All for $500

I’m not the most connected social media guy. I tell you this honestly: I’m more interested in talking than I am in listening. The only thing that separates me from the rest of the social media world is that I admit that fact.

When I started hearing about the United Airlines kerfuffle, I assumed it was a tempest in a teapot. I assumed that some asshole had been forcibly kicked from a flight and that, absent context, the Internet had got all riled up. So I ignored the whole thing.

But Internet, this one time I have to say that you were right. And I have to acknowledge that the ubiquity of video cameras is a powerful force for social justice. For all we know, this sort of scene was common, back in the day.

Note to Airlines: if you want to get people off the plane for minimum cost, the reverse auction model is perfect.

So United Airlines did the math, and after no one took the offer of $800 to take a later flight, they stopped bumping the price. Technically, they could have pushed the payout by more than $500 (oddly there is a limit to how much they can offer), but at that point they decided to play hardball. It was time to throw people off the plane, by force if necessary.

The cost of that decision will never be measured, but it’s more than $500. Then came the lame-ass corporate responses. “We’ll try to not be such giant assholes, but we’re going to keep doing the same things.”

Had United Airlines asked me (they did not), I would have advised them that there was only one way forward. A way forward pioneered by Jack-in-the-Box in the face of a set of food poisoning cases: That’s not who we are, that’s not how our process works. We’ll fix it. A few years later when a tainted meat scare hit the United States, JIB was affected less than any other fast-food outlet. They were honest enough about fixing their food safety problems before that the vague, ill-defined public perception of them turned them into a stalwart of public safety.

United Airlines fucked up that day, but sometimes decisions made in the moment backfire. Now they’ve had plenty of time to figure out how to deal with this, and they continue to fuck up. All for $500.