What happened on United 3411 and Our Responsibility to Respond with Decency

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Unless you live under a rock, you have heard about United Flight 3411 and watched the videos where a passenger was forcibly removed against his will as he was involuntarily bumped to accommodate flight staff needing his seat. When I sat down to write this article, I was ready to battle against the airlines, but as I dug deeper, I realized that just like any situation there are always two sides to the story.  Much like this last election, a story can gain momentum on social media with only a narrow scope of understanding without all the details to see the complete picture. I originally set up to prove one opinion, but found my thoughts heading in a completely different direction.

My opinion (humble as always), is that the situation was not OK and should never have happened. I also believe that the passenger’s behavior was not OK. United’s initial response to the incident was not OK. While the social media uproar is warranted and unsurprising, the hate that it has stirred is also not OK. Seeing injustice does not give anyone the right to behave unjustly.

The responses to the situation are equally disturbing to me as the situation itself.

Despite everything going on in the world, we as individuals still have the right, the ability and the duty to act and behave as decent people.

I’m not here to tell you what happened. I can’t. I wasn’t there and most of us weren’t either. The incident is just ugly from beginning to end and I feel disappointed. There is no surprise that this video went viral. The setting has everything we look for; drama, wrong doing and even some blood and violence.

Do you know what else the video is doing.

Inciting hate. Anger. Fear. Malice. If you don’t believe me, read through the comments. I won’t even post them on my blog. Death threats, racial slurs, using swear words like commas. Some truly evil statements. What good can come of that? I wonder how much of this ‘justified’ spite will be directed in the future to innocent people. When did we as a country become so angry. The elections were another example of this rage and hate, from both sides. We must stop letting social media sweep us blindly into the dark ages. Verify, contain and control must be our new mantra; using this as a great tool for communication but always keeping it in check.

What happened this flight was a perfect storm. When one issue leads to a misstep and the dominoes begin to fall. Sometimes, when it rains it pours.


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What events led up to the issue with United 3411?

The plane was full, but four employees needed seats. They weren’t looking to hitch a free ride. Those four crew members were required by law to board that particular plane for that exact flight. The problem started when no one caught this until AFTER everyone had boarded. Protocol is to ask for volunteers and this is done prior to boarding. If no one speaks up, involuntary bumping begins but still before anyone steps foot on the plane. This was the first mistake made. United then chose four individuals per their companies boarding policies. (If you read the fine print, actually any airlines fine print, they had the legal right to do this). The problem arose when one man did not go quietly. I don’t blame him. I would have a hard time swallowing that pill.

What really happened?

Once it was obvious this wasn’t going to be as simple as handing out flight vouchers and money, the United staff stepped back per their protocol and put the situation into the hands of law enforcement. This is where things get murky and the story is always a bit different depending on where you look.

Some say things were calm and respectable until the authorities arrived. I’ve also read that the crew blew the situation out of proportion by describing the man as violent, escalating the interaction before it even started. Was he the boy that cried entitlement because he was a doctor, or was his ethnicity part of the equation? Now the passenger’s past criminal history is being throw in the mix. Yep, the story just keeps on going and going.

Who was breaking the law?

Believe it or not, the bloodied and beaten passenger when he ran back to his seat after he was ‘escorted’ out the first time broke the law.

Wait. A second time? I know. I didn’t know that either. This doesn’t make what happened acceptable, but it does start to make things less black and white.

Oh snap, did United break the law after all? Did they have the right to remove him in the first place? According to their boarding policies, they did, but the passengers were already boarded not boarding. I think the lawyers are going to argue that this was a refusal of transport, and for that they did not have the right. Right?

Is this normal for airlines?

I’m no expert in aviation, I’m not privy to the inner workings of flight companies. I’m not a pilot nor a flight attendant. I am human. What happened was not OK and should never be repeated. Ever. I want to be clear on that.

I also understand that this wasn’t business as usual.

Last year 475,000 passengers lost their seats and 90{6a79f8b483379a07c99b49f3ac110091f25498c816895d3835c84435c153d1be} did so voluntarily with some form of compensation. Less the 10{6a79f8b483379a07c99b49f3ac110091f25498c816895d3835c84435c153d1be} were involuntarily bumped and of those, they were compensated per federal regulations.

According to the FAA the daily number of passengers in the US on domestic flights is 2,246,004. That’s 817 million people annually. I’m no mathematician either, but your odds of getting into this situation is slim. As in 0.0006{6a79f8b483379a07c99b49f3ac110091f25498c816895d3835c84435c153d1be}. That’s pretty dang good.

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Could this happen to me on my flight?

Well, yes. Not necessarily the beating but the bumping. For those worried about a repeat, know your rights and how to protect yourself.

  • Read the fine print, every airline company has it.
  • Don’t be the last one to check in. While not a hard and fast rule, some airlines will consider the last passengers to check and those that paid the least.
  • If you are in the situation where you are bumped, don’t take the first offer. Negotiate your compensation first, because once you say yes you lose the upper hand.
  • Don’t lose it. Stay calm. Remember that the world is an uncertain place and our actions can alarm others which can result in their wrong and defensive behavior.

To make an incredibly long and somewhat non-objectively story short, regardless of how we feel about this incident, we need to come together as a people with respect and kindness and start focusing on making small positive changes. Or I supposed get beaten trying.

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2 Responses to “What happened on United 3411 and Our Responsibility to Respond with Decency

  • There is always two sides to a story but this was really upsetting for a lot of people.

  • I really like the balance you are bringing to all the rhetoric that surrounded this event. No one behaved impeccably in the situation, but the vitriol online – that has not by any means been limited to this one event – is yet another reminder of the need to recognise our common humanity and show some decency and respect if we have any chance of getting through at all.

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