United We Stand

Image courtesy of Alan Light on Flikr.

If you were anywhere near a TV this week, you no doubt saw what happened on that United Airlines flight. I’m not even going to explain, or link to a news article, because if you’re with it enough to be on the internet, you know what I’m talking about.

There were a lot of discussions about what happened, and maybe if you were watching CBS This Morning or The Today show, you heard some of them. But if you were on the internet, you didn’t see a healthy dialogue. You didn’t see anything even approaching fair or balanced.

What you saw were jokes.

Lots of jokes.

Like, an unhealthy number of jokes.

Jokes about the jokes.

I saw them all too. And I laughed at them with co-workers and we cursed United and laughed at how they lost $770,000,000 this week (more than most people reading this will see in a lifetime).

But I think it kind of got out of hand.

Yeah, all the jokes were at the expense of United and I think in terms of looking good or bad, Dr. Dao looks like Taylor Swift post-1989. Even the public press conference when he announced he was going to sue the pants off of everyone involved didn’t dampen his public support.

But I think the jokes are taking away from the story. I think just like jokes about Donald Trump ended up humanizing him and making the ones who made them look foolish and suffer, Jokes about United are ultimately not actually calling attention to a problem, they’re distracting from it.

The airline industry has been ass-backwards for years, and this idealized notion of the “Golden age of air travel” that spawned things like the TV show Pan Am sit in stark contrast to the reality.

Flying sucks.

It has for a long time.

It’s cramped, uncomfortable, devoid of emotion or pleasure.

The only reason anyone flies anywhere is because the alternative is driving, which is so immensely time consuming that in many cases it’s not even seriously considered as an alternative. I’m flying to Texas this week with a friend. When my friend was booking tickets, I suggested we drive instead.

He’s still laughing about that.
Road” by Lara Eakins on Flickr.
Flying gets to suck because the alternative is so unappealing.

It’s the same reason internet companies have awful customer service — because the only other way to get information is to drive to the library, and they know that, so they make the experience JUST better enough to keep you from jumping ship.

The alternative to spending 2 hours on a plane is spending 20 hours in a car.

This week we realized that the only thing an airline could do to make flying bad enough for us to consider driving is to physically assault us.

Dr. Dao’s statement said that he was more scared during this ordeal than he was fleeing Vietnam. I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing you say about an experience when you’re about to get a 7 figure lawsuit as a result of it, but I’ve never been to Vietnam and I’ve never been beaten senseless and dragged from a place, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Dime” by Angela N. on Flickr.

Through all of this the “bad guys,” United Airlines, are really not doing that bad. Yeah, they lost a lot of money to you or I, but against their market capitalization, they only lost about 3.5% of their value, and they say ticket sales haven’t been affected.

I had a friend say that she just bought a ticket with United this week because it was so cheap. As you saw above, after 2 days of making jokes about United, suddenly the people of Reddit were “beating a dead horse” and United seemed like they weren’t that bad after all.

They truly are the Donald Trump of airlines.

We spent a long time making fun of them for a lot of valid reasons, and they’re relatively unpopular, but Donald Trump is the president… Maybe there’s a reason they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Check and see how United is doing in 2 years, maybe it’ll surprise you.
Written by Louis Reich of Comatose.

Comatose is a weekly series of amusing anecdotes, insightful commentary, and pithy stories. Every week three contributors are featured in short segments. The segments, though often unrelated, are tied together using music and narration to set the scene. Relax and enjoy the ride while listening to topics as varied as love, birthdays, and reciprocity.

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