It's been a bad few weeks for United Airlines.
Far from the trivial and rather stupid controversy that was #Leggingsgate, it looks like United has garnered the public's outrage yet again, and this time the consequences might not be limited to social media.
News surfaced last night that on an overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville a man was forcibly removed from an aircraft when United failed to find passengers willing to get off of the overbooked flight voluntarily. Videos taken by other passengers on the flight started to circulate showing the man, who had been randomly selected to forfeit his seat, being forcibly removed by security- subsequently smacking his face on a nearby elbow rest and going limp as he was removed from the aircraft.
Apparently, this whole thing escalated after United had announced that the flight was overbooked before boarding, and that they needed volunteers to give up their seats on the plane to make room for United employees who needed to return to Louisville for a flight. None of the passengers were willing to volunteer, even when United upped their original offer of $400 and hotel accommodations to $800 and accommodations. A computer was used to randomly choose the passengers to exit the flight given the lack of volunteers- the gentleman in the video was one of them. He reportedly refused to give up his seat because he is a doctor, and claimed he needed to get back home to his patients.
This whole incident has left me with a bunch of thoughts and questions.
Firstly, I find little legitimate excuse for the way that United Airlines chose to handle this issue, given that the fault for the overbooked flight lies with them. I'm not certain why the United employees were needed on another specific flight in Louisville, but perhaps it would have been wiser to try and make different staff arrangements for that flight than to force paying customers off of a flight that UA had mismanaged.
Secondly, if United knew the flight was overbooked before boarding, why not get that issue figured out before ushering everybody onto the plane? Though it is certainly arguable whether a physical altercation was necessary at all, surely it would have been better for that sort of encounter to take place in the more spacious area within the airport terminal (where there are significantly fewer armrests within face-bashing distance) than inside the cramped cabin of a fully-loaded airplane. Maybe that's just me though.
Thirdly, the way the authorities chose to deal with this, from everything we've seen so far is pretty unacceptable. Why wasn't there more effort put into dealing with this passenger without the complete escalation of this situation into a violent conflict?
Then there's the issue of the media coverage of the passenger. Most of the coverage I have seen so far seems to be emphasizing either the fact that the man was a doctor or that the man was Asian, neither of which I think are overly important factors considering how the main topic at issue here should be how United treats its passengers- any passengers. While the fact that the man is a doctor does make his desire to stay on the plane more understandable, it isn't really relevant to why United treated him the way they did. Anyone who paid for a ticket should have been treated with respect, regardless of their occupation or reason for being on the flight. That being said, if you're going to make the case that it's important, why didn't any of the other passengers (supposedly sympathetic to the man's situation and understanding his dilemma) offer to get off the plane in his place? Either make the case that anyone who paid for that ticket is equally deserving of having their seat or else we should spend some serious time dwelling on the fact that there were obviously people on that flight who had "less important reasons" to make it home on time.
And if you're one of the people that needs to take everything to a racial place, saying things like this:
Just know that I hate you.
The passengers selected to exit the flight were chosen at random, you're making the world a worse place by calling this sort of thing racist. Here's a better hastag that's more likely to conform to your worldview by the way: #blackflightsmatter
All in all, this is pretty clearly United's fault, with some extra well-earned demerit points going to the authorities that actually removed the passenger. I've heard of carrot or stick approaches, but this is pretty ridiculous.