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Mistakes ... What Would You Do?

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 19
1/1/1900


By Taylor Ramsey

Two Thursdays ago, I had reason to reflect on the word “values” and how many times I have seen examples of people taking advantage of others. On that Thursday, United Airlines, due to human error, had a short period of time when they were charging almost nothing for flights via their website. Some flights were free and others were as little as $5 according to some reports.

When United Airlines discovered and corrected their error, they decided to honor the tickets sold even though they would experience a huge loss. I wonder if United thought it would be easier to honor the tickets sold in the slip-up than to deal with the blow-back from angry ticket holders. It made me sad to think that airline management would even have to consider such a response if they attempted to correct an honest and obvious mistake.

In the spring of 2012, a Conoco gas station in Pasadena, Texas, encountered a problem in programming their gas pumps and they were mistakenly selling fuel for as little as $1.01 a gallon?

People entered the gas station expecting to pay the advertised price on the station sign out front, but when they began the pumping process they discovered the price to be $1.01 a gallon.

According to reports, word spread and customers started showing up to take advantage of the obvious mistake since the price advertised on the sign out front was different than the pump price.

One unidentified patron told a reporter, “When I got here I ended up filling up my truck, my wife’s car, my dad’s truck and his other truck. I ended up filling four cars up for just like 54 dollars.”

Knowing that the average price for a gallon of gas in the Houston area was about $3.83 a gallon at the time and if the sign out front indicated a similar price, would you have spoken up and alerted the owner of the station to the discrepancy?

I would think that the people taking advantage of the mistakes at United Airlines and the Conoco gas station would have seen the news and learned the price was a mistake, especially the person quoted above who filled four cars full of gas for $1.01 a gallon.

Instead, the reports indicate they notified others of the apparent mistakes and did all they could to take advantage of the vendor and their employees.

I recently went through a drive-through at a Burger King to purchase a breakfast sandwich and coffee and as I drove out after the transaction I realized I received $10 too much in change. I pulled over in the parking lot next door and walked into the Burger King to return the money that was not mine.

What made me feel so sad again is the incredulous look I received from the store manager, workers and the guy in line next to me. I wish that the act of returning money that is not yours would be expected and not thought of as out of the ordinary. Of course, the clerk at the drive-through window was grateful and she had a giant smile on her face.

Last January, Best Buy made a mistake by offering a printable Amazon coupon that took $50 off purchases of $100 or more if you used a MasterCard for payment. Some consumers wound up purchasing thousands of dollars worth of cards for 50 percent off.

Many people made comments on the internet at how upset they were that they missed out on taking advantage of Best Buy’s mistake.

I took a moment in the middle of expressing my thoughts for this column to walk over for a haircut around the block from my home. I asked the owner of the shop if he had ever accidentally undercharged a patron for services rendered. He said “sure.”

I then asked if he had ever had one person return to make him whole. He thought for a moment and then shook his head from side to side and said he could not remember even one instance of someone returning to pay the correct amount.

Missteps like those mentioned above hurt companies and people. Knowing you were the recipient of a clear mistake and taking advantage of that error may not be illegal, but it is immoral in my opinion. I hope parents instruct their children that it is okay to do what is right even though the law does not require it, rather than providing an example of doing something dishonest.

Do you believe that even one person thought to help the retailer in theses situations instead of taking advantage of them?
Gosh, I hope so. If not, it is sad. What would you have done?

taylor@longbeachcomber.com