Consider some thoughts on the beating of David Dao while he traveled home from vacation with his wife.
First, the man is sixty-nine years old. Airport police broke his skull, his nose, and two teeth. Do you know how hard and how often you have to beat a man on the head with your baton to cause injuries like that? Talk about respect for the elderly.
Second, Dr. Dao’s so-called troubled past has absolutely nothing to do with this story. Journalists who so proudly publish the dirt they found on him merely make themselves dirty. If you ask why they published it, you cannot even begin to think of an answer – except that some journalists like to publish dirt.
Third, humorists have had a great time reusing the word ‘re-accommodate’. Good for them. United’s use of the word deserves all the ridicule we can muster. It can be the new watchword for customer service and torturers alike. You go into a hotel that has sold your room to someone else, but they’ll be happy to re-accommodate you if you’d like to sleep in the lobby bathroom. Or you’re in prison, where guards are happy to re-accommodate you in solitary, or if you don’t like the cooler, they’ll re-accommodate you on the waterboard they’ve reserved for special cases.
Fourth, this is America, so we have people who actually defend United Airlines. Here’s what Bob Gust, a lawyer in Bloomington, Minnesota, says about United’s victim:
The defiant United passenger was oblivious to the famous admonition that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Instead, this passenger decided that his needs outweighed those of all the other people on the plane with him and all of the people in the destination city who would also be delayed. If he felt he was being wronged by being removed, he could have pursued legal remedies (although he would have lost). Instead, he reacted like many six-year-olds who don’t want to go to bed or eat their vegetables.
United personnel did not escort him off the plane. Instead, they enlisted law enforcement. After their attempts at reasoning failed, the officers removed him. His histrionics were the cause of any injury he might have suffered.
Anyone who chooses to disobey the police is entitled to no sympathy from me. The fact that anyone is on his side is troubling.
Take that, Dr. Dao. The law – and utilitarian principles – say you’re nothing more than a brat. Like a father who beats his child: “You brought all this on yourself.”
Fifth and last, note how infectious the disease of violence is. Police now think it’s okay to beat passengers bloody in order to make them submit. The only reason we don’t see them beat Dr. Dao before they haul him out is that other passengers could not get their phones out fast enough. Police officers know that whatever action they take, especially in close quarters like that, will go up on YouTube within minutes after they do it. Yet they beat David Dao anyway. “This is how we treat people who don’t cooperate.”
Let’s boil this incident down to what matters. Dr. Dao refused to obey orders that originated not from lawful authority, but from a couple of thugs in uniform who wanted to show the man who’s boss. Note: they had no authority to do what they did. Nothing – no law, no policy, no obligation of any sort – authorizes airport police to enforce a crew’s request that passengers vacate their seats. If the police had declined the crew’s request – if they had politely replied, “Sorry, that’s your problem” – no one would have questioned their judgment. No one would have questioned their refusal to participate, because that was the correct thing to do.
Situations like the one United faced are foreseeable. Everyone has heard the call go out over the plane’s loudspeaker: we have a travel voucher for you, and a hotel room if necessary, if you give up your seat. Apparently United has no other options in hand if its customers decline the offer. All it can do is call in people like those Mafia enforcers who break you open with their baseball bats if you don’t do like they say. Good for you, United: you’ve shown the world what the friendly skies are really like. Next time I board one of your flights, I’ll bring a bodyguard.