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.


7 thoughts on “All for $500

  1. I’ll assume you’re not SERIOUSLY surprised at the United Airlines action/attitude. After all, Congress and the Justice Department have made U.S. airlines the “favorite child” for decades now, meaning that passengers essentially have few protections once entered onto airport grounds, or into the aluminum tube. Any objections to TSA or airline employee ‘treatment’ of oneself risks incurring a felony violation.

    That “cap” on the ticket reimbursement you mention? That was Congressionally mandated, to ‘soften’ airline payments for egregious over-booking or scheduling practices. Power to the Lobbyists!

    NOW … my real point. Once again, the police lied through their teeth. And no police association, representative, or oversight authority stepped forward to censure the lie. Here’s a portion of the Chicago Police Department statement:

    “A 69-year-old male Asian airline passenger became irate… Aviation Officers attempted to carry the individual off of the flight when he fell. His head subsequently struck an armrest causing injuries to his face. The man was taken to Lutheran General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.”


    So, once again, the victim caused his own problem; injured himself; and was ‘humanely’ taken for hospital evaluation and treatment. Oddly, no mention has been made of arrest charges or pending prosecution. After all, if he caused such a disruption and problem for Chicago P.D. airport officers, might we not reasonably expect some consequence?

    MY POINT: damn it all, once again here’s just another confirmation that our supposedly professionally-trained police are _too fast_ to assault citizens, use overwhelming force with overwhelming numbers (three officers to drag a 69-year-old man out of his seat?) and then they lie, and worse yet, their supervisors and department issue lies as official public statements.

    Listen up, American police: trust, once lost, is near impossible to regain.

    My wife and I refuse to fly; we refuse to enter airport grounds to pick anyone up; and we, long ago, learned to stay silent and keep our hands on the steering wheel and dashboard when stopped by ANY officer of the law. Most of them are professional and of sterling character, and well supervised. But we don’t know which of them are not and we can no longer trust the police… police themselves!

    • Honestly, I am surprised. I’m surprised that United Airlines could be so bad at covering their asses. I’m surprised that many hours later the company is still staggering around like an impaired robot. There is the insensitivity that we expect from a global corporation, but they HAVE PEOPLE specifically to handle this shit.

      Especially for an airline. I guarantee there are fleets of people ready to handle a plane going down. Those same people could have been really useful when a video goes viral.

      But all I’m saying is that United could have been more adept at violating the freedom of its passengers — or at least been more adept at dealing with the backlash when those violations are made public. So I’m not disagreeing with you. Not at all.

  2. It was actually less than $500 (or $800), since it was almost certainly a $500 voucher that expires in a year, with limitations on how it can be used. They’re counting on some of them not being used, and the rest of them being used during times when United would have had an empty seat anyway.

    I’d be willing to bet money that if the flight attendants had said, we fucked up, we need another seat, and here are five crisp benjamins plus we’ll put you up at a hotel until the next flight tomorrow, they would have had more than one volunteer.

    Or even better, here are five crisp benjamins, plus a rental car to make the five hour drive to Louisville. (Or they probably could have just driven their four employees to Louisville.)

    While I am also inclined to view this as a problem of too much government involvement creating both a monopoly situation and a situation where law enforcement doesn’t ask questions or airlines—I’d really like to know what the police were told—in this case congress does not mandate that United can’t exceed a specific cap. My understanding is that the congressional mandate is what passengers are entitled to ask for—it’s more of a minimum, although undoubtedly lobbyists managed to weird up the language.

  3. Obviously it has spun out of control. UAL’s CEO has repeatedly proven himself to be an insensitive, self-focused horse’s ass. I expect when things quiet down, the Board of Directors may very well ask him to bail out the back door with a golden parachute.

    As for what the Chicago PD airport officers were told, it’s not hard to guess: “unruly, disruptive passenger to remove from plane.” Perhaps we should marvel that they only yanked him from the seat and dragged him down the aisle. I can easily envision a scene where three tasers were whipped out and ‘zap-zap-zap’ … a 69-year-old miscreant had an accidental heart attack. Problem solved.

    UAL had better brace itself: the Chicago lawyers smell blood in the water.

  4. Graybyrd, that’s exactly what I’m wondering.

    Also, here’s a different take, that is, one I haven’t seen before, that makes sense:

    Part of the problem is that tickets can’t be sold any more. If tickets could still be sold, there would be no need to overbook planes (which isn’t really the issue here) and the airline would have an established means to buy tickets for their employees if they need to (which is the issue here).

  5. As an addendum, I was a little surprised during the reporting of this to hear that Southwest is one of the top four airlines in this country. And it’s a funny thing, but once you have that plastic number card you’re on the plane. For all I dislike about the cattle call, Southwest catches something other airlines miss.

    • There must be a ‘stupid vicious’ virus going around. America Airlines employee jerked a baby buggy away from a mother and her child, nearly hitting the child. When other passengers objected and a male passenger confronted the employee, the employee hurled insults. (That one’s been benched, but the stench lingers.

      Meanwhile, Canadian Airlines refused to honor a woman’s ticket and boarding pass, thereby making her miss connections to a rare $10,000 Galapagos cruise; Canadian offered a couple hundred in compensation; the Galapagos tour company offered a replacement cruise.

      I do suspect with the rampant consolidation of the airlines over the last several years, which Congress turned a blind too, we’re seeing a widespread attitude of ‘the customer has no rights, therefore the customer is never right.’

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