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Not Everything Is About How Terrible America Is

No, you’re not mad at America.

Well, maybe you are, but not for the reasons you should be mad at United.

And you should be mad at United, but not for all the reasons a lot of people are mad at United.

Don’t be mad about overbooking or bumping.

Overbooking is something that we do for *everything*.  It’s environmentally sound.  It’s economically sound.  We would do it if we were full-blown socialists, this shouldn’t have anything to do with capitalism.  This article is weak on the paragraph about volunteers but it explains overbooking (and passenger bumping due to hard to predict technical reasons) very well.  United isn’t even the worst carrier when it comes to bumping issues.

Designing any queuing system is hard, but the alternative is that we have an incredible amount of waste.  You can’t plan your highway system based entirely upon one hour’s worth of peak traffic time.  In the case of air travel, it’s already environmentally costly.  Even with overbooking, most flights are well under 90% capacity.  That’s a lot of empty seats.

Putting a ~160,000 kg object in the air for a few hours *without* it being as close to full as possible would be nearly criminal.  In addition to all the extra pollution we’re now divvying up among a smaller number of passengers, the straight cost of the flight means everybody would be paying more for the tickets.

And guess what?  In spite of this being a very hard problem, airlines are very, very good at handling it.

The industry had just over 40,000 involuntary bumps out of nearly 660 million passengers in 2016, according to the transportation department. The rate of 0.62 involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers in 2016 beat the 2015 rate of 0.73 and the previous low, set in 2002, of 0.72.

So no, overbooking should not be illegal.

Don’t be mad at United for having to put their own crew on the plane, and bumping people to do it.

For the same reasons as overbooking.  Airlines are crazy-complex, ongoing mathematics problems, and they’re incredibly susceptible to natural systems that are very unpredictable.  A weather anomaly can cause planes to have to re-route, which causes fuel burn that can affect the entire system of air travel.  15 minutes of extra time at the wrong gate can have cascading effects through the whole system.  Airlines have to be able to re-purpose crew and move them around to plug those gaps.

And if they don’t do it, other planes elsewhere are going to be delayed or cancelled, which will affect far more than four passengers.

Don’t be mad at United for their ticketing contract.

Most folks don’t read their ticket, and they don’t know what they actually purchased when they bought it.  Airline tickets are crazy ugly legalese (on par with your average EULA).  People don’t know that they’re signing up for a provisional access only, and that they have a cap (and a limited cap at that) for compensation if the airline doesn’t give them the service.

But this isn’t United’s fault… or at least it’s not *just* United’s fault… this is because we deregulated the industry.  Deregulation means that there are fewer mandates, and thus lower costs, but that also means each airline has to compete with the other airlines on cost, at the expense of service that folks are willing to give up.  And most folks don’t shop on service, when it comes to air travel, they shop on price.

That’s on us, collectively.

If we want our air carriers to have better ticketing contracts, we should/can have a mandated floor for compensation for folks who need to give up their flights.  Indeed, we already do.  Maybe it’s too small.  Maybe we let airlines get away with not paying the minimum.  Lots of possible questions here.

But if we just get rid of overbooking, the price of tickets *will* go up, across the board, and then a lot of folks will have limited travel opportunities (given that air travel is bonkers expensive from an externality standpoint, in environmental terms, this might not be a bad idea, but it also means more car traffic for long trips, which is worse…)  There’s a lot of tangled strings, here, so pulling on one pulls on others.

DO be mad at the arrangement between the police and the airline.

Not necessarily the specific police officers who are doing their job.  You don’t have a right to a plane ticket, and if you’re refusing to leave a plane when the airline asks you to, eventually someone is going to escort you off the plane, one way or the other.  If you’re drunk or violent or threatening other passengers, that’s a case where I’m okay with the cops getting involved.

In the case of a passenger, randomly selected, who doesn’t want to give up their seat, that’s a contractual dispute between a planeload of folks and the company offering to fly them somewhere.  If the airline has the default ability to call on the police force to handle their contractual dispute, that’s a serious imbalance of power.

*DO* be mad at United management for not having realistic policies in place prior to this event to prevent it from happening.

United lost $830 million in value already from this. It’s becoming an international incident.

If you’re a stockholder, and if you have a 401(k), a 403(b), or a pension you’re probably at least a partial stockholder, then you get to be mind-explodingly angry at the management of United.  Heads should roll.

There’s simply no excuse for a service industry not to have leadership sit down at some point and say, “Hey, so, it’s entirely reasonable for us to be efficient, here, but we can’t just rely on the legalese on our tickets to cover our butts when we have to tell people their flights are cancelled, delayed, or they lose their seat on a scheduled flight because we need to use a smaller plane.  Our people on the ground need to know how to handle these situations, or we’re going to have a public relations nightmare.  Let’s hammer out suitable exception scenarios and train our people. We may want to give somebody discretionary power to make on-the-spot decisions that might cost the airline a little bit of money but prevent bigger problems.  We certainly don’t ever want a picture of a bloody passenger going around on social media!”

Look, this isn’t an unknown problem.  Airlines have to take passengers off of their planes all the time.  Flights are overbooked.  Somebody gets too drunk.  Somebody panics at the thought of going up in the air in a metal cylinder.  There are a ton of reasons why airlines might need to take someone off a flight, and overbooking isn’t even close to being the most outrageous one on the scale.

And for the love of all that’s holy, when you have a PR nightmare, as the lead executive, don’t make public statements that amount to throwing a canister of gasoline on a fire.

But Munoz doubled down in a letter sent to United employees on Monday afternoon, describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent.” He also said that “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.”

If you have a decision tree that can result in what just happened, your risk management is atrociously horrible.  That’s entirely on management… and in the case of management at United, there’s more than some evidence that their customer service attitude is a systemic problem.

And it should never be necessary.

You cannot tell me that on a flight full of passengers that you can’t find someone who will accept a reasonable offer of compensation such that the flight is not still economically sound and profitable for the airline.  Airlines have an established pattern of offering less than the statutory-mandated minimum.

Unfortunately, this is a typical game all of the airlines play. They start offering compensation and travel that is less than what is required under the FAA rule hoping that people who haven’t been properly informed about their rights will take the cheap offer. When this doesn’t work they slowly raise the offers.

* * *

If United had taken a senior gate agent and brought him onto the airplane and said to the doctor, “here is our written policy about denied boarding. I know you are in a seat, but you are mistaken that we can’t remove you. But guess what? You will get refunded whatever you paid if we can get you to your destination within an hour, and if it takes longer… you could get up to 400 percent.”

He would likely have gotten up and gotten off the plane in a second.(

(edited to add) Wait, I might be wrong.  Maybe everything IS about how terrible America is, but not in the way I was thinking when I wrote this… (/edited)


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Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution. ...more →

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121 thoughts on “Not Everything Is About How Terrible America Is

  1. There’s simply no excuse for a service industry not to have leadership sit down at some point and say

    Everything after this, YES!

    Stuff before that was good too…

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  2. I’m not mad about overbooking, per se. I think that if I ran an airline, I would never ever hold a lottery or forcibly remove a passenger who had already been seated. This is a situation where I (the person running the company) have gambled and lost. It is going to cost me. Forcible removal for this reason is never going to be looked at as reasonable by the traveling public.

    My guess is that whatever it might cost me to get that crew to where they need to be, it’s less than the cost of bringing in the cops to yank that guy.

    I think this sort of thing happens so rarely that the cost of not doing it at all (forcible bumping of someone who is seated), would only add a few cents to the price of a ticket. It’s worth it.

    This was a disastrous outcome of a (to them) logical chain of events in which employees followed procedures. That means there’s something wrong with the procedures, and the CEO needs to have their back (he sort of did), but also say that this isn’t what they wanted, and they (meaning him) are going to have to figure out something else to do.

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  3. Here is where I think it does sort of become about American culture, we don’t have a culture where people are able to admit they did something wrong.

    Years ago, there was some kind of corporate scandal in Japan. I can’t remember what but it was big enough to make international news. There was a picture on the front page of the NY Times where the CEO and possibly second in command of the company needed to get in front of the press and apologize and kowtow in the public sphere. I don’t know how often this comes up in Japan but it is clearly a thing that I’ve seen happen more than once.

    The American way of scandal seems to be to deny and blame the accuser as the wrong-doer until blue in the face and do so until the problem goes away or you have to resign.

    This goes beyond the United story. Theranos also denied, denied, denied until the company went bust basically.

    So there might be something in our culture where doubling down becomes the automatic response.

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    • The American way of scandal seems to be to deny and blame the accuser as the wrong-doer until blue in the face and do so until the problem goes away or you have to resign.

      Yep. And sure as clockwork, today we have stories about Dr. Dao’s checkered past and “he’s no angel” comments as if someone who had professional ethical difficulties ten years ago means that it’s okay to beat him up.

      I blame us lawyers. No, really. We’ve made a practice out of using false equivalency as an emotional distraction to our clients’ wrongdoing. We do it because it works, of course, not because it has any logical relevance to the issues at hand.

      I’ve got a wrongful death case now in which my client’s decedent had a history of substance abuse, had been in and out of rehab for several years. The defendant’s own internal investigator concluded, unambiguously, that the defendant was indeed negligent and at fault. Does that make the death any less painful for the family? Does that make the defendant’s negligent conduct that took her life any less negligent? Yet I am certain to the core of my being that these will be the defense’s arguments.

      Blaming the victim. Lots of people do it, but we lawyers have led the way.

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      • Yep. And sure as clockwork, today we have stories about Dr. Dao’s checkered past and “he’s no angel” comments as if someone who had professional ethical difficulties ten years ago means that it’s okay to beat him up.

        actually…depending on the nature of what someone says, does, or has done, it is certainly considered ok to beat them up.

        remember herr spencer?

        http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/2017/01/23/rochard-spencer-gets-punched-in-the-face/

        similarly, if dr dao had been accused of sexual assault ten years ago (much less convicted), a great deal of the outcry would fade away.

        trump might step in to defend him at that juncture, however.

        america is funny like this.

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      • My first thought on hearing the stuff from his past coming out was: “OH, and what was he wearing when he was on the plane? Did he ‘ask for it’?”

        I may be viewing it through my lens of a woman who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, though.

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      • I hate to be all lawyerly in response but I’m not sure I agree. Rules of evidence are in theory supposed to make policy judgments about what is and isn’t relevant for the finder of fact. If we’re failing somewhere then there’s a discussion to be had at the legislative and/or judicial level about changing what gets in.

        From a cultural standpoint I don’t entirely disagree with you, but I think you’re missing the counter narrative. That other side that’s out there (from the police for example, or college activists) is that people in particular positions or circumstances don’t have agency or accountability for their own actions. The way I see it, these arguments aren’t about victim blaming. They’re about who does and who does not have agency, and making the person without agency the winner. There are a million reasons this happens but I think a big one is political gridlock and failure to set sound public policy in any number of issues. One of the results is that instead of incentivizing logical or consistent outcomes we have moral debates about victim blaming, who really is the victim, victim culture, etc. It’s why you’ll get plenty of people claiming, for example, that the police are the real victim, or that the big corporation is the victim, instead of talking about who is best placed to address a problem, and how policy and incentives might be improved in light of that information.

        Now we can also talk about the pros and cons of the adversarial system but I know which I prefer if it’s ever my ass on the line…

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        • I think the issue here is that there are huge philosophical-political divides in the United States (and probably many other countries) about where the burden resides and for what.

          Anglo-countries in general tend to be much more individualistically focused than non-Anglo countries. This has been tempered a bit in many countries via the inclusion of left politics and/or immigration from non-Anglo countries but we can argue but anglo countries especially the U.S. remain deeply individualistic. In the extreme, this is going to put the burden of responsibility on the individual for what happens to him or her and often perversely in my opinion.

          There is also tribal identity and ideology about what the nature of the economy should be like at stake that charges these debates.

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          • I don’t disagree. I have all kinds of social democratic instincts when it comes to spreading risk equitably across society and ensuring that people’s fates aren’t left to amoral systems too complex for most to navigate intelligently. Of course those instincts are often in direct tension with experience of how our state actually operates in practice (i.e. violently, arbitrarily, and with disregard for civil liberties). There’s no easy answer.

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            • I think it is a lot more complicated than that because there can be often conflicting rights and needs.

              How do you balance the needs of the victims of crime with the rights of criminal defendants? I’ve swallowed the law school Kool-Aid on how everyone deserves a good lawyer so I cringe a lot of the emotional venting that goes along with shocking crimes in the media because it can feel close to a lynch mob for me even for unsympathetic defendants.

              There is going to be no perfect system that gets everything right all the time. This is an impossibility.

              But I concur that there are a lot of amoral systems that are too complex for people to navigate well but I’m afraid that the solution to this problem is going to be limiting the liability to corporations.

              Some of the litigation I do is pharma cases. This is a Complex Case/Mass Tort/Multi-District Litigation but distinct from a “class action” because the damages are separate but a lot of the discovery is the same and no one wants to reinvent the wheel thousands of times. But it is very hard for my clients to get the difference between their situation and a class action and I try to keep it clear but that often makes it worse for clients.

              Someone with more conservative sympathies might argue that the solution is to just give the drug companies a pass on the injuries they cause so I argue with a bit of resignation that I’d rather have the complex system if it gives my client’s a chance at compensation over nothing.

              What would be a more fair system? The thing about pharma cases is that clients generally get damages in the four or five figure range so plaintiff firms need to aggregate to keep the litigation afloat.

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              • I cringe a lot of the emotional venting that goes along with shocking crimes in the media because it can feel close to a lynch mob for me even for unsympathetic defendants

                That’s how I feel when people talk about going after the “criminals” who allegedly plunged us into the 2008 recession.

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                • Gabriel,
                  We took their names. If we lost civilization completely, they’d be dead.
                  As we didn’t, their blackmail passed without appropriate punishment.
                  Same as Hillary, her crimes will also pass under the bridge.
                  FBI has rather a vested interest in making sure that “certain types” of folks don’t get to the highest office in the land.

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  4. Don’t be mad about overbooking or bumping.

    Designing any queuing system is hard, but the alternative is that we have an incredible amount of waste. You can’t plan your highway system based entirely upon one hour’s worth of peak traffic time. In the case of air travel, it’s already environmentally costly. Even with overbooking, most flights are well under 90% capacity. That’s a lot of empty seats.

    I think this unnecessarily confuses the issue myself. The purpose of overbooking isn’t to fill the seats, it’s to maximize revenue by selling a product the airline can’t provide on the expectation that X% of the likely passengers won’t show up. They aren’t in the “people moving” business but the “profit generating” business. And when it doesn’t work out the airline takes a substantial hit (on a cost/seat calculus), one which on balance can be justified from a financial perspective but not from a people moving one. If airlines wanted to merely fill seats they’d move in the direction of demand-based pricing. Which they have. The two goals identified here – utilizing over-booking to minimize waste and utilizing overbooking to maximize revenue – run counter to each other, seems to me.

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      • In the case of no-shows at full capacity the airline has already hit the 100%-of-asking-price jackpot. Overbooking, by definition, is an attempt to get more than the jackpot.

        Shorter: a no-show means they’ve already made their money.

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        • The problem of no-shows is easily solved. Since the airlines are already coordinating with airport officials and local law enforcement, just make the no-shows show up. Since everybody has smart phones these days, they should be easy to track down.

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    • The purpose of overbooking isn’t to fill the seats, it’s to maximize revenue by selling a product the airline can’t provide on the expectation that X% of the likely passengers won’t show up.

      No, the purpose is to get the whole equation to line up. It’s as much a cost reduction as it is a profit maximization question. And given the amount of pollution planes pump into the sky, it’s a problem we have a vested interest in having the highest efficiency that we can get, out of it.

      Airlines already get between 73-85% capacity on planes, *while* planning on overbooking, net. If we took away overbooking, that ratio would drop even more. Yes, it would cut into profits (that’s their concern), but it would also raise ticket prices (our concern) and dump more crap in the air for every person-mile of air travel (everybody’s concern).

      It’s almost certainly trivially easy to offer someone enough money for them to get off the plane and still make money on the flight, if you’re overbooked. In a full flight, it’s astronomically unlikely that someone won’t take a $1500 voucher and free drinks at the airport bar to wait for the next flight, or some combination of relatively easy perks and cash that still render the flight profitable and get you the solution you need.

      You can’t tell me that every passenger on the flight would reject an offer that could get the plane in the air.

      But the airline didn’t want to take that approach, which would have gotten the flight in the air with everyone happy. Instead they called the cops to forcibly remove the guy, which cost the company about a billion dollars in market capitalization today.

      If that’s not the dumbest possible decision tree, I don’t see what is. Maybe if they just shot him.

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      • No, the purpose is to get the whole equation to line up. It’s as much a cost reduction as it is a profit maximization question.

        Cost reduction is profit maximization, all things equal. My point is that it’s a revenue maximizing strategy, one which on balance (presumably…) works in the airlines’ favor, in part bolstered by the penalties for cancelled flights and whatnot. At takeoff, having a bunch of empty but already paid-for seats doesn’t cost the airlines money (hell, that’s optimal, right?) It’s an opportunity for them to make more of it.

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      • “[Overbooking is] as much a cost reduction as it is a profit maximization question.”

        I understand the reasoning behind this kind of statement, but I also remember hearing about how this DOT rule was going to make the cost of air travel go through, as it were, the stratosphere, because airlines wouldn’t be able to get their flights out and they’d have to pay thousands and thousands to rebook everyone and all the companies would go out of business and nobody would ever fly again and blah, blah, blah.

        Six years on and we seem to have managed okay. Maybe it’s time for something similar with regards to booking practices.

        *****

        Of course, United is now saying that the flight wasn’t overbooked, but that they had to remove passengers so that aircrew could move to where they were needed. Which, I don’t know why they think that makes it better, because it’s even less justifiable to remove a passenger from a seat that no other customer wanted.

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        • …because those four crew members needed to fly the hundred or so other people who were counting on THEIR flight leaving on time.

          Obviously UAL handled this terribly, but it’s not stupid for them to want to get a crew on the flight.

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          • but it’s not stupid for them to want to get a crew on the flight.

            No, not stupid at all. It’s good business practice. You know, keep the costs internal. Why is everyone making such a big deal about this?

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              • If more people could look past the awfulness of the video – like you and I do – to ensure that liberals don’t get any wins outa this the world would be a better place for everyone.

                Except folks assaulted by cops enforcing bullshit corporate policies, anyway.

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          • It’s kinda dumb to make a 5pm prime time flight an essential dead head. They weren’t going to get to louisville until about 8 pm & they’re aren’t a lot of regularly scheduled flights after 3411 was due to arrive.

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          • If only an airline, at a major international airport, had other airplanes they could use…

            What’s that old saying? Lack of planning and forethought on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

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            • If only an airline, at a major international airport, had other airplanes they could use…

              Yes, that’s basically my thought.

              And remember that airlines actually cooperate with each other, so it certainly would be possible for them to use unused seats on *another* airline’s plane.

              What’s that old saying? Lack of planning and forethought on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

              Like I said in my other post on this: If your system *requires* those people to take that plane to get to their destination for other flights to take off, those people are not *deadheading*. Deadheading is when *unused* seats are taken up by airline personnel. If you want to make sure someone has a seat, that person needs a *ticket*, you idiots.(1)

              Hell, they don’t even need that. They just need to tell the gate ‘We must be on this flight, because we have to catch another flight at the other end’ *before boarding starts*, so some seats can be left free…and, yes, they might not have gotten there in time (Although that’s cutting things sorta close for *necessary* personnel.) but surely the *airline itself* knows it’s putting those people there well in advance of boarding. Send the gate a damn email saying ‘leave four seats empty’.

              But I bet that wasn’t what happened anyway. I do not think the thresholds are that thin.

              People keep assuming ‘Oh, those sort of people had to get there quickly, so they can get on other flights’…did they? Do we have any evidence of that at all? Does this system actually contain enough human decision points that it would have *mattered* if the place they were flying to was just a hotel room that they were going to stay in overnight?

              I suspect the people were told to go there and get on the plane, no alternatives, and the flight crew knew it was supposed to put them on the plane, and *this particular time* the random lottery failed to work as it should. Whether or not they *had* to get on that plane is something only they can (maybe) calculate, and they probably were just standing outside waiting to get on when things went sideways and the police showed up.

              1) I rather wonder if the reason it works like this is that issuing *actual* tickets would result in taxes that were supposed to be paid on them…but surely the airlines are smart enough to figure out a way around that.

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      • The most obvious incentive to get someone off the flight voluntarily is to have a hot stewardess offer a night of crazy wild sex in a nearby hotel. It would be a win win.

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  5. If the airline has the default ability to call on the police force to handle their contractual dispute, that’s a serious imbalance of power.

    As there should be. That’s the deal you get when you own property. If you don’t want someone on your property, and that person refuses to leave peacefully, you get to call the police and have them forcibly remove that person from your property. There’s not supposed to be a balance of power here.

    Involuntary bumping may be a bad policy from a customer satisfaction perspective, and I personally would prefer they do it differently, but it’s in the contract of carriage and within the airline’s legal rights. Even assuming there’s any kind of (legally) legitimate grievance the passenger had, it’s not feasible to litigate it with hundreds of people sitting in the plane and waiting to take off. Given that they opted to exercise their right to kick him off the plane, and he refused to comply, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have called in the police, and no reason they shouldn’t be able to. That’s what you do when someone is refusing to comply with your request to vacate your property.

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    • You’re confusing a legal right and authority with a reasonable default.

      Yes, if you’re a restaurant, you can call the cops if someone refuses to leave the premises. Telling someone that they have to give up their seat in the restaurant for Chevy Chase and then calling the cops to remove them if they don’t is stupid company policy.

      Yes, if you’re an airline, you can call the cops if someone refuses the leave the plane. I’m not arguing otherwise.

      However, your decision tree is dumb as hell if you ever execute it and it results in these circumstances. And the *airline* should not have an agreement with the police nor a default policy in place such that folks on the plane, who are representatives of the airline, call the cops to take off someone in these circumstances.

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    • What about if your property is part of a massive transit infrastructure supported by a complex web of public and private entities and interests, which operates not only for your profit but with the public good and the national economy in mind? You don’t think there might be some other interests that need to be accommodated?

      Obviously United has ownership and an interest in it’s jet but I think there’s a bit more in play here.

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      • What about if your property is part of a massive transit infrastructure supported by a complex web of public and private entities and interests, which operates not only for your profit but with the public good and the national economy in mind?

        Like, say, an automobile owned by an Uber driver?

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    • It’s not, however, remotely clear that kicking someone out of a seat on a plane to make room for someone else is within the scope of that contract. Without that, the entire argument that the airline was just exercising its rights to have the cops beat the snot out of this guy collapses, since it’s not clear he wasn’t within his right not to leave.

      As for the imbalance of power, one of the reasons to have enforceable contracts is so that the less powerful party can have some degree of assurance that the more powerful party will uphold its end of the bargain even if it could get away with not doing so. By selling Dr Dao a ticket, United did surrender some of its rights to do what it pleased with the plane he was on and the seat he was sitting in. That’s literally the thing he was paying for.

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  6. Also, amused at the irony of former shitrag editor and all-around sleazebag Sam “Bring Back Bullying” Biddle complaining about bad journalism in response to that tweet linked in the update. He should know.

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  7. This is very random and off-topic, but there was a guy who commented here a couple of years ago. He was brilliant but pissed off lots of people and got banned. I randomly thought about him today when reflecting on how much I’ve changed politically this last year. I was wondering if he went on to comment/blog somewhere else?

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  8. “United lost $830 million in value already from this. … If you’re a stockholder, and if you have a 401(k), a 403(b), or a pension you’re probably at least a partial stockholder…”

    How much value has UAL really lost? It closed yesterday at 71.52, opened this morning at 70.15, dropped to around 68.42, and as I write this at 3:35 Eastern is up to 70.46 and has been trending up since before noon.

    It’s probably lost no value at all by the end of business tomorrow.

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  9. they have a cap (and a limited cap at that) for compensation if the airline doesn’t give them the service

    No they don’t. People need to stop repeating this lie. There is a floor for UDBs (4x or $1350, whichever is lower), but airlines can and do offer more to entice passengers to volunteer. I know this because I have received more than this. Airlines that are concerned about customer satisfaction will suck it up on one offs.

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    • Just remember to ask for cash, not vouchers.

      “Here’s 6 100 dollars vouchers! You can only use one per flight! Good for 12 months only. Also, only on flights on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 3:00AM and 5:00AM and between 10:00PM and midnight. Unless it’s leap year, and then no Thursdays at all”.

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      • And if the airlines hadn’t spent years burning all of our goodwill when it comes to vouchers and miles, vouchers would have worked just fine. If Home Depot offers me store credit, I usually don’t bristle because:

        1) I go to Home Depot enough that I know it will be as useful to me as cash. A lot of people don’t fly enough for vouchers to be that useful.

        2) The fine print on Home Depot store credit is basically, “Use this instead of dollars to buy the stuff you want at Home Depot. Go ahead. Stop reading this. Go get your stuff.” This is why a Home Depot gift card sells for $0.95+ on the dollar on the resale market.

        Nobody trusts the airlines enough to believe that an $800 voucher is worth anywhere near $800, and they have only themselves to blame for that.

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        • “Nobody trusts the airlines enough to believe that an $800 voucher is worth anywhere near $800, and they have only themselves to blame for that.”

          This.

          And I dare say that it is the issue that is affecting much of America in general, contra the headline.

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          • While, we wouldn’t want to burden airlines and their fantastic job creating CEO’s with regulations making those vouchers actually worth something. It’s much better that each individual flyer had a 1-on-1 argum, I mean conversation with the airline about what their vouchers are actually worth instead of the State that Has the Power to Kill You telling the airlines what to do.

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    • Sorry, I wasn’t clear there.

      There is an amount beyond which they are not legally required to offer more.

      They certainly *can* offer more, and should in the rare incidents such as this.

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      • Ok. However, it’s a bit disingenuous to think that it would be higher without that requirement. Prior to that, airlines offered less to UDBs and were not required to give cash.

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      • They’d have been a lot better off, in this case, to simply keep increasing the offer until 4 people bit. After all, it’s United’s fault the plane was full and United’s people they needed to move to another airport.

        Which is, bluntly, what the policy should be.

        United hosed up, United needs to shell out cash until they have room.

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          • The policy of any airline looking to handle these problems the cheapest way possible, over the long term.

            Even if it took 5k a seat, cash on the barrel, that 20k is a pittance compared to their losses from this, even if it blows over tomorrow.

            Bad PR is expensive.

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            • How many hours do you think the CEO spent on this? In CEO time alone, let alone the comms team, legal, marketing, etc. This cost United more than $20K without even considering the cost of paying for the PR cleanup.

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              • Yep. But strangely the valiant defenders of capitalism and the American way are strangely quiet about that.

                United could have bought those seats back and saved themselves a truly staggering amount of money..

                It’s a nice case of morality and pure monetary calculus aligning.

                The rationalizations are pretty fun to watch.

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                  • Not all of them. Some seem to be struggling with a few priors that are conflicting with their common sense.

                    One reason, of course, that his background is coming up from those same camps — it resolves the conflict. A “bad dude” and a “officer of the law” got into a confrontation, and thus the officer’s actions were justified. Clearly the “Bad dude” instigated it somehow, because he’s “bad”.

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                    • He doesn’t have to be “a bad dude.” He could be somebody who just made the wrong mistake. That is my read.

                      This is just one of those Tom Wolfe “Bonfire of the Vanities” scenarios.

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                    • “Even most Valiant Defenders of Capitalism are looking at this one sideways. On Twitter, at least, there is rare unanimity on the subject.”

                      “Not all of them.”

                      okay dude so can you at least admit that when you said “strangely the valiant defenders of capitalism and the American way are strangely quiet about that” you were just talking out your ass, and that you’re having to dig through edge cases and marginalized voices to support what you’re trying to say?

                      (particularly seeing as how whenever someone uncovers a liberal saying something daft, the immediate response is “well he doesn’t speak for ALL LIBERALS he’s just some doof who nobody even really listens to”)

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              • According to your logic, while granting that they could’ve gone higher, United didn’t even reach the legal floor before calling in the Muscle. I’m not sure you’re helping their case here. Or your own.

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              • Sure they don’t. OTOH, United can’t be surprised when they have to spend 3-4 orders of magnitude more to clean up the ensuing PR mess. Or that they will come dead last among major carriers and only above Frontier for all carriers in customer satisfaction.

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        • The flaw in the logic of upping the offer until more people bit is that the personal value of getting out of Chicago and into Kentucky, for most people, is probably more than the value that the airlines place on a human life.

          The real issue, of course, is government regulations that dictate that people have to have a seat. The guy was just fine laying in the aisle. It’s not like he was going to put the aircraft over the weight limit on such a short flight.

          Further, if I was piloting the last flight out of the murder, crime, extortion, and corruption capital of middle America, bound for a forested and pastured horse utopia, the caring and nurturing part of my brain would kick in and I’d just leave the plane’s door open until enough people were packed into the aisles to almost exceed the plane’s maximum take-off weight. Then I’d start tossing luggage on the tarmac, pack in a few more (especially small children), back away from the terminal, and put the throttles to the firewall to get those people out of Chicago and to safety.

          But that’s just me. I might be a bit biased.

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          • The flaw in the logic of upping the offer until more people bit is that the personal value of getting out of Chicago and into Kentucky, for most people, is probably more than the value that the airlines place on a human life.

            Strangely, it’s not.

            Delta actually asks you up front, when you book the ticket, “How much in vouchers would it require for you to volunteer to take a later flight”. When they overbook, they just start at the bottom and work their way up until they have enough seats.

            United didn’t want to spend the, what, 5 or 6k, it would have taken to clear those seats. Instead they paid a hundred times that in bad PR.

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  10. I have a minority opinion on this one. Yeah, United screwed up in terms of bigfooting a spare crew in place of passengers who were already seated, but still the passenger has to get off in that situation. For reasons that Pat wrote, the logistics of airline travel are such that you have to keep the ball rolling. I really can’t blame United or the Chicago cops for what happened when the passenger refused to leave the plane.

    In any event, the mentality of this reminded me of the typical lib/D mode of engagement in our political culture and why they are so toxic. The libs spend a lot of energy to avoid having to come to terms with the moral necessity of the Republican Party and their ethical obligations to it. We can see an illustration of this here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-3XbycyQrk

    A lot of libs want to think this is some kind of exception or anomaly in terms of the lack of spiritual and mental balance displayed. But it isn’t. For example just two days ago Balloon Juice published this:

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2017/04/10/still-not-over-it/

    The D’s are optimistic about their chances in the midterm elections and they may well end up being right about that. But I’m not taking it for granted. I suspect that the American people might figure out that they cannot afford to empower the destructive mentality which is animating the Demo base right now, and the GOP will skate forward behind that.

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    • That’s one hell of a segway, Koz.

      FWIW, there’s plenty of blame to shovel at the passenger. The guy sounds like he might be a self-important ass, and he clearly doesn’t understand the terms on the ticket he bought, and what the process is. He’s clearly a contributor to the whole situation.

      That said, the public is full of self-important under-informed asses who will contribute to bad situations, and if you’re in a customer service business you have to have a workable plan to deal with them. They’re only about 10% of your customer base, but that’s still a lot of folks.

      And if your plan doesn’t include any viable thought about what happens if you take step A and someone chooses response X, except “we will have the cops drag them off the plane by force”, step A better be goddamn accommodating and X better be seen as entirely unreasonable by most folks.

      I think A failed here, even if I agree with you that X is maybe/probably unreasonable.

      That said, the rest of your comment is one weird segue. I don’t even seen the equivalence between the YouTube video (which I agree, is messed up and wrong) and the blog post (which seems pretty acceptable speech, if not to my taste).

      (Also, as always, amused by your need to always make your negative observations about human nature about libDems as if the negative observation about human nature is a partisan problem.)

      Nice to see you again, tho, Koz.

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      • The guy sounds like he might be a self-important ass, and he clearly doesn’t understand the terms on the ticket he bought, and what the process is. He’s clearly a contributor to the whole situation.

        Is it a settled issue that “involuntary denial of boarding” as that phrase is used by UA in its policies and procedures includes forcibly removing people who’ve already boarded the plane as opposed to merely preventing them from engaging in the boarding process?

        The United CEO stated today that the new UA procedures will not permit the involuntary removal of a passenger who’s already boarded the plane and taken his/her seat, which is consistent with a normal understanding of their own already published guidelines.

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          • Good linky. Thanks.

            Yeah, that’s what I understood the term to mean when reading the relevant portions of United’s policy page. I saw no provisions covering the forced removal of a boarded, seated passenger applicable to the situation Dau was in. IOW, the argument that United – as the property owner, say – reserves the right to “involuntarily deny boarding” to passengers is limited to actions prior to their taking their seat. Presumably at the gate.

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      • That’s one hell of a segway, Koz.

        Thanks Pat, I thought so too.

        That said, the rest of your comment is one weird segue. I don’t even seen the equivalence between the YouTube video (which I agree, is messed up and wrong) and the blog post (which seems pretty acceptable speech, if not to my taste).

        The equivalence was between the woman in the video and the United passenger who got dragged off the plane a couple of days ago, and in particular why, for me at least, it triggered a partisan interpretation.

        (Also, as always, amused by your need to always make your negative observations about human nature about libDems as if the negative observation about human nature is a partisan problem.)

        Oh but it is, for reasons I intend to get into further as the spirit moves. The short story is that anybody can be mentally or spiritually unbalanced but it is a particular manifestation of libs that they can’t maintain their equilibrium without the perception (or even the reality) of control over our political process. See the Balloon Juice link.

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        • oh please feel free to share. I love it when die-hard partisans say that the real problem in the world is their political opponents.

          When you can’t even get a health care bill through the House, you may want to consider that the problem is that the people aren’t buying what you’re selling. But whatever. I’m sure that you have a reasoned explanation as to why “libs” are to blame

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          • Ah yes, back in the saddle again. Whatever faults could be said of the Republicans, you can’t say that they can’t get a health care bill through the House (though frankly they were better off without one imo).

            But back to regularly scheduled programming. The moral defect of libs in the context illustrated by the United plane incident (and the analogous incident on YouTube) comes from the immediate political needs of the Democratic Party and its enthusiasts. That’s to say, in the age of Trump the GOP holds most of the important political offices and lib power is exercised in one of two ways.

            1. Either through cultural means not directly through government, or through having sympathetic non-elected people or non-political appointees doing the libs bidding in the lower levels of the machinery of government.

            2. Creating the perception (and perhaps the reality) that GOP governance and Trump specifically is so horrific that the voters will rise up and wipe out the GOP at its first opportunity.

            Ie, it’s not enough that Americans might oppose Trump or the Republicans for this or that. With a well-organized GOP base and indifferent midterm participation, the ordinary sausage factory of politics might favor the GOP even if Trump himself is not popular.

            In practice that means that these people incite these people to do this.

            Ie, the “resistance” mentality is intimately tied to the Demo electoral prospects of 2018, and those are tied to the distortions, pollution, and lack of mental equilibrium of lib activists and enthusiasts. Therefore, to be a moral participant in American political culture it is important to turn the balance against that, as a strategy and a tendency, thereby creating even greater moral urgency to supporting the Republicans.

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      • I dunno, I’m inclined to be a little more sympathetic to the doctor, remembering a flight home after a field trip (university trip) many, many, many years ago. I had been on a plane for, I don’t know, 10 hours at that point? Flew through heavy thunderstorms, the plane dropped a few hundred feet a couple times. I hadn’t slept at all….Changed planes in Chicago so I could get “home” (well, Cleveland-Hopkins and THEN a drive home).

        Got on board, went to the seat I thought my boarding pass said. There was a dude already in “my” seat. My mind immediately went to “flight was oversold, this dude got here first, I’m gonna wind up stranded in Chicago on no sleep and no food and have to figure this out all on my own. (Cue the waterworks. I didn’t scream or throw a fit, I just kind of stood there with tears running down my face). Fortunately the attendants on that flight weren’t exhausted and overworked; as boarding continued one looked at my pass and said, “Oh, no…your seat is over THERE” and pointed to an empty seat that was, in fact, the one indicated on my pass.

        But yeah. I hate traveling with a passion and I could totally understand melting down when being told, “But our employees need the seat more than you do”

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  11. Speaking of things not actually being terrible – it turns out not everybody hated that Kendall Jenner ad.

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/leticiamiranda/turns-out-that-a-lot-of-people-kind-of-liked-kendall?utm_term=.bljNEN16j#.qiDDoDRXx

    “A survey of 2,202 people found 44% them had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the ad, while about a quarter of them had a less favorable view. Sentiment toward the ad varied widely by race: 75% of Latinos and 51% of blacks said the ad made them more favorable toward Pepsi, while just 41% of whites said the same.

    The ad didn’t do much for its star, though: just 28% of respondents said it made them see Kendall Jenner more favorably, according to the media and survey research company Morning Consult, which ran the survey.”

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      • I think the sadder truth is that non-white people are more likely to see any piece of media that doesn’t treat them as stereotypes as positive, even if it’s not actually great. See MLK’s advice to Nichelle Nichols about staying on Star Trek.

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    • Jesse,
      There are things that will get the test audience to flip the table. (literally, as in the Simpsons).
      This? This ain’t that.
      You kidnap a baby? That gets folks to flip tables. (much more than a faked kidnapping of adults from their beds).
      john st did the research on this.

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  12. It appears that United changed the rules with respect to folks catching a ride to where a flight they need to operate would originate. These folks now need to tell the gate 1 hour before departure than the need the space (I am surprised that United’s computers don’t keep track of this already). One would assume that since United needs to track on and off duty time, as well as other issues, that except when on a vacation the computers keep track of where folks are, and figure out the flight needed. 1 Hour should not be a problem for flight crews. That would have moved the situation off the plane and into the boarding process.

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