Business class air travellers need not bother reading this article. This is for us, the cattle class.
There’s something pathologically wrong, even immoral, about cramming hundreds of humans into a gigantic, pressurised aluminium tube and launching them into the air to get them from point A to B. It’s dehumanising to strap them down for hours on end into constantly shrinking seats that increasingly require passengers to defy the laws of physics to fit in, unless they’re professional contortionists or limbo dancers.
That’s why United Airlines is suddenly public enemy number one over its brutal treatment of a passenger who was kicked off a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport last weekend. It goes way beyond people being disgusted by a single incident involving one particular airline. Call it a collective catharsis for millions of long-suffering travellers, a chance to release all the resentment built up inside them after being disrespected and bullied by arrogant carriers all these years.
By now, we’ve all watched, with justifiable outrage, those appalling video clips of David Dao struggling and screaming as he is yanked out of his seat by airport security officers who threw him to the floor and dragged him down the aisle. Horrified passengers could only protest and look on helplessly, while some captured the sheer brutality on their mobile phones just before their flight was to take off for Louisville.
Another clip showed Dao back on the plane, disoriented and with blood on his face. “They’ll kill me, I want to go home, I want to go home,” he could be heard muttering. Then, “Just kill me.”
The 69-year-old doctor was one of four paying passengers who were “randomly” selected by the airline to give up their seats for crew members who apparently needed to be at work the next day.
A new video shows Dao refusing to vacate his seat, telling the officers, “I’m a physician, I have to work tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock.” When they warn him they will remove him by force, he replies: “Well, then you can drag me ... I’m not going. I’m staying right here.”
Three of the thugs who manhandled him have been placed on administrative leave while Dao has hired lawyers to sue those responsible for his ordeal, which left him with a broken nose, two missing front teeth and a concussion. The fact is, airlines have every right to deny seating even to paying passengers, but hospitalising them in the process is another matter altogether.
Everyone loves to hate United now, and it’s totally understandable, given how badly it handled damage control. CEO Oscar Munoz, named “Communicator of the Year” by an industry magazine, added insult to injury when his immediate reaction was to blame Dao for being “disruptive and belligerent”. But with the whole world calling for his resignation, and nearly US$1 billion wiped off the company’s value at one point, he had to sing a different tune. “He was a paying passenger sitting in our aircraft. No one should be treated that way,” a severely chastised Munoz admitted.
All the world’s airlines have been served notice. You may still be guaranteed an endless supply of bodies to stack into your glorified sardine cans because most of us have no choice when it comes to travelling long distances. But no matter how big and powerful you are, it should be clear now that your humblest customers, when they decide they’ve had enough and gang up by the millions against you, can bring you to your knees.
If only science on planet Earth was advanced enough to teleport people Star Trek style. We’re still a long way off, but it’s not an impossible dream, given that nothing in the laws of physics prevents it, according to experts currently carrying out experiments. Even more interesting because it could happen much sooner, flying cars are on their way. They could be in use by the end of the year, with the first production-ready model being rolled out this month. No need to beam me up, Scotty. ■
Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post