United Fucks Up

First, the disclaimers.  I’ve got a few family members who work, or  have worked, for United Airlines and I have flown  on them plenty, usually on buddy passes.  Outside of a  couple  nights spent sleeping in airports, it’s generally been a positive experience.

Also, I worked myself for TWA for several years, so I know  that as pissed  off as passengers get at airline employees, airline employees get pissed off at passengers, too.   I  presume that happens in almost every job.  Waitress/Diner, Teacher/Student, Police/Public, whatever it  is.

Throughout my long life of traveling, I’ve sampled quite a few other airlines as well.  Minor differences in the food and level of  service, but for the most part, they’re all the same.  The plane takes off, the plane lands, and nobody gets jerked out of their seat and dragged down  the  aisle.

Disclaimers over.  United  fucked up real bad.  First, when you offer  $600 for anybody to take  the next flight and you get no takers, you go up to $800, or $1,000, or whatever it  takes.  Adding some frequent  flyer miles is usually popular.  Sure, that might set  a dangerous precedent, which they could maybe mitigate by overbooking by  a bit less, but it would undoubtedly be cheaper than having your stock lose $1.4 billion in  value in the space of a few hours, and the lawsuit hasn’t even begun.

Second, when you invite the police, or  airport security, or whoever  the fuck they were, on board to solve your problems, you have already lost.  That is admitting that you  can’t solve the problem through diplomacy, negotiation, or  bribery.  It looks very much (and looks are what  counts here – if it hadn’t been filmed, it would barely be news, if at all) as if UAL has declared  war on  its passengers.  That can’t be good  for business.

I have a partial  solution  to  the problem, and  it would solve a lot  of other problems on  the way.  It would reduce traffic jams and automobile accidents.  It would clean  up the air.  It would  put a bit of luxury back  into long distance travel, perhaps even elegance and romance, if done right.  I am speaking, of  course, of high speed trains.  Electric, of  course.

A train can carry far more  passengers than a plane, so they are difficult to overbook.  A train gives you more  room to spread out your  legs.  You  can even go  to  a  dining car, or get a sleeper and save on hotel bills.  They are more  difficult to hijack, because they can’t change  course, or at any rate they  can’t change course to anywhere that’s off the  rails.  (Yes, I’ve seen ‘The Taking of Pelham 123.’  More than once.  It was fiction.)

I don’t think a network  of high speed, high tech, super efficient trains would necessarily put  the airlines out of business, or completely end  the era of the automobile.  But  it would  sure put the airlines, and automobile manufacturers, on notice, and make them sharpen up their game.

That would be good for  everybody.




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