Those Don’t Seem Like Such Friendly Skies Anymore

Do I even have to mention it?  *IT*?  The fact that United Airlines demanded a man ALREADY BOARDED AND SEATED get off the plane, and called the police to force him to leave with a few bits of blood thrown in along the way?  We already all know that story, right? And although most of the internet is firmly on the side of hating the airlines, there are some defending the airline’s actions as well.

I’ll get to that, but first, I think we should have a little fun playing a game I came up with called Flying United Airlines Bingo.

How many categories can YOU get? And what would be an appropriate prize?

I need to add in this that every single square is an incident that has happened to someone aboard a United Flight.  It seems that this latest incident has caused just about everyone’s United Airlines horror story to come out of the woodwork.

The thing is – the stories weren’t *IN* the woodwork before, and frustration with air travel has been building to levels that can only end badly if these frustrations aren’t addressed. It’s not that people want to be with the “popular” opinions – it’s that air travel has gotten horrendous, and whatever the background of the man dragged bloodily from the United Airlines flight – he was dragged bloodily from a United Airlines flight that he had been allowed to board and be seated for.  That strikes a terror chord in those of us who sometimes get caught with tight travel schedules.

Once I was bumped from a United flight while traveling home  from a conference.  My son was with me, and my daughters were staying with my brother.  I was supposed to pick them up that evening, but because I was denied boarding at the gate (my originating flight arrived late, but before the door to the connecting flight was shut), I had to beg for an additional night of babysitting from my brother and his wife.  Now, they had no problems with it, and didn’t seem bothered at all.  But what if I had someone who needed to catch a flight right after I arrived watching my children?  What could we have done then?

Of course, this is not the airline’s issue in particular.  But it *IS* the airline’s issue broadly speaking, because they are in the business of providing safe, effective, and reliable transportation for people.  We need to be able to depend on them to do what they have promised to do, because for many of us air travel is not something we can choose not to do – not if we want to retain our jobs, see our family (in our case, on an entirely different continent), or visit Mickey Mouse.

While the argument that we agreed the airlines could manhandle and refuse to let us on the plane on whatever whim they choose (paraphrased, but accurate), and to follow all instructions of flight crew even if (as happened to the man in front of me on a United Express flight once) a flight attendant drops a tray of food, then proceeds to berate the passenger for having a foot in the aisle and tripping him (the passenger did NOT have a foot in the aisle, the flight attendant tripped over his own foot) it is just to sit quietly and be yelled at – there are always limits.  ALWAYS.  And there should be, because there is no contract that is legal that permits people to be abused.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not in any way anti-airline crew.  I’ve seen airline crew put up with some NASTY customer behavior, and they are the first line of people who take abuse when something goes wrong.  I may miss one flight in a day, but the flight crew are dealing with hundreds of people who have had itinerary mishaps in a day, every day – I can’t imagine the karmic vampire drain of energy they have to deal with.  For every bad flight crew member I’ve come into contact with, I’ve had ten who were wonderful and went above and beyond.  The flight crew are victims of disgusting corporate policies even more than consumers are, because they have to try to defend these policies and calm down passengers who are stuck in cattle-car conditions with no leg room, breathing the dandruff scented hair of the person reclined into their lap, and playing a game of chicken with their bladder because the line to the toilet extends down the entire economy class aisle.

I can recognize that the behavior exhibited by people refusing to follow flight crew instructions with passive resistance is dangerous and should not be tolerated at the same time I can understand how we got to this point.  If people felt that their complaints would be properly addressed, there would be more compliance and less flight disruption.  But the fact that United is the only airline with an entire website devoted to how craptacular their service is and how little they care about their customers makes a big statement.

Do passengers who care only about the lowest priced ticket possible bear some blame here?  YES, and YES that is causing an issue in the airline industry for sure.  But United needs to decide if they want to be a grown-up airline with calmer passengers and crew who feel valued and reward that value with loyalty, or just go full Ryan Air and start selling scratch cards.