Finally, in a third statement two days too late — made after United Airlines lost millions in stock market value — CEO Oscar Munoz got around to appropriately apologizing for the “truly horrific” forced removal of a passenger from a full flight.
“I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said in a statement Tuesday. “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
In his last two tries, the executive only managed to increase by another decibel the outrage unleashed by passenger videos showing Dr. David Dao — bloodied from banging his face on an armrest when a Chicago aviation security officer forced him out of his paid seat — being dragged down the aisle, his glasses falling, his clothes pulled, leaving his torso exposed.
All this because United wanted to give his seat to commuting crew members — and since the airline wasn’t offering high enough compensation for people to give up their seats — there weren’t enough volunteers.
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Dao was chosen at random to be expelled, and with that act of mismanagement, his humanity and any rights to dignity became the property of the airline. He and everyone in his vicinity lost their privacy, too, as passengers whipped out their cellphones and recorded his fate from every angle.
If this were an isolated case, we might turn the page, wish Dr. Dao a speedy recovery and a whopping settlement, and move on.
But it’s not.
The degradation of passengers seems to be part of a new dictatorial customer service philosophy in a country that is lowering the bar in so many aspects of life, from the political to the personal.
Passengers are being removed from flights for all sorts of ridiculous reasons that infringe on personal freedoms.
People who speak a language other than English and look Arab have been removed from Delta and Southwest flights because they made another passenger uncomfortable. Two Muslim-American women, one of them a journalist for Voice of America, were ordered off an American Airlines flight in Miami last summer after a flight attendant said their conversation about the lack of food and water on the plane made him uncomfortable.
Hence, the expression “flying while Muslim” is now part of the American lexicon, another example of all-American prejudice.
Female passengers, on the other hand, have been targeted for wearing clothing deemed too revealing or too casual.
In the most recent case, two teenagers were barred from boarding a United flight for wearing leggings that are sold all over the country as a type of pants. A young girl traveling with her family also was made to put on a dress over her leggings before boarding. There were no issues, however, with her father’s shorts. In the same way United first defended Dao’s violent removal, the company excused the harassment of these passengers saying the leggings violated the company’s dress code for people who travel on United passes.
We’re becoming the countries we criticize around the world.
What started out as safety measures in our fearful post-9/11 world is bringing us closer every day to a new reality: It’s becoming downright undeniable that we’re living in an increasingly authoritarian society.
The brutal treatment of the Kentucky doctor — and what it represents, the devaluation of the individual — is only a symptom of the times. Only now we can add to misogyny and fear and hatred of others more appalling reasons to assault individual rights: corporate greed, mismanagement and absence of judgment.
The favorite subject of internet one-liners and wicked memes, United is getting the massive worldwide backlash it deserves for the violent spectacle. But we, Americans who once proudly lived in a country hailed around the world as the torch bearer for civil and individual rights, are paying a higher price than falling stock numbers.
All we have to show for our freedom is that we still can fly with our guns.