United we fall…

Unless you’re living under a rock, and if you’re reading this I assume that’s not the case, you’re familiar with the United Airlines PR disaster from yesterday.

Long story short, United did what many airlines brazenly do, overbooked a flight, and as often happens, it bit them in the ass when everybody showed up. While cramming every single seat with a body into the tight confines of an airplane cabin is no problem, four United employees suddenly “had” to catch that particular flight to be somewhere as well, alas there were no empty seats for them to use. Their time was apparently more urgent than the probably hundred or so other passengers who also needed to be somewhere, passengers who paid for the honor of flying United, and so passengers were asked to give up their seats in exchange for airline vouchers and a hotel room.

Nobody wanted a voucher to fly later, so a good old fashioned stalemate ensued.

Now this here is the point where somebody with a brain in his or her head needed to come up with a solution before things went south in a hurry.

Here were the options, as I see them:

  1. United sweetens the deal until four people finally agree that they will trade their seats for the offer to do so, because everyone has a price, or
  2. United employees understand that the plane is full of paying passengers already and tells their four special little flyers that THEY have to wait and either fly on the next plane to Louisville, or utilize some means in United’s vast array of resources to get where they need to go, and
  3. DO NOT, under any circumstance, call the police to get involved in a non-criminal incident.

United decided to use some arbitrary system that apparently chose four passengers at random to be removed from the plane. As everyone on the planet outside of United employees can imagine, the four people chosen, who had just moments prior refused to volunteer to leave, were none too pleased to be told they were not allowed to fly on the flight they paid for already.

One couple chosen begrudgingly left the plane, but contestant number three, an Asian doctor, refused to budge. He claimed that he had patients to see the next day, and insisted that he was only chosen because he was Asian.

Ah, the race card…

I’m giving United the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t chosen because he was Asian, but either way, he had every right to be pissed off, and he was.

He was not leaving that plane……now what?

Again, United found itself in a potential pissing match with one of its customers and needed to make an intelligent decision to keep from upsetting all the people watching this go down.

How important were these four employees who needed to get to Louisville?

They were clearly more important than the paying customers, because instead of sweetening the deal to gain voluntary compliance, the police were called.


Again, how difficult would it have been to get four people to volunteer to leave that plane? I’d have done it for all the Bud Light Lime I could handle at an airport bar, a hotel room to crash for the night and enough cash to buy a slinger and coffee in the morning.

Surely, somebody on that plane could have been bought out of their seat, right?

We’ll never know what that price was, because instead of further bargaining, United drew a line in the sand and brought in the law. They told the law that the intractable doctor HAD to go.

I can assure you, as a police officer for nearly two decades, that people who don’t want to go somewhere and who feel strongly that they shouldn’t have to, are the absolute worst people in the world to deal with.

At least people who break the law and don’t want to go to jail know that they’ve broken the law, and while they may fight a little bit, at the end of the day, they know they’re wrong and have to go.

People who are sick, mentally especially, and who have to go to the hospital for their own safety, are a good example of folks who don’t feel as though they should be forced to go against their will, and will fight you HARD to keep from being removed against their will.

This doctor no doubt believed that he was within his rights to not be removed from this plane, even when told by a police officer that he had to go. That never works out well.

I can’t speak as to the law as it relates to airlines, and it’s possible that the doctor was in violation of some law by not leaving, but either way, there was no hurry that required grabbing this man and dragging him off of a plane.

There was another way to handle this.

There had to be.

Instead, the good doctor remained stubborn and was dragged literally, off of the plane.

It was third world country looking bullshit, and was 100% avoidable.

To his credit, the doctor wasn’t fighting, he was simply being passive aggressive/non-compliant – pouty even. His recourse was to leave and take it up with a grievance or complaint, but the reality is that his complaints would have fallen on deaf ears.

I am completely of the mind that this doctor’s time was no more valuable than a teacher’s who needed to get to a classroom the next day, or a grandma, who wanted to see her out of town grandchildren the next day. His occupation is irrelevant to me.

Passengers, such as this woman below on the right, were understandably appalled.


Do you know what though?

Nobody on that plane was appalled enough to say, “Wait, wait, officers. Here, just let this man have my seat. I’ll give my seat up to end this madness.”


Everybody either sat there in silence thanking God it wasn’t their name drawn randomly, or videoed this ordeal on their phones completely oblivious to any thought of doing something to make this matter right.

After the madness, the four United employees took seats that we can only assume they felt entitled to, and had an uncomfortable flight amid incredulous passengers.

This whole clusterfuck was United’s fault, but we’ve let this become our norm.

Massive corporations know that they will make their money due to the quantity of available customers, so they have very little incentive to get to know their customers’ needs and cater to them.

There are a limited number of airlines, so United doesn’t care that you don’t like them today. There are enough people out there who will still fly United.

You see this same treatment by the giant cable/internet companies. Customer service is a perfunctory act where you complain and gripe and the rep on the other end of the line, “Steve” from New Delhi makes a jerking off motion while telling you that $189 a month is the best he can do for you.

It’s ridiculous, but we’ve allowed it to happen.

We’ve also allowed our police officers to be the go to for everything in society that needs fixing, whether it’s criminal or not.

That also must stop.

We “joke” with the recruits that they can expect to play many roles once they hit the streets. They’ll be asked to do the job of a police officer, teacher, doctor, social worker, therapist, psychologist, animal catcher, fire fighter, mechanic and on and on.

We joke about it, but at the end of the day, it’s not funny.

We’re paid, and more importantly, trained, to be police officers. We catch law violators and participate in programs that hopefully prevent future violations.

The problem on that plane is that had the officers simply said, “Look, you guys have a civil matter here. Call us back when a crime has been committed. Bye,” they’d have been in trouble just as they’ll find themselves in trouble now for using what looks like unnecessary force.

They were put in a no-win situation.

Police officers can’t be arbitrators for all of society’s problems.

We can’t be the strong arm of corporations or people with power to get recalcitrant people to obey a contract or some societal expectation that isn’t a criminal law violation.

That’s how we as police officers become associated with what’s wrong in society and we lose the public’s trust.


This entry was posted in Police, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to United we fall…

  1. Meredith says:

    That was absolutely disgusting and completely avoidable.

  2. gesbes says:

    By far the best analysis of the situation I’ve seen thus far!

  3. Britt says:

    I have to admit, I have a lot of feelings about this situation but you offer a perspective I didn’t consider! The fact that 100+ others did inevitably “sit by” and watch this go from 0-100 is something to be said. We never know when an event that challenges our moral and ethical compass will arise…and we are tested when it does. No one asks for it, we rarely have time to prepare and the majority of us aren’t trained for such occurrences. I say this loud and clear…UNITED is at fault…but we have a larger responsibility than just phone recordings and disgusted face making. I could go on and on about the many perspectives each reader inevitably has regarding this horrible mockery of human behavior, poor decision making and potentially even worse business policy, but thank you for broadening the bigger picture.

  4. This is a serious issue, Don. So why am I still giggling over the words “pouty even.”? With that, I turn it over to the serious commentators.

  5. JackieP says:

    Did you read where the CEO of United blamed the passenger? Disgusting, but you bring up a great point. Why didn’t someone else stand up and say….enough! I’ll give him my seat if you just all regain what little sense you have!

  6. As always, some excellent points in a well-thought-out post, Don. Especially the last one. If corporations (or even individuals) are allowed to make the police do their dirty work, the police will inevitably be seen in a bad light.

    But as a psychologist, I’m just as glad no one offered to take the doctor’s place. That would have rewarded the airline’s brutish behavior and the event might not have made it to the national news.

    As a woman in her sixties, I was appalled that they treated an older person this way. They could have so easily done him serious physical harm. And what has happened to respect your elders in this country?

  7. Carrie Rubin says:

    Thank you for writing this. What an ugly incident, one that, as you point out, could have been handled so much better and without having to involve the police, who no doubt wanted nothing to do with it either.

  8. This even made headlines over here in Engerland! It’s all over the place! Literally one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever read about. What will happen to United? They’ll get their wrists slapped, they’ll get bad press for a few weeks, they’ll get a few people boycotting them out of principle, and then it’ll all go back to normal.
    Of course we must remember the United air stewards in all this, because can you imagine how many hilarious and potentially angry comments they’ll get from future passengers? ‘You sure you’re not going to throw me off the plane?’ and ‘All right if I sit in my seat, or are you going to call the cops?’ Those jokes will wear incredibly thin incredibly quickly. 🙂

  9. Sorry, you lost me at, “Nobody on that plane was appalled enough to say, “Wait, wait, officers. Here, just let this man have my seat. I’ll give my seat up to end this madness.”

    I assume anyone on the jet would have been concerned about their own safety after witnessing what just happened. Your analysis and criticism in a quiet room, in front of a computer, is a bit shabby. That said, the involvement of the security/police was totally inappropriate BY UNITED Airlines.

  10. Amen!!!!!!!!! Sharing!! 😁😁😁😁

  11. Lizzi says:

    It’s the several-steps-on-from-the-start-of a slippery slope. *sigh* Absolutely abhorrent and yet so very how the world seems to work these days.

  12. julie says:

    Thank you kind sir! I was unaware of much of the details you provided.. apparently my rock is there, just not quite big enough!

    I would like to think that I would have offered to wait, but now that I am aware the situation arose because airline employees wanted to fly I might have wrapped myself around the seat legs and thrown a fit as well! That is simply unconscionable.

  13. pegoleg says:

    I saw this briefly on the news last night for the first time while having dinner at the (wait for it) airport. Comes boarding time and the airline, in this case Spirit, came over the loudspeaker to announce they had overbooked. We passengers all looked at one another with eyebrows raised, as in, “Hmmm? Wonder how this is going to play out?” Apparently Spirit learned from United’s mistake and did option 1.

    I so agree about the police being jacks-of-all-trades and scapegoats. I read about a neighborhood in south Chicago that treats the police like crap, constantly calls “brutality,” and now they’re complaining they don’t feel safe because the police don’t patrol there enough. Huh???

  14. Valerie says:

    Agree with everything here except obe point
    You stated no one gave up their seat and only recorded….
    1) again as stated, everyone’s reason for wanting to stay on their paid is as good as everyone’s else
    2) interfering with a cop can get you arrested too

    Bottom line, THIS should have NEVER happened…..big lawsuit I’m sure sure

  15. Anonymous says:

    How about they review their definition of standby staff, and actually have staff on standby at the airports without having to fly them in from another state!

  16. I’ll add one other tidbit of info. I have a friend who is an airline pilot. He is sometimes called in to substitute for other pilots who are sick or are stranded in some other city due to bad weather. It’s not like they couldn’t have found another crew to man that plane in Louisville (or wherever the heck it was).

  17. I just heard a story on the radio yesterday regarding a similar situation, an airline offering money to passengers to get off a flight. I don’t recall the airline, but I believe it was a family of four who had gone to Florida for vacation. The family ended up taking the cash to get off, a much larger sum than United offered, and did this for two flights, two days in a row. In the end, the airline ended up reimbursing them the total cost of their tickets, with the additional cash, and they made $11,000! You’re right, all United would have had to do is pony up some more cash, because everyone has their price.

  18. willo says:

    Totally agree with this: “Police officers can’t be arbitrators for all of society’s problems.”
    I’d like to see police officers freed from busywork to catch violent criminals and do more frequent patrols, showing friendly faces and getting to know every neighborhood in a personal way. I hate seeing uniformed officers next to metal detectors in schools, where our most at risk kids are given their first lessons on what prison will be like. What a dirty, vicious cycle. On many of my leisure flights, I would accept a voucher for later, IN A HIGHER CLASS OF SERVICE. Otherwise, the experience of flying is so awful, I want to get it over with as quickly as possible, just like everybody else. Vote with your money. Fly airlines that treat people better. I’m a fan of Alaska Airlines.

  19. I hope the physician gets every relief civil law allows, and that civil law penalties accrue toward every single person and corporate entity involved.

    Just on a common law basis to this layman, it seems to me a crime was committed in conjunction here by the United Airlines, its employees, the Chicago Airport Police, and its officers, but since this was in Cook County, Illinois, I doubt anybody who participated in this criminal act will ever see criminal penalties.

    I would appreciate it if a member of the Bar reading this will be more specific where I am right or wrong.

    In the meantime, it looks like United not only breaks guitars, but also faith, contracts, and noses.

  20. Hey Don of all trades. honestly I kept watching memes still being unaware of this incident . You described it pretty well. Thanks 🙂 For some organisations customer service definitely is on a downward spiral. Customers too have no unity these days to stand up for someone else.
    In another part of the universe this happened . DO read . http://indianexpress.com/article/india/banned-by-airlines-ravindra-gaikwad-takes-chartered-plane-4601402/

  21. hafararisay says:


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