didn’t actually exist), the chain also engaged in sketchy debt collection practices, Time reported.
Corinthian preyed on people who hoped earning a degree would put them on the path to a better life. It particularly targeted vulnerable individuals who were “isolated,” “unable to plan well for the future,” and who had “few people that care for them,” according to a judge who ordered the company pay $800 million in compensation to affected students. But duped students didn’t see much — or any — of that money because the school had already filed for bankruptcy. At least those who borrowed to pay for their “education” got debt relief.
Having student debt is bad enough, but what if your loan servicer misled you about repayment options, failed to process your payments correctly, and ignored your complaints about the problems? That’s exactly what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleges happens to people whose loans Navient, which was part of Sallie Mae, serviced. The bureau, along with state’s attorneys in Illinois and Washington, are suing the company over the shoddy treatment borrowers received.
The state lawsuits also allege the company deliberately loaned money to people who they knew would not be able to repay the debt. “My investigation found Sallie Mae put student borrowers into expensive subprime loans that it knew were going to fail,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Navient’s actions have led to student borrowers needlessly carrying billions of dollars in debt and the company must be held accountable.”
Who hasn’t Uber pissed off at this point? Former female employees say the corporate culture is rife with rampant sexism. The company’s former CEO argued with disgruntled drivers. Immigration activists have accused Uber of strike-breaking. Passengers have assaulted drivers. And riders have their share of complaints, too.
Blind riders sued the company for refusing to transport them and their service animals. (Uber eventually settled the case.) Employees have allegedly spied on customer accounts. Drivers have also been accused of attacking passengers, and people have criticized the company for not running fingerprint-based background checks on drivers. There’s even a website cataloging troubling incidents involving Uber drivers, as well as other ride-sharing services. The site is run by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which is putting pressure on officials to more closely regulate companies like Uber.
10. Purdue Pharma
America has a serious problem with opiate addiction, and one pharmaceutical company shares a big part of the blame for the crisis, according to critics. Purdue Pharma started selling OxyContin, a painkiller it claimed was less addictive than other drugs, in 1996. An aggressive and successful marketing campaign encouraged doctors to write millions of prescriptions for the opioid medication.
Unfortunately, OxyContin wasn’t quite as addiction-proof as its makers claimed. All those prescriptions helped to kick off an opiate addiction crisis that persists to this day. The company eventually changed the drug’s formulation to make it more difficult to abuse, but by then the damage had been done. Meanwhile, people have sued Purdue Pharma numerous times over the way it marketed OxyContin. One of the latest lawsuits alleges the company even knew some doctors and pharmacies were helping criminal gangs get access to the drugs and did nothing to stop the problem, the Los Angeles Times reported.