Bad, good news from the friendly skies
Ever since seeing the video of the passenger being dragged off the United Airlines flight, I have been having a recurring dream.
In it I am on the floor of a plane screaming and fighting as security thugs drag me bleeding down the aisle. The major difference between my nightmare and that of United passenger Dr. David Dao, however, is that I am not being dragged off the plane. I am being dragged onto it.
Remember when “fly the friendly skies” was a slogan and not a punchline?
Remember when getting there was half the fun?
Remember when flying was an experience, not a trial by inconvenience?
The airline’s initial reaction to the dragging incident was priceless. United CEO Oscar Munoz downplayed the matter, apologizing for having to — and I absolutely love this — “reaccommodate” passengers. He also called the 69-year-old Dao “disruptive and belligerent.”
Let us consider Dao’s day:
He has booked this specific flight at this specific time to fit his schedule and paid for it in advance, probably by way of the nose.
He has arrived early to allow TSA sufficient time to bark at him, X-ray him and feel him up.
He has fought his way through the airport terminal crowds to reach his distant gate.
He has waited patiently for his opportunity to board the plane with the other lower-class citizens.
He has managed to stow his one piece of carry-on luggage in the inadequate overhead bin without sustaining an injury, or injuring anyone else.
Finally, he has managed to shoehorn himself into his 17.8-inch seat.
After all this, some officious attendant comes along and tells him he has lost a lottery and must give up his space to a company employee.
Gee, what would your reaction be?
“No problem. I’m sure the employee’s time is much more valuable than mine.”
“I’ll give up this spot when you pry the seatbelt buckle from my cold, dead fingers.”
Although Dao’s experience was, we can only hope, an aberration, the matter of airlines overbooking flights and bumping passengers is anything but. In an average year, major U.S. carriers bump 475,000 passengers, according to the Department of Transportation. (How many bumpees had the snot beaten out of them during their reaccommodation is unknown.)
In the aftermath of the public relations disaster, it was entertaining to watch Munoz’ series of apologies become more and more desperate as social media kicked into gear. Heck, by the end he was even promising the airline would stop physically abusing paying customers. I’d have to check, but I think this is probably the most significant concession any airline has made to passenger comfort this century.
As long as we are on the subject of air travel, I came across two new, unrelated developments.
On the good news front, the Federal Communications Commission has decided not to allow in-flight cellphone use on planes. The matter had been under consideration for some inconceivable reason.
On the bad news front, the air quality on planes could suffer mightily if passengers heed the advice of researchers when it comes to dealing with flatulence. Apparently, the urge to release the hounds is greater when you fly because the pressurized cabin can cause the gas in your intestines to expand by as much as 30 percent. Rather than hold it in, researchers say it is healthier to let it rip, which, of course, is easy for them to say, given they aren’t sitting next to you.
Obviously, the missing factor in this recommendation is diet. Dealing with run-of-the-mill sound and fury is one thing. Dealing with a preflight bean taco could result in entire sections begging for reaccommodation.
Jim Shea is a lifelong Connecticut resident and journalist who believes the keys to life include the avoidance of physical labor and I-95. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @jimboshea.