United Airlines: Our perpetual outrage isn’t why people are angry

By Joe Frank

(RedRipper24/Flickr)

It seems just about everybody has heard about United Airlines and the treatment of Dr. David Dao, who refused to move when asked to give up his seat on a plane for a flight that was deemed overbooked. The reaction from most people was anger and shock. Last Tuesday, Massachusetts Daily Collegian columnist Bradley Polumbo challenged this public outrage. Rather than criticize United Airlines, or the police, he said the public and the media are just overreacting, stating, “do the facts really justify this level of outrage?” The answer to that question is yes.

The ethics of this scenario would be different if the flight had sold more tickets than there were seats for customers. If that were the case, then someone would have had to leave the plane because there simply would not have been enough space. However, there were enough seats on the plane for the customers — just not enough for the four employees United wanted to fly to Kentucky.

United could have, in theory, flown its employees on a different flight, but it insisted to remove four paying customers to make the necessary room. While it is true, as the Collegian column states, that airlines do have the right to remove passengers from their flights, it is also reasonable to for a customer sitting in a seat they have paid for to expect they have a right to that seat — no matter how much money is offered to move them to another flight.

What is truly unacceptable, and is the reason that so many are outraged over what happened on this United flight, is the manner in which Dao was removed. When the police could not convince Dao to leave, they turned to brute force and dragged him from his seat. In doing so, Dao hit his face on one of the armrests. According to his lawyer, Dao lost two of his teeth in addition to suffering a concussion and broken nose. Dao was then taken to a hospital for treatment.

Again, United could have decided to fly its employees on a different flight. It could have randomly selected a different passenger to remove, but instead called the airport police. United Airlines is not absolved of guilt, despite what the Collegian column claims. The decisions of United employees led to a scenario where a United passenger was injured, on a United plane.

United demonstrated poor business practices in this situation. By asserting the convenience of its employees over the comfort of its customers, the airline showed that it does not put the customers first.

When people go to the airport, they generally do not expect their destination to be the hospital. Herein lies the true reason why there is outrage. No non-threatening paying customer should be dragged off a plane with serious injuries. There is outrage not because “ranting on social media about some perceived injustice can bring you ample ‘likes’ and attention,” but because people want to hold an airline accountable for creating a situation that ended with a customer in the hospital.

Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].