Skip to main content

Last week's debacle over the thug-like behavior of United Airlines should produce a better outcome than the golden escape tunnel the Wells Fargo execs got. Though there is some claw-back by the bank of some of the cushy compensation the latter received, there is no cell phone video of what they did. So inexcusable abuse of one man hits the airwaves, while grand theft on a grand scale does not.

United Airlines Drags Passenger

It's only because other passengers took video that the airline's behavior hit social media and provided a gift horse for mainstream media to ride.

As for consequences for banksters who invented a million false accounts to rob versus an airline who robs a passenger and mugs him? Both were hangin' offenses in the days when horses were America's transportation. But in today's America, we can't get our hopes up. We are, after all, talking about major execs of major corporations with their bloated compensation packages, ability to steal taxpayer bailouts for themselves, and maintain an expectation of their divine entitlement to ever-growing wealth and privilege.

Which reminds me: Are you coming to Oxy next Friday, April 21, to hear Richard Wolff?

His presentation is "Richard Wolff: Beyond Capitalism to Economic Democracy," and those words have actual meaning in the achievable alternative he envisions—one based on employee-owned businesses.

Which do exist. Like the WinCo supermarket chain, whose workforce stays for their entire career and retires to enjoy the rewards of their years of labor.

Wolff packs the house when he speaks in the East. The L.A. Progressive is sponsoring the evening in Southern California with the brilliant and acclaimed Professor of Economics Emeritus. You should be there. His communication skills are unsurpassed. he is thoroughly engaging, not at all wonky. Best of all, his very practical ideas are visionary, which is why those who own and control corporate mainstream media won't give him airtime or acknowledge his existence.

We can embrace transformational values and a future that offers meaningful opportunity for all. Or we can live in the growing kleptocracy we have now.

Today's American elite facilitate their economic seizure of everything by invoking the proven paradigms of a police state. Sharon Kyle, our publisher, so thoughtfully examined that in her L.A. Progressive look behind the headlines at what happened aboard a United Airlines jet. While mainstream media merely sensationalized the video of the passenger being mugged, Sharon calls attention to the implications of that being done under color of law.

Change—or simply saying no to the theft of civil liberties and having anyone notice—requires both the fervor of socially-based buzz and the substance of meaning.

Obviously, change—or simply saying no to the theft of civil liberties and having anyone notice—requires both the fervor of socially-based buzz and the substance of meaning. Today's foremost voices of the latter, the real substance, prominently include Chris Hedges and Richard Wolff. And, in a gift of timing and circumstance, one of them will be in town next Friday to offer a vision of a better society that we can and should be building.

As for the buzz over something that even the masses can see is outrageous? That cuts both ways. The corporatocracy is masterful at spin. By the beginning of the news cycle after the video hit of them mugging their passenger, we had their campaign to discredit, even smear, the man they had assaulted. He should have quite a lawsuit, and we should hope he files it instead of accepting a settlement that comes with a gag order.

Because our society cannot afford to have things like this go away.

The United Airlines mugging has legs. Even if the dragged passenger couldn't use his. It promptly made international media. Like the show on France 24 that tracks what US media emphasizes. While they take things seriously, that doesn't keep them from having fun with watching the privileged rich suffer for their abuses of the common man. After all, France gave us the guillotine.

Tuesday, France 24 noted the web's de facto contest for a new United Airlines slogan, since "Fly the Friendly Skies" is obviously obsolete.

The best one:

"Pay for the seating, stay for the beating."

There was plenty more that I thought I'd remember, but I don't.

Just now, I came up with one: "Next time, choose first class on United Airlines. Flying coach is a drag."

UAL lost $950 million in market cap value after the incident, but it has (unfortunately) already recovered somewhat.

Now, before anyone decides I'm conducting a witch hunt against one airline based on a single incident—or simply saying no to the theft of civil liberties and having anyone notice—requires both the fervor of socially-based buzz and the substance of meaning. something from which senior execs can distance themselves by blaming it on some peon they can move into a cushy and obscure place, so he or she won't sue them, too?

United Airlines has a track record of bullying its passengers. I researched that after my own experience with them.

In October, 2012, in some publication that I can no longer find, I wrote of my own involvement in the emergency evacuation of an airplane that barely got its takeoff roll stopped before we ran out of runway. That was a smoke-in-the-cabin affair on United Airlines in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

United Airlines Drags Passenger

At the time, I wrote a long story. I'll make it shorter here.

The flight crew was great, except for the one Jamaica-mon-accented flight attendant who freaked-out. He immediately began yelling at passengers to "poosh and shove dem! Poosh! Poosh! Climb over dem if dey are slow! Walk up deir backs if you have too! Mooove! Mooove!"

Because, being that everyone else was between him and the door, and the cloud of smoke was behind him, he was that desperate to get himself out of the plane. His disgraceful behavior must be noted as an issue for how well United selects and trains its employees based on individual ability to perform professionally in a crisis. Everyone can't be a Sully Sullenberger, but neither should an airline employee play the Shelly Winters role in all those Poseidon adventures.

Everyone did disembark safely, including several young children who half jumped into the waiting arms of passengers below. Strangers, who acted together to assure all were safe. Without exception, the passengers from that plane became an ensemble team of mutual support, as if there had been training and rehearsal.

Then came the big, especially massive airport crash/fire truck and its crew of firefighters in full turnout gear, running into the danger that everyone else had escaped. Within minutes, things were proclaimed safe. Though there was no hurry to get the plane off the runway.

Which translated to keeping a potential hazard isolated. Including all the passengers, who were left standing beside the end of the runway in a cold Michigan wind for an hour. The plane's crew had physically distanced themselves from the Jamaica-mon flight attendant, and the passengers didn't have much use for him, either. But the rest of the flight crew was considerate. The captain even put his uniform jacket around the shoulders of a mom clutching two babies.

Thing is, the bad part wasn't the aborted take-off and the emergency evacuation of the plane. It was followed. And it was inexcusable. In multiple episodes, the rude disregard for the plane's passengers by the corporacratic airline bureaucracy became the story.

After it became clear that the friendly skies did not exist in the terminal, where everyone from the cold runway was being abused like Guadalajara mariachis at a border checkpoint, I decided to call the local TV news people and email them an evac photo.

Which, of course, got them rolling to the airport. Whereupon the airline suddenly found everyone's baggage and carry-ons and dumped them into a heap for a free-for-all grab.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

The purpose of which was to get us herded into an area where the news crew couldn't talk to anyone. Meanwhile, a fair amount of time had passed, and the UAL terminal personnel could not tell us anything about what they were going to do with any of us.

We were left for hours as the airport began to close-down for the night. Having already become one of the rabble-rousing spokespeople, there were three of us who found that a ridiculous amount of persuasion was required to obtain some consideration for all of us. Which was gained in tiny increments, with more cajoling required for each tiny concession.

Eventually, that produced the baggage fiasco so a few people could get their medications and the moms could get baby diapers from their carry-ons that had been left on the plane. Then, the next round consisted of vouchers with a paltry value for airport food. These were begrudgingly issued on an individual basis. And by the time they did that, the only things open were two fast-food joints at the far end of the airport, causing most of the passengers to mutter epithets and sit down to listen to their stomach growls.

As the hours dragged by, United's terminal staff became less helpful. They said it was "out of the question" that anyone would get a hotel room in Grand Rapids for the night, because the failed flight was set to fly to Denver, and if they could get us all to Denver, they would have no obligations to anyone who was ticketed only that far.

It eventually was forced from the stoic UAL peeps that they were "working on" getting a plane there from Chicago to collect all of us and fly us to Denver, "sometime during the night." So they reiterated their refusal to issue any hotel vouchers to allow us to escape where we were. Which was a closed terminal in a closed airport, where most of the interior lights had gone dark.

Some of us are slow learners. They then replied to my question that they saw "no need" to provide any accommodations in Denver for passengers needing connecting flights, "because the special flight to Denver will arrive there on the same date as your departure date on your other flights."

Which caused me, as a guy who has booked folk musicians, to organize a chorus of "Wrong answer!" and get two of them shaking with in their blue employee uniforms with cases of nerves. While a third, in an obviously well-rehearsed sotto voce, kept asking the two if they wanted her to call-in Homeland Security. To which, by the third time she did it, I replied, "Oh, please do! As law enforcement personnel, they are trained observers, so they make excellent witnesses testifying in court."

Eventually, the replacement plane from Chicago was confirmed inbound. Which required another round to reveal it would have a confirmed arrival in Denver at something like 2 AM. And, one by one, and only for those who pressed their individual cases, we all began to learn our departure times from Denver would be scattered throughout the coming day to wherever each person was ticketed to go.

Whereupon, I demanded food vouchers and a hotel in Denver for all who wanted them. They gave in after more wrangling, but told me, in haughty authoritarian tones, "You must stay quiet," because they "would not extend that courtesy to anyone who did not specifically request it."

Whereupon I turned around and made a very loud announcement to my fellow abused passengers to reveal what they had said.

That really brought the hairy eyeball. You'd have thought the money was coming from the personal pockets of those airline employees.

Of course, that was wrong, because if the employees did own the airline, they'd have pride in making it the best, and such corporate-mandated paradigms would not exist. And for that, we can refer back to Richard Wolff's coming presentation, next Friday.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch—or the Grand rapids United Airline terminal—the plane eventually arrived, with an apologetic flight crew who had neither food nor beverages aboard to offer anyone.

Upon arrival in Denver in the middle of the night, there was an issue with retrieving checked baggage since the United portion of the operation was shut down. And that distracted most of the passengers from remembering to obtain the food vouchers for which we had successfully negotiated back in Michigan. Those vouchers turned out to be worth only enough for the simplest breakfast menu items.

But, for those who had insisted on hotel rooms? We got the hotel where UAL crews stay—because the airline had a block of rooms that cost them little or nothing beyond their ongoing contract. So the hotel room was rather decent—for the few hours spent there, after the hour-and-a-half ride from the Denver airport into town. And the need to be back aboard ground transport four hours before scheduled flight departure time, since it would be morning freeway rush hour in Denver.

You've stayed with me this long. The finale is not to be missed. I'll set it up by saying you don't need to be Catholic to believe people should have a shot at redemption. Absolution, even. And it's important that we extend them that opportunity. Whatever they do with it.

So, upon finally getting back to California, I climbed the corporate ladder by phone before relating the story to a UAL customer service manager. When the only response was, "Oh, wow!" and it was clear he did not intend to add anything, it seemed necessary to continue where I did not expect it would be. I asked him what, on behalf of United Airlines, they intended to do to make amends. "Like what? Just what is it you expect," was the reply.

Richard Wolff Beyond Capitalism

I said, "Well, considering Southwest gives any passenger a round-trip ticket to anywhere they fly if they strand you someplace—in addition to getting you through the itinerary you originally booked, or even if they just ask you to take a bump to a later flight—I think United should be willing to follow that example. You can limit it to any domestic route you fly, since you are a global carrier."

Nope. Nada. Accompanied by a derisive laugh from the other end of the phone.

I still remember how the guy, a manager, replied: "Well, obviously you don't understand anything about the airline industry. You must not, anyway, because that is ridiculous."

Thereupon, I pulled out my ace card, telling him quite truthfully, "The rest of what United Airlines should understand is that I was on that itinerary of flights on your airline as a traveling-companion and care-giver relative for a legally-blind elderly woman. She was also evacuated from the flight—with the very kind and selfless assistance of two other passengers. And then she was left standing in the cold wind on the runway with the rest of us for an hour. She was left feeling quite abandoned in the airport without food and without knowing why she didn't get words of comfort and reassurance from your airline. And she had a particularly bewildering time, not being able to understand why she couldn't get to a warm hotel room and have a calm and orderly rescheduled flight home to California the next day."

To which I was told, "Well, we got her to California, like her ticket said, didn't we? We made sure that YOU were there to reassure her. Your story doesn't suggest she experienced anything different than anyone else. And you said yourself the flight crew was professional."

He ignored the part of the story about the Jamaica-mon flight attendant who freaked-out.

Then I got the airline's coup de grace. He pontificated, like a TV court judge, "Obviously, she's alright now, so what are you complaining about? Airplanes are machines and they can have problems. It was detected and everyone is fine. You should be glad you're alive."

As a former United Airlines passenger? I hope the guy they dragged down the aisle sues the sh*t out of 'em—for what they did on the plane where they assaulted him, and for the character assassination they've undertaken since.

He should have endured no more than the indignations all of us routinely suffer because we need to get someplace—getting felt-up with rubber gloves, risking athlete's foot fungus with the mixture of sock-clad and barefoot strangers, having our mouthwash and spray deodorant confiscated, and risking phlebitis with our knees in our armpits for six hours while we wait to pay three dollars for a can of soda. Served in a half-a-can size plastic cup without food unless we shell out another twelve bucks for some plastic-wrapped crackers and meticulously wrapped single bites of cheese.

The guy that United Airlines mugged knew he was in for that. But he had no reason to expect he could be dragged out of his seat, with his luggage packed in the belly of a plane going where he suddenly wasn't. And without his carry-ons, which could well have held his money and i.d. and credit cards left to the mercy of God knows who, in the overhead bin.

I freely acknowledge I am not objective about any of this. Because, as far as I'm concerned, the overconsolidated, unresponsive, devoid-of-human-values, fixated-on-the-bottom-line kleptocratic corporatocracy is, as Sharon Kyle describes, becoming reliant on police state paradigms to invoke and enforce its path to unimpeded profits. Our entire system of megagiant corporations in a revolving door with the politicians they have bought is a Medusa of vile heads. And the name of one of them is United Airlines.

This week's video

It is, of course, Richard Wolff. Who you really need to come out and hear on October 21st. This was his presentation at Occidental College last time he was here, in 2015, co-sponsored by the ACLU and L.A. Progressive. That was an entire book and a very long election season ago. In this video—and certainly if you come out to hear what he has to say about what is happening now—he will give you the history, the hope and the evidence that there can be a better way.


Click here to attend the Rick Wolff event:

See you next week. Meantime, don't get tangled in "the narrative."

Larry Wines