Friday, April 14, 2017

Critical Thinking About the United Airlines Fiasco

By now everyone has heard the news and seen pictures of the doctor being dragged from the United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville.  The Internet and network news went crazy with cell-phone videos of the incident.  The company stock is dropping based partially on talk of a boycott in protest.  The CEO apologized, but it’s too late; the damage is done.  Now Americans are pouring out prayers and sympathy for the doctor, but is this really justified?  

It is clear that the company screwed up to such an extent that they deserve the public relations disaster they are experiencing.  There were clearly other solutions.  Four seats were needed on the plane for crewmembers who had to be in Louisville (and rested) in the morning for uninterrupted service the next day.  Since there were no more flights available that night, the company could have used the thousands of dollars offered in vouchers to pay for ground transportation for the five-hour drive either for the bumped passengers or the crew.  Otherwise, they could have announced that the plane was not moving until that passenger got off and let peer pressure take over.  Instead they called in the airport security goons.

But something is missing.  According to earlier stories, the airline offered vouchers and motel to volunteers but got none.  Then they resorted to a random drawing to choose passengers to give up their seats.  What of the other three passengers?  They were not dragged from the plane, only the doctor.  How was he treated before being forcibly removed and how did he react?  The airline characterized him as "disruptive and belligerent.”  That is an opinion, but in the videos he certainly didn’t appear to be cooperative.

The big question in the midst of this outpouring of sympathy and prayers is, what was the underlying message?  It was there.  If people were alert and thinking instead of emotionally reacting to only the video, they could see it very clearly.  The underlying message from the doctor, and he might as well have stood up and shouted it at the rest of the passengers, was “I am more important than you!”

That’s right.  Three other passengers, who are receiving no media attention, cooperated with the airline in the legal exercise of their authority based on the agreement on every ticket.  Federal rules dictate a carrier must first check whether anyone is willing to voluntarily give up their seat before then bumping flyers involuntarily if nobody comes forward.”  It’s the law.

So did the doctor react as the others did?  If someone else had been chosen, he would have sat back and enjoyed the flight with the message unspoken.  But when he was chosen, he reacted like a two-year-old who didn’t get his way.  He went limp, forcing security agents to drag him off.  He looked like a protester being removed from a picket line.  But remember what he was protesting – he was protesting his right, his firm belief, that he was better than everyone else on that flight.  If you had been on the flight, the implicit message figuratively being shouted in your face as he was dragged from the plane would have been, “I am more important than you, too!”

With that in mind, give him as much sympathy as you think he deserves, but don’t forget the message.  Also note that one interviewed passenger mentioned that she and her son “were sitting in the row directly behind…the doctor and his wife.”  Wait, yet another solution, if he had patients so desperately in need of attention the following morning, couldn’t he have turned to his wife and said, “Excuse me for imposing, Dear, but you know the situation.  Would you be so kind, and I promise to make it up to you.”  Given that information perhaps the patients were not the issue but merely a pretext for the real message, “I am more important than you.”

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