Few experiences capture the awfulness of life in post-Christian America more vividly than a trip to the airport. It is a toss-up as to who behaves worse: the sandals-wearing passengers or the surly crew.
The classlessness of the airlines industry is breathtaking and has now culminated in the beating and dragging of a paying customer who dared to resist its “overbooking” schemes. One can only cheer the plummeting stock price of United Airlines — a biblically fitting punishment for its smallness and greed.
For the sake of saving thousands, it has lost millions. This is a Tiananmen Square moment for the airlines industry, with David Dao as Tank Man. Of course, those whom the media gods would destroy, they first make famous. Now we are seeing reports on Dao’s squalid and difficult past. But who cares? He was still mistreated, as even the corporate weasels at United Airlines now admit.
United CEO Oscar Munoz has called the episode “horrific” and pledged to “fix what’s broken so this never happens again.” But his first instinct was to blame the customer and pander to his employees. He called Dao “belligerent” and “disruptive,” then he fell back on corporate prattle and Orwellian jargon about carefully observed “protocols” and “re-accommodating” passengers.
This is a tale of inhumane corner-cutting and defiance of free-market principles catching up with corporate bastards. They can’t bear to lose money off an empty seat, so they overbook flights. Then, when everyone shows up, they are too cheap to pay the market price for “volunteers” to de-plane, as Investor’s Business Daily pointed out in an editorial:
A high school student just learning about economics could explain what United did wrong.
Namely, it tried to ignore the supply and demand curve and the market clearing price.
Clearly, the combination of an overnight stay and the reason for being bumped (to accommodate United workers) pushed the market price for giving up a seat above $800.
United spokesman Charlie Hobart said the airline tries to come up with a reasonable compensation offer, but “there comes a point where you’re not going to get volunteers.”
That’s simply not true. Yes, United’s contract of carriage gives them the ability to bump passengers. But United could have — and given the circumstances should have — continued to increase its offer price until it got enough volunteers. At some point, there would have been a rush to give up seats.
The result: Everyone would have gone away happy. The passengers who agreed to get off the flight would have received something they valued more than arriving on time, and United would have been able to get its own employees where they needed to be without raising a fuss.
Instead, United tried to impose its own form of price controls and then have the police enforce its nonmarket decision.
Add to this stupidity the pitiless wheels of airline bureaucracy, which, once they started whizzing in this case, no one had the judgment to stop. The drones were going to apply their egalitarian “random” selection system no matter what. Dao — a Vietnamese-born doctor, father and grandfather with stuff to do — needed to get home. If the crew had had any sense, they would have just found somebody else the moment that he started objecting. Instead, they double-downed on the “rules” and called the police. In their small minds, they probably saw that as a blow for egalitarianism. They were going to teach this non-conforming customer a lesson about “fairness.” How dare he assume that a ticket for which he paid be honored?
You have to hand it to Dao for choosing limpness over active resistance. That passive form of protest is a great way to highlight thuggishness. Nobody looks good dragging a limp body. According to media reports, Dao is a good poker player, pulling down hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings. And it shows; he played the dummies at United perfectly. He deserves every dime that he gets from an eventual settlement.
Leave it to the Daily Mail to sum up Dao’s louche and checkered life pithily: “Doctor dragged off United flight was felon who traded prescription drugs for secret gay sex with patient half his age and took them himself – and he needed anger management, was ‘not forthright’ and had control issues, psychiatrist found.”
But none of this erases what happened. He paid for his ticket; United didn’t honor it; the “rules” trumped basic human judgment. He can be excused for not reading the fine print of his “carriage” contract, which amounts to saying: Buy a ticket on our airplane, and you may or may not get a seat, depending on how cheap we feel that day.
The Dao/Tao of the airline industry revolves around one question: What exactly can we get away with? They aren’t charging for bathroom use yet, but give it time. That meanness of spirit was bound to produce an episode like this one. Once a dignified mode of travel, flying is now a degrading one. It has all the charm of a late-night trip on a municipal bus. The picture of a screaming, belly-exposed Dao dragged off the plane in accord with the industry’s “overbooking” protocols is exactly the image that it deserves.