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United 3411

You’ve probably all seen the appalling images of that poor man—a doctor, apparently, who didn’t want to miss seeing his patients the next day— being dragged off that flight at O’Hare. With the caveat that we may not yet know the full story (ABC News notes that it has “not been able to verify any details about the man who was removed, including whether he is a doctor”) there are a few points that can already be made.

United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, claims that “established procedures” were followed. That may well indeed be the case, but, if it is, those procedures (themselves, at least partly, the product of an over-regulated, over-litigious society with a near pathological fear of individual initiative) seem to have operated in a way that overrode the ability of those in charge in Chicago to take the commonsense decision that dragging a customer off the plane in that manner was—for any number of reasons— probably not the way to go.

Was it those established procedures that put a cap of allegedly $800 (plus an overnight stay in somewhere that was probably not the Ritz) on what the airline was prepared to offer passengers to give up their seats? If it was (there are also some federal regulations that apply) that now looks like a very bad trade.

Then there’s the fact that the passengers bumped from that flight were done so to make way for four airline employees who, reportedly, needed to take that Louisville flight. That may well have been the case, but, once matters reached the stage they did, was there really no alternative other than to force paying customers out, or did procedures mean that that too was out of the question?

Chicago Aviation Security Officers were called to, as Munoz put in, “assist in removing” the customer from the flight, and that they certainly did. One of the officers has now been put on leave as his actions were not, allegedly, in accord with, you guessed it, procedures.

Watching the passengers on that flight watch their fellow passenger be dragged off was also a somewhat dispiriting, even if he had, as Munoz maintains, become “disruptive and belligerent” and—pass the smelling salts—”raised his voice” (for reasons that are not difficult to understand). Some shouted in protest, others filmed (illegally, I’ve read – more rules) what was going on—we should be grateful for their footage. But most people appeared to just accept what was going on. Even if we allow for proper deference to law enforcement, not to speak of the cowed manner in which we are expected to fly these days, there was a touch of Milgram about the whole miserable spectacle.

And then there’s the simpering, sub-literate bureaucratese running through Munoz’s statements (my emphasis added).

“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

“We are also reaching out to this passenger”

“Moving with a sense of urgency”

Munoz recently won a “communicator of the year” award from PRWeek.

“There are lessons”, said Munoz, that “we can learn from this experience.”

We have been warned.

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