Monday, April 10, 2017

In defense of United Airlines

OK people, before we get started, yes, UA should have raised the compensation until they got enough volunteers. And yes, the cop should have found a less brutal way to get the one pax who wouldn't comply with getting bumped off the plane. That cop should be in big trouble.

Now let's get to it.

Can we talk about the recalcitrant pax? What a jerk! Refuses to comply with an entirely legal request from the flight crew. Holds up the plane and all the other passengers because he is too important to get bumped. Refuses to comply with the cops. Causes hours of delay and screws things up for potentially 100s of people down the line.

He's the villain in this case, not UA.

Again, don't get me wrong. I don't like UA. Don't like flying them. And they should have raised the compensation to clear the market.

But, the noncompliant pax here can only be described as a mega-douche.  This incident has no bearing on my decision of whether or not use use UA when I travel. I know I can get bumped, and I'm prepared to live with it. Everyone should know this: you can get bumped even if you are a "VIP".

Plus I already know the cops these days are likely to do any old thing to us citizens, so in no way would I escalate any airline pissing contest to a cop pissing contest.

That guy screwed over hundreds of people I guess because he believed the law didn't apply to him.

He's the opposite of a hero.


A Leap at the Wheel said...

He was a jerk, but he wasn't wrong. He did everything right. He scheduled himself to fly on time. He paid. He showed up to the airport and got through the freedom-grope and/or rapescan without an incident.

He did everything right, and a combination of a byzantine, faceless bureaucracy and a faceless, byzantine computer appeared out of nowhere and selected him for shit treatment so that the byzantine, faceless bureaucracy wouldn't be inconvenienced.

That's not justice. That's arbitrary, insulting, and dehumanizing. And people should grouse for their justice sometimes.

Don't shit on people who show up and do everything right. That's not a recipe for a healthy society.

Unknown said...

The rules under which he bought the ticket stipulate that he could be bumped if the flight was overbooked, which it was. He paid for the ticket. He agreed to the contract. And then he broke the contract.

He didn't deserve the violent treatment he received, but he was still in the wrong.

LoneSnark said...

Yep, he was in the wrong. I didn't even see the cop do anything wrong. He didn't shoot him, didn't even taze him. I guess because the passenger was on a plane and unlikely to be armed. But if you resist arrest, then hell yes you should expect to be manhandled and dragged from the vehicle. And yet he kept resisting, running back onto the plane, as if the cops would get tired and let him stay? I think they should have taken him to jail for trespass and resisting arrest, but since he was able to run back on-board the plane, the cops just wanted to let him go once he was off the plane.

Dishpig said...

Here'sthe thing. The airline broke the contract first by not following the rules regarding bumping passengers.

Sure, a pilot can remove any passenger, but it must be for legal reasons.

They didn't.

Sorry, but your analysis is flawed.

Dishpig said...

Have you considered he may have head trauma? How was he even allowed near the plane again?!

This is a colossal screw up, and none of it is the docs fault.

Anonymous said...

Because its not you who got bumped and thats why you wrote this article...totally wrong in the united airline....once they raised the amount to compensate...they would have a volunteer...i cant believe police was involved...totally biz decision...

Dishpig said...

Ill just leave this here...

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed at this opinion. So you read the fine print of every market transaction you enter into? UA violated the spirit of the contract, if not the letter.
Also, way to go on the disclaimers. Yes, they were wrong, BUT.....
He was not a jerk. He just badly wanted to be on his way and UA should have offered a higher amount to encourage people to volunteer.
Also, maybe they should make their randomization exercise transparent.
The while episode is an eye opener and if you still refuse to see whats in front of your eyes, thats a bit unfortunate

Anonymous said...

It is in the contract, as it is in Apple's of Google's to pretty much spy on you at all times and sell the information. BUT...How much money would United be willing to spend (retrospectively) to set up a private flight for their employees right now!

Anybody would be absolutely horrified to read the rights they give up when they push the "Agree" button on any purchase. It's not too long to read because they're protecting YOUR rights!

mike davis said...

The best question is not whether Dr. D-Bag or UA was right or wrong. Why choose? We can despise both, just for different reasons.

The really interesting thing here is why the reaction has been overwhelmingly in favor of Dr. D-Bag? What does this tell us about how our moral intuitions work?

Hypothesis 1: People are pissed because UA could have auctioned off the seats but didn’t. Instead, they allowed jack-booted thugs onto the plane and impose a pareto inferior outcome. This violates a moral intuition that favors market based solutions.

Analysis: Probably not true. Only a handful of weirdos like markets. Most of them are playing video games and blogging from their mother’s basement. Remember Munger’s story about how, after the hurricane, people who were standing in line to pay the market price for a bag of ice cheered when jack-booted thugs showed up to prevent them from doing what they so obviously wanted to do.

Hypothesis 2: People are pissed because they dislike outcomes dictated by utilitarian calculation.

Analysis: Maybe, but still unlikely. People might not be strict utilitarians, but this is not even close to a trolley problem. Think about what’s at stake here. If UA prevails the flight crews make it to Louisville and so hundreds of people get to leave Louisville. If Dr. D-Bag prevails, four people don’t have to go to Louisville. Even if people aren’t utilitarians, almost any moral system should favor UA.

Hypothesis 3: People are pissed because their moral intuitions are not really very good for dealing with airlines..

Analysis: Both Jonathan Haidt and David Hume would be ok with this hypothesis. Start with Haidt and moral foundations theory. To anybody watching the video, the incident seems to violate at least two of the Five Foundations: It is unfair--dragging a guy off the plane seems to violate the idea of shared rules. It also engages our desire to be loyal—the people on board the flight are part of our in-group, the anonymous people trying to escape Louisville are not. (It might also violate the authority foundation in that this seems like a subversion of the legitimate authority of the Boarding Pass, but I’m less sure about that.) Moral intuitions are just a fancy way of describing the passions that enslave reason in Hume’s famous quote (‘’reason is the slave to passion…”). In other words, our moral intuitions don’t really appreciate what’s going on, but once those intuitions kick in, our pitiful monkey-minds can’t possibly hope to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

UA was in the wrong. The flight was not overbooked. So they did not even have the legal right to bump passengers (that rule needs to change). In this case, they were bumping passengers to accommodate UA employees. UA has a big lawsuit on its hands. No wonder they are digging up all the dirt they possibly can on this guy now.

Steve said...


"This is a colossal screw up, and none of it is the docs fault."

People are booted from overbooked flights every day. Hell, three other people were already uneventfully escorted from the same plane. The only thing that makes this newsworthy is his insistence that somehow his bad luck will not come to pass.

To try and view this as some legal slippery slope down to an authoritarian police state where people are thrown out of planes without reason is intellectually dishonest. Overbooking keeps tickets cheaper for everyone. The airline will make you reasonably whole after the inconvenience of being kicked off.

A Leap at the Wheel said...

Steve - This flight was only overbooked because UA chose to show preference for four unbooked UA staff members and not for their paying customers. This wasn't a one paying customer vs the other. This was UA creating a problem and UA solved it by imposing a cost on a passenger instead of absorbing the cost themselves.

And he was not "made whole." He would be made whole if the auction went high enough to get to his indifference point. UA had the ability to continue to try to raise their offer to find a willing bump - they aren't limited. They just decided going over $800 or $1,000 (I've read conflicting reports) in voucher was less preferable to them than the application of a little state force.

TMLutas said...

It's important to describe what happened to the passenger accurately and to refer to the actual contract of carriage when describing what is an economic transaction. It's astonishing how few people do this.

He risked being denied boarding if the flight was overbooked. He was not denied boarding. That point where you get your boarding pass, the flight was not overbooked and he was not denied boarding. He boarded the airplane. Once you board, you can no longer be denied boarding. That part of the contract is in the past. It's not only a legal problem. It's a physics problem.

After boarding the airplane, the captain/crew had the right to refuse him travel but only under the conditions of Section 21 of the contract. He did not violate any rule under section 21 and could not be refused travel under that section.

United Express wanted to buy back some tickets so it could dead head a flight crew. It created an overbooked flight after it had boarded all its passengers. It does not have the right to redo the passenger mix post hoc.

United also did not want to go through the expense of paying for the tickets at the market price of the moment. It snookered 3 passengers into giving up their contract rights and got an officer of the law to extract a legally boarded passenger when their 4th designated victim declined to give up his rights.

United is the villain. The cop is the villain. The passenger is just a dick whose number came up and is getting screwed by bigger dicks who are attacking his past in order to cover for a corporation and government that committed torts and crimes because somebody stood up for their rights.

This situation stinks.

Unknown said...

Just gonna leave this here:

The carriage contract says United can do two things. It can deny boarding for any reason (Rule 25), and it can refuse to transport for specific reasons (Rule 21).

Now, once the passenger has a boarding pass and has boarded the plan, they can no longer use Rule 25 to deny boarding, that ship has sailed. they can refuse to transport and remove a passenger but only in accordance with the reasons listed in Rule 21. By United's own admission, the removed passenger was not being removed for any of those specified reasons.

United was in breach of contract. My personal opinion is that he should not have left, but I think that's a question of how polite each individual is, which admittedly I am not. But on the question of did United have the right to remove him, almost certainly not, read that Contract of Carriage, it's pretty clearly laid out.