In the past two decades, air travel has changed drastically. Sept. 11, 2001 forever changed how Americans think about air travel and the amount of security they must undergo. Additionally, surging prices and hidden fees have had their impact.
On Sunday the problems with airlines soared to new heights. United Airlines called in police, who violently removed a passenger from his seat, according to Reuters reporting. The victim, Dr. David Dao, had his head bashed against an armrest as he was dragged through the aisle against his will. Nearby passengers caught the scene on video, which ultimately went viral.
This happened because United, having overbooked the flight, needed to seat four employees and, after asking for volunteers to leave, called the Chicago Aviation Department to remove this doctor from his seat.
This is absolutely ludicrous on so many levels. Firstly, the involvement of the police. While this entire situation is a tragedy in its own right, the fact is this was a police officer removing Dao from his seat. Given the context of recent police violence, it can be easy to point fingers. However, the problem here isn’t the Chicago Aviation Department, it’s United using professionals to drag customers off of flights, that’s criminal.
This officer was told by United to remove this man, and that’s what he did. It’s not his fault, it’s United’s for overbooking.
In fact overbooking is a standard part of United’s policy, and bumping involuntary customers from flights is a common practice, happening 40,000 times last year alone. After the immense backlash, United has discussed the possibility of revising its booking policies, but this is likely just a statement for publicity.
While in most cases bumping customers from flights isn’t violent, business practices like overbooking are absurd and demonstrate the kind of one-sided power wielded by airlines. With low accountability due to limited competition, airlines have all the power in relations with customers, and that lends itself to the sort of circumstances depicted in that video.
But what makes this situation all the worse is the fact that Dao was a United customer. This man paid money to be on this flight. He booked it and paid for United to provide him with a service. Instead of being served, he found himself assaulted.
It’s because of the limited number of airline options and the near monopoly specific airlines have at many hubs. This lends itself to this disregard for customers. So while first and foremost we need to boycott United, it’s not just United. Airlines are so large and have so much control when it comes to bookings that the average flier has little to no power to hold them accountable for their practices.
If Dao’s incident hadn’t been recorded and gone viral, this likely would have been swept under the rug. That’s why we need stronger regulation on airlines to put the customer back in the cockpit.
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