On April 9, a jarring incident occurred on United Airlines Flight 3411. To briefly summarize the situation: United Airlines overbooked the flight and the crew asked for volunteers to leave the plane to make room for a “must-ride” crew. They offered any volunteers a $400 voucher (later an $800 voucher), a free night at a hotel in Chicago and a seat on another flight leaving at least 21 hours later.
When nobody volunteered, a staff member boarded the airplane and informed the passengers that four people would be chosen at random by a computer. Three individuals complied with the staff and de-boarded the plane, but one passenger, Dr. David Dao did not. It was at this point that staff members deferred to security officers from the Chicago Department of Aviation. The ensuing incident caused injuries to Dr. Dao’s head and mouth. He managed to re-board the plane, his face bloody, but he collapsed and was carried out on a stretcher by the aviation officers.
The aftermath of the United Airlines incident has covered news feeds since the first week of April. The public was out for blood and the words “racist” and “minority” were thrown around. Of course, the revolting nature of this unnecessarily violent situation is not in question, but we should reconsider who our fingers are pointing at.
First of all, the airline has since stated that the selection of who is chosen to de-board the plane is based on specific factors, including priority to remain aboard for frequent fliers and those who paid a higher fare. They choose who will be leaving the plane from a computerized algorithm, not based on who they do or do not like. In fact, because they are required by law to remove passengers in a “must-ride” situation, they leave this kind of decision to the computers to avoid accusations of any kind of profiling.
Second of all, let’s consider what the term “must-ride” means. In a “must-ride” situation, space absolutely has to be made for staff member/crews who are scheduled to fly another airplane. Not only is it necessary in order to avoid making an entire flight of passengers angry (and avoiding another reason for the public to seek blood), but it’s also federal regulation. It’s actually in the fine print of the tickets we purchase and that we acknowledge when we check the “I agree” box. Because it’s federal regulation, this means that the rule applies to every airline. United Airlines’ competitors might be drawing in their customers, but in reality, they can legally bump any of their paying customers as well.
Finally, the public may be calling for United Airlines’ heads, but they never actually touched the passenger. In fact, they were calm and professional throughout the entire incident. When Dr. Dao did not comply with procedure, the airline staff deferred to aviation security, who proceeded to handle the situation with extreme force and violence.
Since then, the company has been under fire, even going so far as to provide refunds to every passenger on the flight. They have also promised to keep law enforcement out of involuntary bumping’s from here on out. Although this is a great start, it’s the aviation security officers that the public needs to be crucifying. The airline staff followed procedures correctly and they can’t always make everyone happy. They were as much at fault as the “must-crew” ride was; they were simply doing what they were legally supposed to do. In reality, it was the aviation security officers who were at fault for this gross moral injustice.