Like most people, I don’t enjoy seeing passengers dragged down the aisle of a commercial airplane, limp and lifeless. Nor do I enjoy seeing them hogtied at 37,000 feet, (which I’ve also had the occasion to witness – in person – and more than once.)
These kinds of episodes are always disturbing, but what bothered me initially about this video was not just the violence, it was the obvious ease with which it could have been avoided. A little common-sense and the freedom to apply it could have resolved this situation in a dozen different ways. Last night however, I watched a tape of United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, as he attempted to walk back some earlier comments. He told ABC news that the passenger in question – David Dao – “did nothing wrong.”
Now, I’m no longer disturbed, I’m merely terrified.
Is Oscar serious? God, I hope not. I hope he’s just doing the typical “over-apology” thing CEO’s do when their “crisis experts” tell them they’ve got to say whatever it takes to win back the public trust. I hope he’s just reacting to some lawyer who told him before the interview, “for the love of God, Oscar, don’t blame the victim!” Well, Oscar certainly didn’t blame the victim. But in the process of finding him blameless, he suggested that millions of passengers are under no obligation to follow a direct command from United employees. And that’s a hell of a lot more disturbing than a beat-down in the main cabin.
Here’s the thing. It’s easy to forget that we have no right to fly. Buying a ticket doesn’t change that. So, when we board the plane, we have no right to remain there. We can be legally removed if we’re too drunk, too loud, too creepy, too suspicious, or too big for the seat. We can be removed if we stink. We can be removed if we’re insubordinate. We can be removed for whatever reason the airline deems necessary.”
Rowe noted that “if you want to travel by air, you must agree to do what you’re told. If you don’t, you subject yourself to fine, arrest, constraint, forcible removal, and/or a permanent ban from the friendly skies. It’s all there in the fine print.”
Personally, I support this policy. I support it because I don’t want to fly across the country in a steel tube filled with people who get to decide which rules they will follow and which they will ignore. I’ve been on too many flights with too many angry people to worry about the specific circumstances of their outrage, or the details of why they took it upon themselves to ignore a direct command. A plane is not a democracy, and the main cabin is no place to organize a sit-in. The main cabin is a place to follow orders.