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.