I actually love to fly but admit that there are certain aspects of the adventure that make me nervous. I’m always afraid of being late and more than once I have been in lines that were so long that I was certain that I would miss my flight. I’m not a fan of the TSA screening process either. I got a rather personal pat down in France several years ago that was so demeaning that I could feel the tears of anger gathering in my eyes. I had to breathe rather purposefully to keep from overreacting. On another occasion a great brouhaha occurred when agents discovered a New York skyline snow globe in my granddaughter’s carry on luggage. She didn’t want it to break in flight so she had carefully wrapped it in a jacket and lovingly lugged through the airport. It seems that it was just a bit too large to be allowed on the plane. After a great deal of discussion a very nice agent found a way to protect it from being broken while stowed in the baggage area of the plane. My granddaughter wondered why there was any worry over it and was told that it might contain explosive materials. She later whispered to me that if it was some kind of bomb the plane would blow up whether it was with the passengers or down below. I had to shush her and tell her to just be happy that they didn’t make her leave it behind.
Once I’m past all of the boarding craziness at the airport I generally feel lighthearted and safe. I like to read and play games while in flight and I have rarely encountered any problems in my many trips, save one. I was returning to Houston from Syracuse with a stop in Cleveland where I was to catch a flight that would take me home. Unfortunately the weather took a nose dive and we had to fly away from the storm rather than landing in Cleveland. The trip was bumpy to say the least. I must admit to saying an Act of Contrition and a number of other prayers as we seemed to be at the mercy of nature’s fury. We eventually returned to Cleveland but our connecting flight was long gone and there were no more flights that night. We ended up spending the night inside an almost empty airport with nary a sign of food. Given that I had not eaten since breakfast I would have paid a small fortune for even a bag of peanuts, but there was nothing to be had that I was able to find. About two or three in the morning I decided to walk the breadth and length of the airport and came upon a Dunkin’ Donuts that was actually open. It had coffee and two lone donuts which I hurriedly purchased lest someone else might find this rare treasure. I wondered why the airline had been so uncaring when they dumped us out of the plane and just left us to fend for ourselves. I had little idea then that I should have counted my blessings that things went as well as they did. Recent events have convinced me that I was actually lucky.
Of course I am referring to the disastrous events on a United flight from Chicago on Palm Sunday. According to reports the flight had been overbooked and the airline needed four seats to send employees to St. Louis. There were multiple requests for volunteers to accept another flight and an eight hundred dollar bonus, but even after much cajoling the airline needed one more place. Using some unknown methodology they decided to make a sixty nine year old Asian doctor an offer that he couldn’t refuse. When he insisted that he would not leave because he had to get home to patients the following day security guards forcefully removed him from his seat. Video from the phones of other passengers show him hitting his head on the arm rest as he screams while being carried down the aisle. He then somehow managed to return to the plane looking disoriented and had blood dripping down his face. He was muttering that he had to get home while the other passengers watched in horror. I can only imagine how horrific the whole scene must have been for everyone on board.
The man has been identified as Dr. David Dao. He has a bit of a checkered past which should have absolutely nothing to do with what happened to him on that flight. The people involved in his removal handled the situation so badly that the public is angry the world over and the incident has become a PR nightmare for United. More importantly is the fact that this never had to happen but for the fine print on all tickets that indicates that the airline has the authority to force a person to deplane if they need a seat. Few us of really understood this before the incident with Dr. Dao. I certainly would have been horrified if it had happened to me and there would have been no amount of money that might have assuaged me, and yet I now understand that it is perfectly within the purview of the airlines.
By now Dr. Dao may have begun legal proceedings against United Airlines. I certainly think that he is well within his rights to demand compensation for the wrongs done to him. I suspect that there will be other passengers who litigate as well. What should have been a routine Sunday afternoon flight turned into a nightmare for everyone who had to witness the travesty. There are really no words to adequately describe the horror of what happened and I for one am in the hopes that anyone who asks will receive more than a small monetary reward from United. I’d like to think that Dr. Dao will be set for the rest of his life. At the very least those of us who are customers should boycott the airline when at all possible. Such actions are one way of insuring that consumers will be treated fairly in a business where we often feel as though we are being treated like cattle.
Of late service on airlines seems to be almost a thing of the past. We are all subject to the whims of the bottom line. We can’t be late but the airlines so often are. We pay higher and higher prices for our flights while receiving fewer and fewer perks. The seats and the aisles are so small that we barely fit. We are often treated more like criminal suspects than paying customers. Perhaps this incident will serve to convince all airlines that the old saw that the customer is always right has its merits. It’s time to consider the needs of the people who keep the planes flying in the air with their money. We should all demand better. We should not accept such a lack of concern for our needs. We can change the way things are with our wallets and should join forces to do so.