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So this happened.


See, I have a problem.  On the one hand, I find the actions of United Airlines to be, frankly, despicable and indicative of a level of callousness that is downright worrisome.

On the other hand, I can completely understand why they did it.

The problem here, really, isn’t that United beat a man half unconscious and dragged him off a plane.  Realistically that was a job for law enforcement, but for all I know the guys doing the beating and dragging were licensed to do so somehow.  And yes, that’s pretty much the definition of law enforcement, right up to the point where they can shoot you for resisting ferociously enough.

Hence my ambiguity about writing laws all willy-nilly as seems to be practice in some places.

But anyway.

Dragging the guy off the plane is to be expected, because United wasn’t exactly swamped with options on how to respond when they start forcibly ejecting people from the aircraft.  You can ask for volunteers (they did), and if there aren’t enough volunteers forthcoming then you can pick people at random and stick them on another flight.  And you really can’t afford to just let them say “No, I’m not going to leave the plane” because then nobody would leave and we’d be back to looking for our nonexistent volunteers.

So here’s the thing.

United is still incredibly stupid.

I cannot imagine what was going through the heads of anyone involved in that fiasco, and the sheer levels of idiocy involved are mind-boggling.  No corporate employee in this day and age can afford to be unaware of the existence of things like freakin’ cell phone cameras and social media accounts.  It’s pretty much a given that if you do anything outrageous, or even remotely unusual, that someone is going to film it and post it online before the plane even takes off.  Or hell, they might shell out the money to connect to your in-flight WiFi so they can livetweet the debacle if it happens once the plane is in the air.

And yes, I understand that United had to get its flight crew to work, and that carpooling wasn’t really an option.  But United’s inability to count or properly schedule their employees isn’t my problem.  It’s theirs.

Taking into account their willful refusal to do basic arithmetic because why bother when you can just kick people off a plane, United had at least two options that didn’t involve beating a man and dragging him off a plane.

First, they could have moved their crew by some other means.  Very expensive means, no doubt, but I’m pretty sure it would have been a hell of a lot cheaper than the savage beating United stock has taken in the last few days.  This isn’t really an option that United can afford to entertain, however, because we’re looking for a solution that’s implementable on an institutional level.  Sure, every now and then if all else fails they can charter a jet on short notice, but it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to make into corporate policy.

No, if you’re going to adamantly stick to this idea that you fill every plane to capacity and then add four more people just in case the rest of them don’t show, the only real option left is bribery.

They asked for volunteers to debark the plane and got none.  That pretty clearly indicates that whatever deal they were offering, it wasn’t worthwhile.  Nobody took it.  Not one.  Not one single person on that plane thought “Man, I might be late getting home, but that deal is too good to pass up!”

The thing is I at least vaguely recall a time when it was different, and you did get a hell of a good deal for agreeing to take another flight.  Things like upgrades to first class and a free hotel room for the night if necessary, along with other inducements when applicable.  But I suppose that’s gone the way of pretty much every other air travel amenity.

I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky they’re not just stacking us like cordwood in the steerage section.

And that right there, incidentally, is the real problem.

At some point the power dynamic between consumer and corporation has shifted in far too many industries, to the point where we quite literally consider ourselves fortunate to not get treated too badly.  Sure, they took away your pillow and those perpetually undersized airline blankets, and sure, free snacks have been replaced by expensive snacks, and sure they keep squeezing out another inch or two from the seats wherever they think they can manage it, and sure they’re actually creating an entirely new category of economy seating that doesn’t even let you bring a full-sized carry-on (because they’re far too busy squeezing you for checked baggage to realize that if you do that, people will just try to carry all their luggage on with them), but hey, at least they’re not punching you in the face.

At what point did this become acceptable?

I mean, it’s to be expected that United (and every other airline, for that matter) is going to squeeze its customers in every conceivable fashion in order to eke every last bit of profit out of a fare, but at what point did we start putting up with it?

I’m pretty sure my reaction in that situation would have been “Your offer for volunteers sucks, either make me a better one or you damned well better get about six more guys in here and the plane is gonna be late taking off anyway, because it took me a crowbar and half a tub of Vaseline to squeeze my 250 pound ass into this seat, so I can be pretty sure it’s gonna take at least that much to get me back out again.”

And you can rest assured that the other passengers in this situation would be booing me up until I got tased, at which point I would abruptly become the hapless victim rather than the selfish asshole making them late for their connecting flight.