We Can All Do Better Than United 3411

Apr 10, 2017

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I don’t know if it is the weather, the time of the year, just me, or what, but I feel a little on the verge of a Jerry Maguire flip out. You can’t fire up Facebook or turn on the TV without seeing and hearing about truly heart-wrenching catastrophes both close to home and on the other side of the globe. It sometimes seems like people have just lost their minds.

Then there is the travel world, which is decidedly a part of the larger world, but yet insular enough that it can be a cocoon of sorts where bad things do still happen, but it’s usually “bad” on a curve where bad isn’t really that bad. However, yesterday’s events where a man was forcibly drug off a plane that was scheduled to go from Chicago to Louisville as the airline needed seats to move crew was bad in any realm.

The video of him being drug off the plane is bad. The video of him running back on the plane with a bloody face and saying “Just kill me” is perhaps worse as you see what sort of state he has ended up in. Remember, he wasn’t removed for any reason other than the airline needing his seat. Whether the end result is because of shock, some sort of head injury, or just a reaction of being completely overwhelmed, it is very sad to see the damage of a situation that should have never happened.

I’m sure it isn’t the first time something like that has happened on an aircraft, but since it was caught on camera courtesy of a few smart phones, it is available for all of us to see. The reality of it is undeniable and inexcusable. I’ve watched it a few times now and it really, really bothers me more every time I see it. But what can you do? Boycott United? Protest the security that hauled him off? Share the video on social media and state how disgusted you are at the events?

Those are all options, but we can do better.

When I say “we” can do better, I really mean all of us. It is easy to fault the police officers who drug the man out of his seat and off of the plane. It is easy to fault the United/Republic Airlines employees who made the call to security instead of upping the denied compensation being offered until someone accepted, or simply not boarding the plane until the seat situation was squared away. It is easy to fault airline policies that create these sort of oversold/crew repositioning situations where there are more seats than passengers. It is easy to fault the removed passenger and say that he should have known he needed to just get off when he was told to do so.

All of those things are probably true to some degree. However, they only tell a part of the story. The rest of us travelers have a role to play here, too. I’m sure every single passenger on that plane had a reason they needed to go from Chicago to Louisville on that Sunday evening. We all have work, or families, or pets, or plants, or appointments, or meetings, or bills, or tons of other things we need to get back to at home. Or maybe we don’t have a pressing need, but we are just tired and ready for our own bed. We often don’t want to be inconvenienced or get too involved.

I know from social media that many who have seen the video react by either stating “there must be more to the story”, or assign primary blame to one entity. I think the real story here, the real sad tragedy of sorts, is that there is probably no one person or entity where we can assign blame and move on. I’m afraid it is a culmination of multiple much more complicated factors that also play out in society at large where we often aren’t seeing past our own noses and immediate needs to get the aircraft out on time, get home, get a passenger off the plane, etc.

Even if we weren’t there that day on that plane, and of course most of us weren’t, would we really have done anything different than watch or perhaps record what was happening? Would we have been the one to realize that the man who was ultimately dragged off the plane was really upset with the idea of being required to get off, so maybe we should go instead even if it is inconvenient? Driving that route is only a couple hours longer than flying, so I find it hard to believe that no one was able to face a few hours of delay in exchange for $800+ and helping prevent what ultimately occurred. I don’t say that to try to blame the other passengers at all, but instead to bring up that all of us have at least some role to play.

Putting the mirror directly up to my own face, I know I can get impatient when traveling. I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in your own needs to be somewhere as fast and comfortably as possible that it is easy to lose the perspective to look up and around to see if you are actually part of a larger problem.

Traveling shouldn’t mean we are on edge almost waiting for something to go wrong so we can complain, or get feisty, or worse. At that moment more people wanted to fly from Chicago to Louisville than there were seats. The problem was handled very, very poorly by almost everyone involved. Those in charge at the airline and airport security can and should look really long and hard at how they can do better next time, but maybe we should too.

I hope to learn at least a little bit from this and do my part to volunteer to change my plans, or my seat, or my room, or come up with a creative solution, or do whatever I can at some point so that someone else isn’t forced to against their will.

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