Last week, United managed fuse oligarchy, police state, profits and the erosion of passenger rights in one fell swoop – and provoking a firestorm of opposition when a passenger was dragged off a flight.
A real-life Game of Thrones
Where the customer is never right. The letter from United CEO repeatedly emphasizing the passenger’s crime and failure to obey. He “refused” to give up his seat for a United employee. Dumbing down of language to relay talking points fits perfectly with authoritarian communicative behavior.
The email continues:
The rage against the airline seemed universal: across demographic & ideological lines – that everyone can be the target of corporate authoritarianism.
Ways to tell if your airline is autocratic
Authoritarian regimes rule by some combination of repression, cooperation, and effort to appear legitimate.
Disdain for human rights
The public who fly autocratic airlines are tricked that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The passengers tend to look the other way and not interfere – as was apparent on the United flight last week.
The police are given almost limitless power to enforce rules. The people are often willing to forego civil liberties in the name of ‘keeping order’.
The Chicago Airport Police, who were filmed roughing up and dragging the passenger off the plane, fits this special police force. It was created
years ago by the infamous Mayor Richard J. Daley.
The chief of Mayor Daley’s bodyguard detail, when he retired, was sent to O’Hare to head up a new security detail called gate guards. It was all about patronage and clout to get those jobs.
Just like United’s CEO Oscar Munoz is in this job because his predecessor resigned after being caught up, along with New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie and his Administration, in the
That sordid tale had to do with United offering one of Christie’s cohorts at the Port Authority a special flight that made his commute easier, in hopes of getting better gate assignments at Newark.
Develop a thug caste
The question becomes, why is law enforcement using violence to enforce a contract freely entered into by two private parties?
You may think that buying a ticket and boarding a plane and even sitting in your assigned seat means you had some right to fly on the plane. Legally and contractually, you do not.
Thugs dragging bloodied passengers off an aircraft shouldn’t happen in a world where people vote with their wallets and corporations compete with one another to attract consumers. This is the disconnect that has puzzled so many.
The first hint to the answer comes in noting that this was not an isolated incident, and that this sort of corporate mistreatment of paying customers is not limited to United.
The years following 9/11 have been a bonanza for
America’s security contractors, with the government outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military.
In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by contractors at home and abroad.
The big US airlines don’t need to do anything to convince people to fly with them. They’ve all merged and consolidated until there are just four companies controlling the majority of domestic flights. These airlines have determined that it’s not in their best interest to compete with one another.
From 2008-2014, four airline mergers combined eight big carriers into four; American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest.
Yes, there used to be competition, which was like what we were taught in high school economics – that brought down prices and offered more services, such as more routes to more destinations. But the airlines weren’t making enough money, so they consolidated into a few huge carriers, reduced service and raised the cost of flying through both increased fares and skyrocketing fees.
This is called oligopoly, and, for airline shareholders it’s great. It is also why United is not too worried about people sharing the incriminating video. They’re not embarrassed, and you won’t embarrass them.
Airlines feel no need to perform the dance of corporate penitence. If you’ve chosen to fly somewhere, it’s probably because you have no good alternative.
At 40 of the US’s largest airports, a single airline controls a majority
of the market. At 93 of the top 100, one or two airlines control a majority of the seats, an increase from 78 airports from a decade ago, reports an AP analysis of data from Diio, an airline-schedule tracking service.
If you live or work in United Airlines territory, at some point you’ll face the no-choice scenario given to consumers in a post-consolidation industry: flying with them, flying a more time-consuming and circuitous route with some other, probably equally horrible airline (if such a route is available) or not flying anywhere.
Do you need to get from Fargo to Denver in a hurry? Congratulations, you are now a United customer.
Another factor is the US government’s ultra-lax enforcement of anti-trust law in the last few decades. The airlines have taken advantage of this and what’s left is customers facing fewer companies with more monopoly power – and thus, fewer alternatives if those companies treat them horribly.
Stoking public fears about safety and well-being is a classic autocratic tactic.
A frightened flying public tends to think first about its own safety, and forget about fundamental liberties.
In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders. In the aviation industry there are three
: A Watch List, a select list and a No-Fly list. Once you’re on a list, it’s hard to
Airlines have cut economy-class service to the bone, while showering high-end customers with top treatment. Maximizing profits via overbooking squeezes more revenue out of the customer base.
Airlines have been very profitable by investing heavily in first- and business-class, while downgrading economy-class. But why stop there? Economy can also be subdivided, and then subdivided again.
First there was the creation of premium economy, which charges passengers extra for what used to be the standard amount of legroom, then for the exit-row seats that were previously the dominion of in-the-know flyers. Now there is a new class, a cut below standard economy, “basic economy”, known to some as “last class”.
Amid the airlines’ divide between the haves and the have-nots, they’re also busy segmenting
customers between the haves, the have-lesses, the have-somewhats, the have-nots and, now, the have-nothing-at-alls.
Not only are foreign investors barred from having an over-25% stake in a US based carrier, foreign airlines are barred from flying from one US destination to another.
For example, British Airways can fly from London to New York, or London to Los Angeles, nonstop, but they cannot fly London to New York, pick up passengers in New York, then fly to Los Angeles. The New York to Los Angeles run has to be handled by a US-based carrier.
Back the 1970’s Japanese cars were considered by many to be a joke. But by the mid 1980’s Japanese cars had gained a growing market share because they were better than American cars for less money. The US auto industry responded by demanding quotas but also started to improve their low quality so they could compete. Either improve or disappear.
Competition is the only way, short of regulations, to motivate companies to improve service and contain costs. To improve America’s dismal airlines, allow foreign airlines to fly domestically within the US.