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Why the United Airlines Fiasco Leaves Me Little Hope for the Future of Our Nation

If you’ve seen the video that was released this week where the man is being dragged off a United Airline’s flight because he refused to exit the plane when asked to do so by authorities, I’m sure you are as dismayed over the situation as I am (hilarious memes aside)… though probably for different reasons.

I’m not dismayed by the “soulless” airline’s actions. They have policies and no matter what I or anyone else thinks about them, this man ran afoul of them. Even if United was legally wrong (I’m not a lawyer, we can let those guys hash this out later) once the authorities got involved, this man turned something simple though annoying into a disaster with sever consequences for us all.

Even so, I’m not even dismayed by the actions of this obviously unstable man who was fool enough to resist airport authorities when they demanded that he leave the plane. People have all kinds of mental and emotional issues and sometimes those issues get them into trouble with the powers that be.

I’m dismayed, instead, by the backlash from the social media public. It is the host of media reports’, bloggers’, and individuals’ over wrought assessments of the situation that leave me wondering if there is any hope for us as a nation.

Some have painted this as a struggle of David against Goliath, the powerless standing against the tyranny of corporate greed. Others have called him some sort of Rosa Parks… seriously?! Some have written publicly to condemn anyone who finds any fault on any level with the passenger himself. Apparently, reasons are deemed equal with excuses, and the very fact that the man had “reasons”  for refusing to comply with authorities is excuse enough for doing so. (That rationalizing should scare the pants off you.)

Everyone whose ever been annoyed by travel snafus seems to be shaking their fists at United. One popular Christian blogger has even used the situation to talk about our own “United Airlines within”… that greedy, organizational part within us all that values “profits” above people, or deadlines above relationships. She took time out to vent her own traveling frustrations with United, by disparaging their employees in a generalized rant about how rude they are.

Sounds like a first world problem to me. Boo Hoo! My capacity to traverse the globe in mere hours at little cost has been unduly impinged upon in exactly the manner that many globe trotters before me has been and perfectly in keeping with the policies of the airline. God have mercy on us all! I will have to earn $800 and maybe spend the night in a hotel with free room service for my troubles… Oh! The inhumanity. I MUST resist! I MUST fight! This indignity CANNOT STAND!!!

I’ve sat and watched with rising alarm as millions implicitly declare themselves experts on how a massive international corporation that has survived since 1926 should navigate the complexity of providing world travel for the masses at a rate that hundreds of millions can afford, in a clockwork of intersecting schedules for employees and passengers. It’s a wonder with so many experts in the world that we don’t have more and better airlines… or even Star Trek transporters.

Few can see even half an inch beyond the pitifulness of the man, “who just wanted to go home,” “who had paid for a ticket and had a right to keep his seat.” (Few seem to have any clue what a right actually is, or the government’s appropriate role in securing them… but what mater is that; we have feelings and they must be validated.)

Major public figures of several parties (yes, there are more than two political parties in our nation) have spoken out against United, calling for—Yup! You Guessed it—more government controls, more laws, more goods and service rights for fliers… nay, all travelers, nay again, all those seeking service from anyone for anything!!! It doesn’t matter that part of this debacle was created by sever government regulation over every aspect of air travel in the first place… no, no, no… the solution here—and politicians love to promise solutions for votes—is MORE government controls, MORE service rights.

There is great danger for us all in this event. Whenever the mindless mob takes over, life for everyone gets worse. Our founders relished the fact that they were helping to create “a government of laws and not of men.”[1] What I’m witnessing, however, particularly in light of the governmental response to this, and the growing trend of the courts to choose emotion over law, is the domination of every aspect of our society by the winds of sentiment and by fear of the mindless mob’s violence.

I don’t care if you don’t like United Airlines policy. They have policies and operate by them. Those policies may be legal or may be illegal, but they are long standing and commonly known. When you buy a ticket you agree to abide by those policies… read the fine print. If you don’t like their policies then don’t fly with them. Write letters. There are, after all, proper ways of doing things in a civilized society, and those processes are what make us a prosperous people. In a civilized society, we don’t allow individuals to make up the rules as they go along. In a civilized society, we don’t allow emotion to govern every decision. We wait in line. We take our turn. We follow the rules of engagement whether we are driving down the road, buying food at the store, using public restrooms, or globe trotting.

I’ve traveled the world. I’ve navigated a host of airlines through airports all over the United States, Europe, Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Here is what I’ve witnessed: Traveling is hard. Traveling is stressful. Travelers, therefore, are frequently confused, frustrated, anxious, rude, belligerent, and the like. I get it. I’m stressed from the time I leave for the airport right up until I’m sitting in my hotel room at my destination. I hate security lines, and am often internally impatient with the seeming randomness of the rules as they change from airport to airport and country to country. I’ve even squawked once or twice. I’m equally as annoyed by fellow passengers who refuse to conduct themselves in keeping with those rules, imagining that their individual situation is the most important thing going on at any minute of the day.

That said, I’m amazed by most of those in travel services. They are called upon on a daily basis to manage the tension between the needs of the many and the desires of the few, the demands of the government for safety regulations (most of which have been written in human blood through past failure), their corporate policies (many of which stem from decades of experience with the intricate dance of intersecting schedules) and the wishes of discomforted individuals who are just as frustrated and irritated as I am.

The important issue here is NOT what you or anyone thinks about United Airlines Policy… far from it. We have processes for dealing with that at other times and in other ways.

The important issue here is what kind of a society we are going to become.

We cannot exist as an ordered and prosperous society if the rules of engagement are written by the emotionalized wishes of the one standing against everyone else.

We cannot exist as an ordered and prosperous society if our authorities govern so as to appease the mindless mob.

We cannot exist as an ordered and prosperous society if our street level authorities are not permitted to enforce the rules of society because the yet higher political authorities in courts and legislatures fear the disapproving international peanut gallery that judges every situation by their emotional response to a pitiful video, be it from a dash cam, police body-cam, surveillance footage, or cell phone camera.

Here is the unfortunate issue. The courts will reward this man with millions for taking an emotional stand against the known and common rules of cooperative travel.

AGAIN… NO ONE SHOULD CARE IF YOU DON’T LIKE THOSE RULES… EVEN YOU. WE HAVE LEGITIMATE PROCESSES FOR VOICING DISAGREEMENT… AND HAVING A MELTDOWN AND FIGHTING GOVERNMENT OFFICERS MUSTN’T BE ONE OF THEM.

In this, our courts will ignore or unconstitutionally re-write the legal rights of ownership and operation of a major corporation that is a vital part of our capacity as a society to travel freely and cheaply. If this doesn’t frighten you, then you aren’t paying attention to how thing work in real world.

It will become more difficult to maintain order on flights, as service agents and government officials become increasingly paranoid of individual emotionalism, and as travelers are emboldened to assert themselves against rule and authority and against the needs of the many in already stressful circumstances. This will affect us all in travel options, travel comfort, and travel cost… and it won’t stop there. Resistance to authority and social will increase in all areas of social interaction. Read about broken window psychology. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/broken-windows-theory). If you ignore corruption and crime it will radically increase. If you actually go so far as to reward it, the ramifications will be devastating.

The combined loss from lawsuits and stock reaction may very well bring United Airlines to an end. Some will foolishly cheer, being encouraged at their ability to stand in the way of “corporate greed.”

United Airlines, however, is people. Husbands and wives, sons, daughters and parents, brothers and sisters trying to make a living. Pilots, Stewards, baggage handlers, mechanics, ticket agents, etc, etc, etc—Over 86,000 people working at United Airlines in an industry with high risk and low profit margins. Maybe they’ll survive, but this will cost them dearly.

Me? I’m watching in horror as an over wrought man’s refusal to conduct himself in a civil manner has created a chain reaction that demonstrates exactly why our founders were pleased to establish a government of laws and not of men, and demonstrates why we are emotionalized fools for tearing at the fabric of that order. We are like those celebrating our accomplishments as we drill holes into the bottom of our own boat.

[1]John Adams, Novanglus Essays, No. 7.

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