United Airlines is taking, albeit understandably, a woodshed beating for the incident last week where a passenger who refused to give up his seat for United employees needing to deadhead. The passenger was summarily dragged off the aircraft by police officers for his insolence, and in hindsight, the entire incident had several points of escalation whereby cooler heads prevailing may have prevented it.
But I am not here advocating for the passenger, passengers, or for the right and wrong of legislation regulating what airlines can and cannot do. I am simply going to make the case, without in anyway asserting that the egregious nature of the incident be diminished, that it was in fact isolated and that the airline is by and large a good one staffed with some of the finest people in the industry.
This last week, I traveled on business to Philadelphia on United. As you can probably imagine, the cabins aboard my flights were rife with conversation, some humorous, some not so much, about the incident. On the way out, I mostly read my book and listened in a little.
On the day of my return, I got a message letting me know my flight was going to be delayed just enough to make me miss my connection from Denver to St. George. I grimaced for a moment, knowing that flights to St. George are few at best and that I might be staying in Denver for a night. The anguish subsidized when I texted a friend in Boulder who offered to put me up for a night and perhaps grab some margaritas at the Rio. Yew! Who says there’s not a silver lining?
I arrived a little early at the airport and approached the ticketing agent at my gate to convey my dilemma. No harm in asking, right?
The man was older. He was Latino, and his accent lended to his humor as he put on his “travel agent hat” and spent thirty minutes working it out.
He put me on a commuter to Dulles, which connected to a flight in Denver that would give me 15 minutes to make the trek a mile or so from gates to catch the last leg to St. George. And in a comedy of good fortune, the pilot from Dulles to Denver must have goosed the throttle some, because we got to the gate 15 minutes early. Yew!
Suffice it to say that my perspective on the incident in question had been tempered some by my Latino friend. But again in a comedy of good fortune, on my hop to Dulles I was seated next to a United pilot who under a promise of anonymity, gave me some backstory on the incident not reported in the news. Again, not at all asserting the culpability or lack thereof for the airline in the matter, I will tell you that much of the facts of the event have gotten lost and conflated in the media hype.
Staying in line with the the theme here, I will tell you this pilot was a former Marine who served not as a pilot but a regular grunt and upon finishing college on the G.I. Bill put himself through flight school. He is now a pilot dedicated to his profession and the safety and convenience of the people entrusted to his care when he takes the yoke.
Now that I was beginning to feel firsthand the paradigm shift in my perspective, I at last made my flight to Denver and was seated next to, believe it or not, a United flight attendant deadheading to Denver.
Again under the promise of anonymity, she expressed her embarrassment over what had happened and recounted how a passenger semi-cornered her in the galley and berated her for something she had nothing to do with. It sounded beyond the pale.
United will likely pay a dear price for what were in my own distinct opinion the actions of three police officers who took it too far. But my own experience disallows me to disparage the entire airline as a whole. It was no coincidence to me that from gate to gate and from gate to home, employees of this airline went out of their way to not only get me home on time and safely but to share their own lives with me in the process. I simply will not disparage the entire airline over the incident. I encourage you to consider the same.
See you out there.
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