ACCOMMODATE THE CATTLE

** This is an opinion piece**

This week most of us were witness to the horror of a passenger being forcefully removed from a United airlines flight. In case you live under the rock you can check out the video here .

Now, the official course of event is, the United Flight was overbooked — check, needed seat for a crew — ok (aren’t these things planned much in advance?), asked someone to volunteer to deplane — check, offered compensation ($400 + night stay eventually increasing it to $800 + night stay) — check, and then when no one volunteered, use the airline ticketing system to randomly select 4 people incuding Mr Dao from the list and ask them to deplane. This is where things started going south, but i will come back to it later.

I’ve always held disdain about the hypocrisy of Airlines when it comes to passengers. While all airlines will position themselves to be customer friendly, a friendly face in the sky etc — in reality, they treat people not better than cattle. Flight delays get you a cold sandwich (along with an insincere apology), overbooking gets you a headache+heartburn+monetary compensation+plus night stay (along with an insincere apology). Failure to co-operate gets your face smashed in the armrest.

I’ve witnessed this time and again at airports — thankfully without being at the receiving end — and every customer i’ve seen go through this, be it due to being late or overbooking of the flight, passes through the 5 stages of grief

Denial — “Ch***ya ho kya? Ticket hai mere paas..””

Anger — “Tu Jaanta nahi hai, mera baap kaun hai.” “Naukri kha jaunga teri.”

Bargaining — “Bhai Yeh 500 rupay rakh le aur boarding pass de de”

Depression — “Bhench*d, lag gayi. Main interview kaise dunga, job kaise milegi, aur phir meri andhi maa aur kunwari behen ka kya hoga?”

Acceptance — “Bata do kitne ka loan lena hai next ticket ke liye?”

The beauty of this hypocrisy is that all is fair from the airlines point of view. For the uninitiated, once you’ve bought the ticket you’re pretty much governed by the Airlines Contract of Carriage Policy. That is the only law that determines the fate of your travel(unless you’re and MP in India from a state which takes pride in connecting their chappals to the head of airline staff) . Sadly, this document is carefully crafted by the Smart guys from the airline Legal Teams — centric to the interests of, you guessed it, the airlines.

Coming back to Mr Dao, read what The Points Guy had to say about the United incident

But in this case, the passenger was already onboard and the airline wanted to take him back off, presumably in order to put another passenger in his seat. Does United have the right to do that? Yes, because Rule 25(A)2(b) of United’s Contract of Carriage gives its boarding priority rules:

The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.

Mr Dao should have vacated the seat, but the poor doctor was in denial about how he’s not a passenger but just part of the Cattle.

This behaviour clearly reflected in the first dispassionate response shared by Oscar Munez, CEO United airline

“Summary of Flight 3411

On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crew members that were told they needed to board the flight.

We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.

He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.

Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.

Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist — running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.”

What the Fuck Dude? Seriously. <and curse some more>

United were no doubt wrong in the way they handled the situation (including the PR afterwards). The flight wasn’t overbooked, some passengers were asked to offload since they wanted to accomodate United crew in its place. Assuming the rules for check-in are same for both crew and passenger (checkin closes before 25 mins) it raises some questions for me now

  1. Why was Mr Dao allowed to board the flight?
  2. How did they suddenly realise last miute the need of seats for crew?
  3. Is the CEO such an idiot to not realize the implication of such a response? Show some compassion atleast for apperance sake dude. No wonder United lost $800 Mn in Market capitalization the next day and lot of people asking him to step down.

I really believe that there is enough and more discrimination as it is on the aircraft (first, business, economy, gold, platinum, silver, muslim, MP, Neta, VVVVIP etc ), but this incident cemented my belief towards the larger thinking of airlines — you are Nothing But Cattle.

So the next time you’re flying and you see a smiling young 22 year old, handing you a hot towel and cold beverage, before you fall head over heels in love with her remember you’re just a sheep from the herd for her and just another Air Revenue Mile realized for the airline.

Peace.