United Airlines and the Heavy Hand of Government

By now, most people reading this have probably seen the video of the United Airlines passenger who basically got his ass kicked as authorities pulled him off a flight.  According to United (at least, at first), the flight was “overbooked,” but as it turned out, United just needed to get a flight crew to where they needed to be…and waited until the very last minute to let the passengers know.

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Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else, and, truth be told, pretty much everyone is correct in their assessment of who is to blame. United is to blame. The passenger is to blame. The authorities are to blame. Other passengers on the flight are to blame. Basically, just about everyone involved shares some of the blame.

I happen to be on vacation right now, and last Friday & Saturday, I (along with my wife) got to experience the joy of dragging our 3 kids, along with our luggage, to the airport to fly across the country. I get to do it all over again in a few days’ time. And every time I fly, it reinforces what I already believe about flying: flying is a pain in the ass…and outside of prison, I don’t think there’s any area of our nation more devoid of liberty than an airport.

It seems that it’s just kind of taken for granted by airlines that, should they need to get a flight crew to a particular city to fly a particular plane, and should they screw up and not reserve seats for that flight crew…well, it’s perfectly okay to just kick some of their paying customers off of the plane (that’s why it’s included in the fine print, btw). In the opinion of the airlines, it’s just a matter of pissing off a few people who have to take a later flight, instead of pissing off a few hundred people when their plane can’t leave on time because it doesn’t have a flight crew…and pissing off thousands of people when the delays cascade throughout the entire network of American air travel. But since shuttling flight crews around to ensure that all of their flights are manned is a normal part of doing business for airlines, United should show a little bit of respect for their customers, and try to reserve seats for their flight crews ahead of time, instead of getting everyone ready to go, and then kicking people off of the flight at the last minute. At the least, kick people before they get on the airplane…it’s just easier that way.

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In a capitalist society, when I pay for a service, I expect to get that service. When I buy a plane ticket, check my luggage, and board the plane that’s going to where I’m supposed to be going, I expect the airline to get me there on time, because that’s what I’m paying them to do! By purchasing that ticket, I’m entering into a contract with the airline. And let’s face it: no one likes being bumped from their flight.

If an airline chooses to bump you simply because they didn’t plan ahead to get their flight crew to where they need to be, of course you’re going to be pissed off. If $800 isn’t enough incentive for you to put your entire life on hold for a day until that next flight leaves, that’s understandable. But there are two elements to this story that prove that United wasn’t entirely at fault for the final outcome.

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First off, the guy who got his ass whooped. Apparently, this guy is a doctor with a shady past…but still, he’s a doctor. The people on that plane didn’t know anything about his past, but in the video, he does mention that he is a physician.

The last time I flew, I was by myself, headed from California to Florida for a training class for my day job. I can tell you right now that $800 alone would not have been enough incentive to get me to give up my seat. But put yourself in this situation: You’re sitting there, waiting for the plane to take off. You just want to get to where you need to be…but this guy is a doctor. He has sick people relying on him to be where he’s supposed to be the next morning. The situation is getting tense. Are you seriously telling me that there was no one on that plane that would give up their seat just to diffuse the situation? Apparently not. People are sheep, and that plane was a cattle car. There had to be someone on that plane who could have stepped up to volunteer their seat when they saw that this was going down the wrong way, but they didn’t.

I found it rather absurd, as I watched this video of the incident, to hear the woman loudly whining as she watches all of this go down…she makes a valid point, a multi-billion dollar corporation certainly could have rented a van and had the flight crew driven to Louisville, but she could have also seen that the situation was escalating toward something ugly, and stepped up to diffuse the situation by volunteering her own seat.

Heck, if they’d thrown in a hotel room for me & the family for the night, they’d have had their four seats, and I’d be $3,200 richer…and the other three people who were booted from the plane could have made their flight. But history has shown time & time again that, when the going gets tough, most people will just go along to get along. That’s just the way of the world, I guess.

And then, there’s this doctor, Dr. David Dao. He didn’t volunteer to give up his seat for $800, which is kinda understandable. But since 9/11, it’s pretty much become common knowledge that when Little Suzy Flight Attendant tells you to do something, the power of the United States Federal Government is backing her up. I’m not saying this is right, but it is how things work in modern American air travel…and when you go to an airport and get on a plane, there are various signs and announcements to remind you of this. When Dr. Dao refused to give up his seat, how did he think this was going to end? When the air marshals showed up and told him to get off of the plane, how did he really think this temper tantrum was going to end up for him? Did he think they would just say, “Oh, you don’t want to get off? Well, we’ll just have to find somebody else, then! Have a great day!”

When he told the air marshal “You can drag me out, I won’t go,” did he really think they wouldn’t? You could say that dragging him out of the plane was his idea – he said it several times, almost like a dare…and, like it or not, you have to be a special kind of stupid to think that you can refuse orders from law enforcement without the situation escalating to violence. Did it suck that he got selected to be kicked off of his flight? Sure. But at any point during the ordeal, he could have easily de-escalated the situation by getting off of the damn plane! United was only responsible up to a certain point. The violence was a direct result of Dr. Dao’s own choice to continue throwing a hissy fit, continuing to escalate the situation, and refusing to get off of the plane. No matter how much he may have wanted to make that flight, at some point, any reasonable person would’ve realized that wasn’t going to happen. What was this guy smoking (cause I really don’t want any of that)?

But at it’s root, there is a definite culprit, and it isn’t the airline…or the asshole doctor, or the passengers. It’s the United States Government.

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Official video of a TSA training course.

Federal regulations require airlines to ensure that they have flight crews for every flight. Remember that ‘contract’ I mentioned earlier? In order to ensure that they can stay in compliance with these federal regulations, the fine print on that contract states that the airline can bump you to another flight if they need to get a flight crew somewhere on short notice. All of the airlines include this language in the fine print, because all of the airlines have to maintain compliance with government regulations, or face stiff fines & penalties.

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And guess what? Those weren’t United employees dragging Dr. Dao off of that plane, they were agents of the United States Federal Government. While United could have tried negotiating with this dude, maybe offering him some more money or free booze on his re-scheduled flight, in the end, Little Suzy Flight Attendant has one recourse when that randomly selected passenger refuses to get off of the plane: call in the feds.

So if you have a problem with happened on United Flight 3411, you really just have a problem with the federal government…and United…and the passengers…and the dude who got his ass handed to him.

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I don’t fly very often, and when I do fly, unless I have no other choice in the matter, I won’t be flying United…but that’s a decision I made long ago, because I’ve found their customer service to be sub-par every time I’ve used their airline. But people need to wake up and start paying attention. Our nation has tons of laws. We live in a police state, and only a very thin veneer of freedom separates you from being hauled out of your seats screaming, knocked unconscious, and dragged out of whatever metaphorical airplane you may be sitting in right now. It’s up to all of us to be vigilant, and to treat each other like human beings.

It’s easy to sit back and point fingers at United Airlines, but ask yourself: how would you have acted in that situation? Would you have been the one dragging Dr. Dao off of the plane? Would you be sitting silently by, just wishing the incident would go away? Would you be loudly complaining, yet doing nothing to diffuse the situation? Or would you do what no one else on that flight was willing to do, and suffer a bit of inconvenience to prevent the wolves and the sheep from going at each others’ throats?

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Categories: TSA, United Airlines

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