Police officers dragged a doctor off a plane because United overbooked a flight and needed to get a flight crew to another city. No one wanted to give up their seats, even for $800, so United just grabbed a random guy and physically removed him–pulling him up the aisle to the horror of other passengers.
Airplane travel is dehumanizing on a good day. It starts when buying a ticket and having trouble online so, heaven forbid, one needs help from a human. On United, that help costs a customer $25 per person. For a family of five, that’s $125 just to buy a ticket from a company that, ostensibly, wants to sell tickets. A traveler then pays for parking at the airport and takes a shuttle to the terminal. At the terminal, he is faced with a dilemma: check his bag and risk never seeing it again or schlepping it through the terminal and onto the plane. If he chooses the latter, he gets to go through security where he is treated worse than a drunk on a bender spending the night in the clink to dry out. Even the drunk doesn’t have his private parts fondled and receive an X-ray before having his stuff rifled through (or if it does happen, he has the benefit of being drunk.)
The poor slob, then trudges to stand in the line to get on the plane. If he’s lucky, he’s an elite passenger and gets on the plane first. What that means is that he gets to be jostled incessantly and watch all the other poor slobs bumble along as they board. If he’s unlucky, he has a seat by the bathroom and a kick-happy toddler. Everyone gets the joy of being barked at by impatient flight attendants, tiny seats, and reclining jerks.
The airline industry isn’t alone. Contempt for the customer seems to be expected. This weekend, while doing some grocery shopping at Walmart, I had a devil’s choice: the self-check out where inevitably, Hal 2000 would get confused and I’d have to wait for a disinterested sales clerk to reset the system, or check out with a cashier who can only be rivaled by the DMV worker for indifferent service. Either way, I’d be waiting and waiting. And wait, I did. My alternative was Target.
It’s difficult to not feel fury when facing no-win situations such as airplane travel or grocery shopping.
Margins are tight and competition is fierce. One wonders, though, if padding in a little bit extra money for stellar service wouldn’t be a winning business proposition.
United Airlines took bad service to artful levels (to there-outta-be-a-law-levels) when using a police officer to drag a bleeding customer off the plane. The officer is now on leave, but it’s the Chicago PD and he’ll probably get a slap on the wrist. The CEO keeps releasing astoundingly tone-deaf public relations statements.
There are some arguing about the business incentives airlines have to overbook. There are some arguing that the passenger should have left immediately when told.
These responses are tone deaf and miss the point. Americans already feel like abused cows when being herded onto smelly, tight, annoying flights. This guy’s experience was just a bit more extreme than most.
Businesses feel empowered to show callous disregard to their shoppers. Target forgot that their core shoppers are moms with children and decided to let men into the women’s bathroom. They’ve lost marketshare in a razer-thin industry, but that didn’t stop their p.c. police from producing policy that was obviously stupid. A year ago, they were still arrogant about losing marketshare. It has taken months and months of pain for Target to consider the mistakes they’ve made.
Perhaps no industry has more contempt for its consumers than the news media. Chronic ignorance on topics deeply important to Americans–religion, guns, and culture issues–are distorted and misreported because news organizations have a worldview and narrative that must be served.
Americans are being bullied. For over a decade, people have been harangued about what to believe, think, and do. They’ve also been treated like nothing more than a widget by the airline industry, cable, phone, utility, mass transit industries.
The media thinks Americans are stupid. Police are allowed to run rampant with no consequences. Government workers act as though taxpayers work for them.
Institutions big and small have failed people and it’s all symbolized by a hapless doctor being dragged off a United flight against his will after he paid for his g.d. plane ticket. The shrieking he and his wife made during the brutal exchange is the primal scream every American feels at this point. The yelling by the observing lady is the moral conscious of a citizenry tired and appalled at the bullying when a person is assaulted just for minding his own business.
United could have called an Uber and sent their crew to where they needed to go that way. United could have increased the amount of money they’d give these weary travelers. United could have done many things to create a commonsense incentive for passengers to change their minds.
They didn’t. Instead, United abused their own customer with no regard to the comfort of other passengers and no regard for future sales.
This coldness is a sign of the times. United has made itself the representation of all that’s wrong in America. There’s no satisfaction in that. Americans continue along knowing that it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Reminds me of the movie Falling Down:
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