By now we’ve all seen the horrible footage of a man being dragged off a United flight while bleeding, because the airline decided that four employees needed to be on the flight (I’d argue he was refused transport rather than denied boarding, given that he had already boarded). We’ve seen the embarrassing way that United’s CEO responded to the situation, though he has since changed his tune on that (too little, too late). We’ve seen United’s market cap be “re-accommodated” by about a billion dollars as well.
I was wrong about this situation initially, and am sorry
While I know most people are probably over the story at this point, I want to publicly apologize for something. I owe the guy involved in this situation an apology. I doubt he’ll ever read it, but I initially reacted to the situation incorrectly. I’ve become so desensitized to seeing people treated poorly by police and airline staff, and I dismissed the situation at first, which was wrong of me.
My perspective on the situation began to change very quickly, but that doesn’t excuse how dismissive I was at first. We all evolve over time, and I’m no different.
When I first wrote about this story yesterday, I sort of suggested that this guy did it to himself. That was wrong of me. Perhaps more accurately, I suspected the inevitable conclusion would be that he’d be dragged off the plane by the police. While that’s basically what happened, there’s no way this kind of behavior should be excused.
Yes, it’s true that he wouldn’t have been injured if he voluntarily got off the plane. But that’s a horrible point to make. He also wouldn’t have been hurt if United were competent, or if the police weren’t unnecessarily brutal. That’s the core of the issue here, and that’s why this story is getting so much traction — it’s largely reflective of the general state of our country.
Why was I so quick to jump to conclusions? Probably for two reasons:
- We see a lot of people being removed from planes nowadays, to the point that we’re desensitized to it
- Since 9/11, some (a small minority, in the grand scheme of things) airline employees are on such power trips to the point that we’ve become accustomed to them calling the police if someone doesn’t listen (it’s one thing to do that in a case where someone poses a threat to a flight, but that’s often not the case)
So I got this wrong, and I apologize to the guy for my initial reaction. I’ve become so desensitized to police involvement on planes that my reaction was disconnected from the reality of the situation, which was a company calling the cops on their customer, and then him being brutally removed from the plane.
There’s a lot of blame to go around here
Let me say that there’s a lot of blame to go around here. I think the blame falls roughly equally on the shoulders of United and the police, but in very different ways:
- It’s beyond pathetic that United wasn’t capable of fixing this situation without getting the police involved; this was a unique situation (four employees showed up after the plane was boarded, allegedly), so the fact that they couldn’t get passengers to volunteer or handle this situation without calling the cops reflects the sad state of affairs at the airline, and perhaps the airline industry as a whole. The worst part? Their response after the fact only made things worse, and shows that this mindset isn’t just limited to a few employees.
- The way the police removed this passenger from the plane was despicable and unnecessary. Too bad Kendall Jenner wasn’t there to give them the cops a Pepsi — this whole thing could have been avoided. At the same time, this would have never happened if United just handled the situation competently to begin with.
While I won’t go so far as to blame the victim in this situation, I think it’s only fair to say that if he had complied with instructions from United employees and the police, he might not have sustained those injuries. But if he had complied then he wouldn’t have caused this global outrage, which is fantastic, as it shines the spotlight on the sad state of affairs of airlines in the US, and for once, might actually be a catalyst for change.
I’m happy all of this happened
What has happened here is great. No, not the incident itself, which is sad to watch, but rather the impact this will have. Call me naive, but I truly think things will change after this. At least it will get the needle moving in the right direction. This is the most widely exposed incident like this that we’ve ever seen. And this is the second massive incident that United has had in two weeks.
Will this outrage actually cause fewer bookings on United? I don’t know, I sort of doubt it. However, you can bet United’s management team is sweating after how their stock performed today.
Why do I think this might actually cause change?
- Airline employees might think twice before calling the cops on customers, given that so many people have smartphones nowadays, and therefore the ability to record things
- Airlines might actually look at their customer unfriendly policies and realize that it’s time to change them
- Both the airline management and frontline employees are likely to realize that calling the cops can end very poorly for them, and will take steps to avoid this in the future
- This is very likely to cause airport police departments to examine how they deal with “problem” passengers
United has learned a massive lesson from this. Is there a lot of social media hype, noise, etc.? Absolutely. But in this case I truly think it’ll be a catalyst for positive change.
Again, above all else, I apologize for my initial response to the situation.
This has been a quickly-moving story with myriad updates. The full coverage of the United incident from the One Mile at a Time team is as follows: