On United Airlines, Customer-Beating, and One Particularly Self-Righteous Pilot’s Wife

Update: I wrote this a while ago, when the first flurry of outrage was still rippling across the electronic netherworld, but never really liked where it ended up, so it was abandoned to the “drafts” bin. Might as well spend it now–it’s not going to get any more relevant than it already isn’t. Or perhaps not. Shockingly, in the intervening weeks we’ve seen incident after incident on major airlines and their affiliates of Airline Employees Gone Bad. I don’t know if these people are so arrogant that they don’t care, or so put-upon that they just crack, but the continued parade of abuse, and the total lack of self-awareness that goes with it, is mind blowing. Do the perpetrators not see the bobbing cell phones recording every minute from the very moment voices are raised, or do they just not care? The same thing goes for police officers caught on film–increasingly on their own and their partners’ body cameras–abusing and occasionally killing citizens. I just don’t get it.

So, what drags Junk Chuck out of his novel hole and back to the blog? Why, it is you, Dear Reader. It has always been you. You and, this time, United Airlines, the Chicago Airport Police (not real police, but they’ve got dreams), and their apologists, especially one particularly self-righteous, alleged wife-of-a-pilot who wasted few words (seriously, she used a lot of them) in lecturing you, me, and the rest of the poor, unwashed masses on why United was right–and, gods-damned it–entitled to beat a stubborn geriatric no-goodnik passenger senseless for daring–daring, I say–to question the corporate sovereignty of the friendly skies.

Don’t you love a good rant? All those italics and breathless syntax! Exhilarating.

So, by now I expect anyone taking the time to read this knows the story. United fills up all the seats on a plane, decides it needs to deadhead a crew to the destination airport, and sends a lackey onto the plane to first beg, then bribe, then threaten with force and ultimately beat senseless and drag an already seated, fully-paid customer off the plane. Google it. Pick your source. The situation is such a mess, so poorly handled, so egregiously arrogant and disrespectful, that a reasonable person couldn’t possibly imagine it happening in real life. And yet….

It happened. And the internet exploded. In a way, this was a fascinating experience for me–I hadn’t slept well, and was up very very early, just as the story was beginning to spread on Twitter, on my news aggregator, on Facebook. I got to see the numbers surge from trickle to flood, deriving a grim, unwholesome satisfaction from watching the shared outrage grow. As the moments passed, I thought what I always think when video of heavy-handed authorities skull-cracking and jack-booting: it is 2017, everyone has a phone, and every phone has a camera–how do you think this is going to turn out?

The answer is that these people don’t stop to think. It never occurs to them. Drunk with power, heavy with authority, outraged by the mere hint of resistance or disrespect, they do not question their right to assert themselves. What really struck me in this situation at United was the utter coolness of the perpetrators–this was no jowly redneck spitting and cursing at a motorist who gave him what feels like “attitude.” This was calmly considered violence, ruthlessly and coldly delivered as the cameras rolled and the other passengers shouted in protest. The guys with badges did what they did because they have been conditioned to feel that it is their privilege and responsibility to do so. I believe the other customers were fortunate that none of the many who spoke out were not punched in the face for their concern.

I thought about posting when this happened, but resisted until the Pilot’s Wife blog drew my attention. At first I pumped out a paragraph on a friend’s Facebook page, after she posted a link, but my friends don’t deserve that, and who reads any long comments on Facebook, anyway?  And like that, here we are. I’ve attached the entire post below, just in case “Angela” gets religion and deletes her post–she’s already closed comments, and as cowardly as that is, after reading a few I can see why. She’s not really getting the love.

So I guess, in Angela’s universe, that everyone had it wrong and the guy with the busted nose, broken teeth, and concussion should apologize for inconveniencing United, it’s employees, the tone-deaf management that continued to deny responsibility and victim-blame long after anyone (except Angela, it seems) remained on their side. He scared people with his getting beaten. He created a security crisis by getting knocked unconscious. In fact, I’m pretty sure that his passive resistance endangered the entire concept of inalienable rights, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the while causing the very foundation of western society to tremble. The earth shook when he said no, and god Itself hiccupped. Or was that a burp?

Of course the guy could have been more graceful, but human beings get tired and frustrated, and sometimes they shout out in horror and pain when taking their licks. And occasionally, they take umbrage to getting trod upon, especially by “the man.”  I know that stubborn feeling and I expect you do too: face heating to a full flush, throat constricting, tunnel vision, helplessness in conflict–whether through true vulnerability by by the sheer frustration of holding to societal norms in the face of unreasonable aggression. For me, it is often the latter, the necessity of restraint, of not punching the source of the insult, or petty tyranny, square in the face. The older I get, the more I want to fight. To resist. When people are dehumanized, this is what happens–United treated this person as cargo, nothing more, and while a lot of the blame probably goes on the airline gate staff whom I expect are tired with always being stuck dealing with this sort of thing, the “we pulled names out of a hat and you lost” approach, after they’d seated the plane and folks had stowed their carry-ons, just begged for trouble.

Making seated customers get off the plane? It is outrageous. Imagine standing in line at a movie theater, buying your popcorn, and settling into your seat only to have an usher approach and say, “We need to have seats for some of our employees to watch this movie, and we’ve chosen you to leave. So, get out.” I know what I would have said, if I’d been that doctor, a verb followed by the word “you.” Or “off,” I’m not particular.

I sympathize with the customer one hundred percent. United lost this argument the moment this wasn’t dealt with at the gate–the only option beyond that was to shovel money at customers until someone snatched it. As for the writer of article, and the doe-eyed cows who complain that the victim should have given in and meekly surrendered his seat: His bought and paid for that seat. That he was sitting in.

What have we become, that the civilized response to arbitrary expressions of corporate or government power is meek capitulation? I am shamed by the Americans who condemned this man, but energized by the chorus of voices, including many of those people on the plane who spoke up at the time and whose outrage was essential in getting this story told.

We live in a nation where corporations have equal and, in many cases, greater rights and and privileges than citizens and the communities in which we live. Just miles from where I live, two small communities are being sued by a large petroleum corporation and also by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection after passing a local law that bans the dangerous practice of injecting chemical-laden waste into abandoned natural gas wells. At risk is the groundwater for the entire region. The corporation has won the latest round of litigation, as it has determined that corporations have the right to do things and the people–We The People–have “no legal standing” to resist.

Think that through for a moment. A company can get a permit at the state or federal level to endanger your drinking water, and neither you nor your legally elected officials have the right to say no. There is only the State and The Corporation. Humans don’t exist. You don’t exist. Adding insult to injury is the so-called DEP, which is suing these tiny rural communities for daring to make their own local rules. They protect nothing but corporate rights

If it seems like a stretch to compare the two situations, consider the underlying principle: individuals assaulted–whether by fist or injection well–and then suppressed for resisting. There is a long line of connections here–cages and fences that restrict protestors in the streets, politicians like out child king Trump who encourage aggressive response to dissent, citizens arrested on their own land for protesting trespassing private corporations which, enabled by corrupt eminent domain proceedings, fragment private property for corporate gain, Native Americans put at risk then pounded into submission, in the 21st century, because the white town up the road said no, black kids gunned down in the street for running away.

I’m not an insurrectionist, but at least in this context I appreciate the concerns and grievances of the Teabaggers and even Douchebag Extremists like the deeply misguided tax-cheating Bundy family and their Sagebrush Rebellion predecessors. They’re wrong on the why, but they’ve got a sense of the what.

I long for the unlikely day that simple people, whether they’re just customers trying to get what they pay for, or black kids just trying to get by, or Cowboys just wanting to be Cowboys, or Coal Miners looking for jobs, and everybody else sees that we’ve got more in common with each other than the corporations that see us as little more than dolphins caught in their driftnets, the super-wealthy who profit from them, the managers who sell their souls in service to those profits, or the politicians who enable and sustain them.

 

 

I Know You’re Mad at United but… (Thoughts from a Pilot Wife About Flight 3411)

If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there are always two sides to every story.

On April 9th, a very unfortunate incident played out on United Flight 3411, the video of which has since gone viral causing a mass social media uprising with an ‘off-with-their-heads’ mentality. I mean, across the board. Fire ’em all and let the gods sort it out later.

Look, I get it. When I first saw the video I was appalled too. To say that it was inflammatory would be putting it mildly. But it was also a situation that was escalated far beyond the boundaries of necessity.

If a federal law enforcement officer asks me to exit a plane, no matter how royally pissed off I am, I’m going to do it and then seek other means of legal reimbursement. True story.

Knowing what I know about airport security, I’m certainly not going to run back into a secured, federally restricted area at an airport flailing my arms and screaming like a banshee…because, you know, that just happens to be breaking a major federal Homeland Security law.

But that’s just me. Obviously.

The moment I made that particular ill-advised choice, I would become an immediate and imminent threat to the aircraft’s security. That’s kind of a big deal. I mean, come on, I once actually had to remove my infant son’s socks because they mimicked little baby sneakers. These guys mean business.

I didn’t like it. I thought it was just plain stupid, honestly. But instead of pitching a massive fit, refusing to comply, and bolting through the TSA checkpoint like an out-of-control toddler, I did the big girl thing–sucked it up, removed the offensive socks, and went on with my happy life, sans being tackled and dragged through the airport in handcuffs by a bunch of big men with guns.

Because if you choose to take advantage of the services the airport provides, you play by their rules.

I know you’re all out there screaming that the ‘rules’ are unfair, but I am a pilot wife. I remember 9/11. Do you? I want my husband, the father of my children, to come home. I want you to get homeThat law exists to protect my husband. And your wife. And your grandmother. And your child. And you. I, for one, am glad for the law.

I’m not here to dispute the facts of 3411 with you. I am not interested in getting into an argument of opinion with anyone. We’re all entitled to our own. I’m not arguing that what happened wasn’t completely terrible–it was, on multiple levels. But I am suggesting that the general public take another look at the situation, ask a few more questions, gather a few more facts, and then create a less hostile and more intellectually wrought opinion about what happened.

Because the media is giving you just enough information to keep you enraged–enough to keep their ratings up.

Things to consider:

1) “You can’t just kick a paying customer off the plane!” Psssst! It’s in the fine print. They can, indeed, do just that. And it’s not an airline specific rule, it’s a commercial aviation rule. Every ticket you purchase comes with a plethora of fine print–you know, the stuff we just click ‘next’ on without actually reading what we are agreeing to. Yeah, that. Well, it’s in there, and you checked the ‘I agree’ box when you purchased your ticket. You can read about it and oh-so-much-more here. Kind of makes you want to read all those tiny words on your next phone update before you click ‘I agree’, huh? You should. United did not break any law, and he agreed to the policy and possibility of involuntary bump when he bought his ticket. And so do you.

2) “Kicking a paying customer off an airplane!? I’m taking my business to Southwest!” Ummmm, okay. But just be sure you understand that every major airline, Southwest included, has a similar policy for involuntary bumping in a ‘must ride’ scenario. Don’t believe me? It’s called the contract of carriage. If you’re really bored, you can read Southwest’s here. Or Delta’s here. Believe me, it’s in there.  This could have been any airline. In fact, it happens all the time. Most people just don’t wrestle the feds in the aisle.

3: “So what’s this ‘must ride’ nonsense anyway? They shouldn’t bump a paying customer for a free employee ride!” I’m afraid you’re going to have to take this up with the federal government, not United. And it’s actually pretty important to you as an airline traveler anyway. They were not ‘freeloading home’. That’s called non-rev and they have to wait in line behind your checkbook and often don’t make it home to their families if flights are booked (believe me, I know). No, this was a must fly, a positive space situation. In layman terms, it means that a crew must be flown to an airport to man a flight in order to avoid cancellation of said flight due to crew unavailability. This is a federal DOT regulation, not an airline one. The airlines are required to do so to avoid disruption of air traffic. In other words, if there are no willing volunteers and they need seats to get a crew somewhere to avoid disruption of aviation flow, they can, will, must by federal regulation bump people for the better good of the 1000’s. Why? Because one cancelled flight has a serious domino affect in the delicate, complicated world of connections and aviation law.

4: “It’s the airline’s fault for not planning better!” You obviously have no clue about the complexities of aviation travel and should do some research. There are about a million and one things that can cause a crew shortage including but not limited to weather, maintenance, weather, connecting fight delays, weather, FAA timeout regs, and did I mention weather? I wish I could control Mother Nature because I would be one filthy rich person. But I can’t. And neither can United. So they inconvenience one, or four, to keep hundreds on track. Do the math. And of course, if we were on the other end of this thing, we’d be tirading and blowing up the internet because United didn’t bump a passenger to make sure our flight didn’t get cancelled and left hundreds stranded. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. We’re a fickle crowd, we social media folks.

5: They shouldn’t have picked the minority Chinese doctor! It’s racist.” That’s just silly. Though federal regulation demands they involuntarily bump to prevent interruption of flights when necessary, each airline does have the leniency to determine how they choose the bumped passengers. They did not play spin the bottle or walk down the aisle looking for the Asian guy. Use your heads, people! There is a computerized algorithm that takes into account price of ticket, how long ago it was purchased, whether or not they can get the passenger to their destination in a timely manner, etc. It wasn’t an ‘Asian thing.’ Stop, people. Just stop.

6: “United should go under for assaulting that passenger! Fire the entire crew!” Read the facts. United neeeever touched the passenger. In fact, by all witness accounts, the United flight crew remained calm and pleasant throughout the entire event, never laying hands on the passenger. They followed protocol as required by law. Once law enforcement became involved (also as required by federal protocol), United stepped out of the decision-making process. They had nothing to do with the rest. The passenger was forcibly removed by federal aviation security (the disturbing clip that everyone is talking about) after running back into the secured area after being escorted out once. Once he did that, like it or not, they (law enforcement) were under full discretion of the law to apply necessary force to remove the threat. I’m not saying it’s pretty, but the only one who actually broke a law was the passenger. There’s a reason for these laws–it’s called 9/11. We can’t have it both ways. But by all means, let’s berate and punish an entire flight crew–in fact thousands of pilots, FA’s, gate attendents, ground crew, etc.–because it makes us all feel a little better.

7: “You piece of **it!” I get that the passengers were upset, angry, maybe even confused. I get that you are too. After all, media is tossing you out chunks of bloody meat like you’re a pack of starving wolves. But I’m seriously disgusted that the poor must ride crew that had to take those seats after the unfortunate mess that unraveled were verbally abused and threatened. Can you imagine the very uncomfortable position they were in? Then they were demeaned, belittled, threatened. Along with many others all over the internet and airports today. They were and are men and women doing their jobs to feed their families. Just. Like. You.  They didn’t have a choice. They didn’t ask for this. They didn’t assault anyone. They are not a corporation; they are individuals who need a job. They are my friends and maybe even my husband. There’s a very fine line between what you despise and becoming what you despise. Many of the comments and actions I have seen perpetrated against United employees cross it. Don’t become what you hate.

Like I said, I know you’re mad at United, but there’s much more to the story than hits the media fan.

I truly hope that this gives you something to chew on and gives you a smidgen more insight into the complexities of aviation. I’m not making excuses. I think there were bad decisions made on both sides. However, I am saying there are always two sides to every story. Make sure you consider them both.

Tailwinds.

***A correction to the previous article. Mr. Dao was indeed Vietnamese and not Chinese.  That quote was verbatim from a comment off the internet. I apology profusely for the confusion.

Angelia (A Pilot Wife)

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About JunkChuck

Native, Militant Westsylvanian (the first last best place), laborer, gardener, and literary hobbyist (if by literary you mean "hack"). I've had a bunch of different blogs, probably four, due to a recurring compulsion to start over. This incarnation owes to a desire to dredge up the best entries of the worst little book of hand-scrawled poems I could ever dream of writing, salvageable excerpts from fiction both in progress and long-abandoned. and a smattering of whatever the hell seems to fit at any particular moment. At first blush, I was here just to focus on old, terrible verse, but I reserve the right to include...anything. Maybe everything, certainly my love of pulp novels growing garlic, the Pittsburgh Steelers and howling at the moon--both figuratively and, on rare occasions, literally.
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