Like most Americans, as an occasional airline passenger who’s had mission-critical flights cancelled and been unhappily re-seated (but who’s never been involuntarily bumped or “re-accommodated”), I feel like I’ve earned the right to chime in on the recent United Airlines/Dr. David Dao fiasco. At this point, you simply must know what I’m talking about–do a quick web search if you don’t.
Caveats (Latin for “ass covers”) up front: United Airlines screwed up–badly–and I hope Dr. Dao is now a millionaire (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/27/business/united-david-dao-settlement.html?_r=0). Checkered past or not, obstinate passenger or not, no one–except a super-drunk cop I was once seated near on a flight between Las Vegas and Denver and who kept calling the sweet, older flight attendant a “service-bitch, nothing more”–deserves to be beaten and dragged from their paid-for seat. Frankly, it would have been cheaper in the long run if United’s gate agents had walked back to Dr. Dao’s seat and tried to entice him with a plastic grocery sack full of $5 bills. Instead, in addition to the hundreds of millions ($billions?) in lost revenue, bad PR, and a slumping stock price, they’ve just handed Dr. Dao two large suitcases stuffed with $100s. Badly done, UAL. Badly done.
All this notwithstanding, somebody dumped a Mike Rowe opinion-piece onto Facebook yesterday (http://mikerowe.com/2017/04/otw-unitedairlinesceo/) with which I have, begrudgingly, come to agree. To overgeneralize, Mr. Rowe’s point is that an airplane cabin is a necessarily undemocratic, almost quasi-military space, where, for order’s sake, the people in charge cannot be challenged. The Dr. Dao case is nearly an exception (flight safety wasn’t an issue, the plane was still at the gate, and Dr. Dao had done nothing other than reject the absurdly low offer United had made for his “re-accomodation”), and yet… Every day, there’s a fresh news item about a flight being re-routed so some unruly passenger (usually drunk) can be removed. Can the other passengers whose expensive cruises, hotels, connecting flights, and business meetings are thus interrupted sue the drunken jerk? Why not? I’m not a litigious man, but if I missed half of a rare and expensive vacation, I think I’d be tempted.
Yes, the sardine-seating, overbooking, proliferating fees (for a carry-on bag? Really? F/U), and general contempt for the average passenger–and all this during a process (flying) that, while safer than in years past, is still potentially dangerous enough that it leaves even rational, safety statistic-cognizant passengers with a lingering sense of unease–is maddening, and yet…
Imagine you’ve listed your home with Airbnb (not hard to do: it seems more and more of us are turning to these services in an effort to stay ahead of the debt-collectors…). Now imagine you’ve expressly stated that you will not tolerate certain behaviors in your home (e.g., no smoking) and yet your “guest” still does it anyway? “Too bad, I paid for this, and I don’t want the inconvenience of looking for smoker-friendly lodging,” they say–just as Dr. Dao surely paid for his seat and didn’t want the inconvenience of a delayed flight. Do you have any recourse? Maybe later, after the fact, but that entails costs and hours of effort and meanwhile imagine your rental is on a tight schedule–that another renter is waiting at the door for their paid-up stay at the property? Based on their just-following-the-rules reaction, United still comes off as 100% blockheads, but their fundamental position isn’t entirely wrong.
Or imagine you’re driving for Uber–it’s your car, not a taxi company’s–and some entitled asshat misbehaves (no, not this entitled asshat: (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/28/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick-driver-argument-video-fare-prices), this one: (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/camera-captures-assault-of-uber-driver-by-passenger/). What recourse do you have? Give this guy the beating he so richly deserves and you’re courting a lawsuit; stand by and the asshat is liable to damage your car, and good luck with your insurer (or Uber’s, for that matter–$10 says you won’t be happy once the dust settles…).
All I’m saying is that Mike Rowe makes a point: purchasing a service doesn’t exempt you the service provider’s rules. We may not like them, we may even be genuinely and perhaps unfairly inconvenienced, but the alternative is anarchy and really, no one wants Jerry Springer back in office. We have enough to deal with just trying to make our flights.