11th April 2017
The latest wrinkle in the United debacle is that the airline’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, sent a letter to company employees laying most of the blame on the victim: the doctor who was dragged off his flight by Chicago aviation police. This passenger “defied” officers after being “politely asked to deplane” and became “disruptive and belligerent,” according to the letter.
How dare he! You’d think he’d paid for that seat or something.
But while United’s treatment of the passenger in the video was stunning and uniquely awful, let’s not forget that the entire airport experience is oriented toward misery—and that’s the fault of government policies that treat every passenger like a potential security threat. Paying customers aren’t people with rights and dignity, according to this model: they are nails to be hammered into place.
Which is why I don’t fly.
We live in an age of transportation security theater, and the party responsible for much of the flying-related misery is the Transportation Security Administration. Created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this federal agency is solely responsible for screening passengers for contraband and dangerous items as they enter airport terminals. In practice, this means subjecting people to intrusive pat-downs and body scans while rifling through their personal items. There is no boundary too private for the TSA to cross. That this incredibly inconvenient, dehumanizing system routinely fails to prevent illicit items from actually entering the airport is almost beside the point, since the TSA provides little actual security. Indeed, the dirty secret of airport safety is that the materials necessary to construct an explosive can be found inside the terminal, beyond the security checkpoint.
Nobody ever accused government employees of being intelligent. Otherwise, they’d have gotten a real job.
United is not the TSA. And many airlines have better customer service track records than United. But it’s no accident that flying has become one of the most stressful and uncomfortable recurring experiences for millions of Americans. It’s the result of policy choices, enacted by government agents, and propelled by overwhelming safety paranoia. Until and unless some basic level of sanity prevails, customers should expect further “re-accommodations” at the hands of overzealous police officers and security officials, no matter which airline they fly.
Don’t hold your breath….