Summary: Yesterday’s incident at United reveals much about the changes happening to America. First, let’s sort through the stories to see what really happened. Then let’s skip the cheap hand-waving and draw conclusions that can help us understand events and so begin to retake control of this nation.
The New York Times tells the story, somewhat incoherently. United Express loaded a plane with passengers. Then four employees arrived, needed seats. United was unwilling to offer sufficient money to induce passengers to leave, and so ordered four to leave the craft. Three left, but a doctor refused — saying he had to be in Louisville to treat patients. United officials decided to call the Department of Aviation police (not the airline’s security) to remove him.
The man was sitting in a window seat. Officers grabbed his arms, dragged him screaming across the armrests and along the floor — unconscious — off the aircraft. Later the passenger returned to the aircraft, bleeding and apparently disoriented. He collapsed, and was carried off in a stretcher. Many of the passengers also left. Then United told everybody to get off so they could “tidy the aircraft”.
The Police Speak
The Chicago Police Office of Communication quickly released a statement. As usual with such things, it lied about the key detail (red emphasis added).
“At approximately 6pm a 69-year-old male Asian airline passenger became irate after he was asked to disembark from a flight that was oversold. The passenger in question began yelling to voice his displeasure at which point Aviation Police were summoned. Aviation Officers arrived on scene 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. Ongoing investigation.”
Got to love the passive case: “his head fell”, with no responsible cause for this result. Later Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride sang a different tune.
“The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned. …That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
Update from the Chicago Sun-Times: “2 more aviation cops on leave after United doc-dragging incident“.
Our corporate overlords speak
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
– Statement by Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines.
But of course truth is an unimportant quality when speaking to dogs and proles. Elite’s say what works then and there. Oscar later sang a different tune to employees; his letter also included United’s version of events (see the full note here). No apologies to their customers here.
Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.
Their “summary of events” is Orwellian, with some big oddities (red added).
On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight.
We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions. He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.
Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave. Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.
Why did the needs of United’s employees for transport take precedence over passengers who has already boarded (they were not “denied boarding”)? Why did United’s managers have “no choice” but to call police after offering $1000 compensation? Their ticket prices are determined by the free market. Why not let the free market set compensation for getting off the aircraft? It would have been far cheaper than whatever United will be paying him now.
Important things to know that few news stories will mention
Dissatisfied customers will find few alternatives to United, thanks to the bipartisan policy of ignoring anti-trust laws for several decades. From an essential to read article in The New Yorker about United — and our New America.
“The sinkhole effect — which is not confined to airlines — means that we need to take a much closer look at mega-mergers in the essential industries whose services are hard to avoid and which have a disproportionate effect on quality of life. Looking at examples from other industries, like hospitals, can be even more alarming. During the early aughts, the Federal Trade Commission analyzed several completed hospital mergers. Those studies revealed two unmistakable results: 1) an increase in prices explainable only by a reduction in competition, and 2) the same or worse outcomes, as measured by indicators that included patient mortality. Other studies have largely confirmed the results. Higher prices and more dead patients; it doesn’t really get worse than that. …
“Back in 2010, United and Continental made the usual bland promises: “great products and service for our customers, career opportunities for our people and consistent returns for our shareholders.” That was a quote from the outgoing United C.E.O., Glenn Tilton, who received nearly seventeen million dollars after agreeing to allow his airline to be ruined. …The two airlines convinced the Justice Department that there was too little overlap between them to cause any competitive harm. (In practice, according to the Wall Street Journal, the combined airline raised prices by as much as 57% on routes made newly uncompetitive.)
“For one thing, on some routes, there is almost no alternative to United. … As airlines merge, competitors collude by taking turns raising fees or providing a lower level of service, making the bad treatment of consumers contagious. Yesterday’s outrage soon becomes today’s industry standard.”
Update — This incident tears the facade to show us the contradictions of neoliberalism: “Airlines Can Treat You Like Garbage Because They Are an Oligopoly” by Alex Pareene at Fusion. Excerpt…
“Goons dragging bloodied passengers off of airplanes shouldn’t happen in a world where people “vote with their wallets” and corporations compete with one another to attract consumers. This is the disconnect that has puzzled so many. The first hint to the answer comes in noting that this was not an isolated incident, and that this sort of corporate mistreatment of paying customers is not limited to United. …
“When everyone gets mad at Pepsi, Pepsi has to apologize because it is very easy to not drink Pepsi. …The major American airlines, though, do not need to do anything to convince people to fly with them, because they all merged and consolidated until there were just four firms controlling the vast majority of domestic flights, and they have determined that it is in their collective best interest not to seriously compete with one another.
“There used to be competition, which seemed—just like we were taught in high school economics—to bring lower fares and more routes to more destinations, but the airlines weren’t making enough money, so they consolidated into a few huge carriers, reduced service to medium-sized airports, and massively raised the cost of flying through both increased fares and skyrocketing fees. …
This is called oligopoly, and, for airline shareholders, this is great! It truly is a new golden age of aviation, for people who fly in private jets but own stock in airlines. For the rest of us, this is most of why flying sucks now (the rest of it is the ever-expanding and largely incompetent security state), and also why United is not that worried about you sharing that video of a man being brutally dragged off their plane. They are not embarrassed, and you will not embarrass them. …”
“This is the end result of decades of corporate consolidation—aided by economists and regulators and politicians from both parties—that has greatly enriched a few at the expense of workers, consumers, and citizens in general. People chose to create a world that allows what happened on that plane to happen. Direct your outrage at the policymakers, economists, and industry cartels that created this future.”
Rare and extreme situations test organizations and their leaders, revealing their true beliefs and values. This incident at United revealed much about United and its leaders, but also illustrates how America is changing. We saw the arrogance and lies of our leaders. Their disdain for the proles (us). Their readiness to use the police to enforce their policies. The eagerness of the police to do obey corporations — and do so with maximum violence.
All of these are becoming more common and more intense. Our passivity rewards this behavior by our ruling elites, and encourages it. Ultimately the responsibility for this trend is ours, because America is ours.
For More Information
- Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class.
- The airlines’ crippling pilot shortage: another bogus “skills” crisis.
A new United Airlines advertisement!
Scene from a United Airlines training video?
From the film Airplane!.