Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Were The Other Passengers Doing?

So, everyone’s talking about United Flight 3411. Or at least they were. Now people are talking about the murder-suicide in an elementary school in San Bernadino, or about Russia and Syria. 

United Airlines had overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville. If what I’ve been reading is correct, they needed to remove four passengers to transport their staff. They asked for volunteers, offering $800 each as well as a night in a hotel (most likely the Hilton at O’Hare, which I’ve seen; it’s pretty nice). Knowing the plane was stationary until four passengers would vacate, still no one volunteered. So, it was announced that four passengers would be selected at random to get off the flight. The first three selected passengers complied. The fourth would not. After supposedly being diplomatic to no avail, security was called in to forcefully (and, unfortunately, bloodily) remove him from his seat.

So yeah, everybody’s talking. The following are themes of what I’ve read online, not my own personal view:

United is a horrible company, they’re systemically racist against Chinese, and they’ve always had bad customer service. They just kept a doctor from seeing his patients on time and beat him up. Boycott! No, no! They were diplomatic as can be for a long time, and he kept being a jerk. He’s not a practicing doctor anymore and has a criminal record. Maybe he deserved it. 

I’ve been scanning through various articles, and so many of these articles (e.g. CNN, Chicago Sun-Times) donate space to the most cleverly-written (and opinionated) tweets about the issue, some of them not even a witness or a relevant source, in order to show “the public’s reaction on social media.” Really? If I wanted to see the public’s reaction on social media, I’d go on social media. Where can I read about the facts of the incident? But I digress.

Amid all that people are talking about United 3411, I have a question: what were the other passengers doing?

It was a full cabin, and four people were offered $800 and a night at a hotel to wait one day to go to Louisville, and everyone refused the inconvenience. I guess I can understand that. What worries me is that, when the situation seemed to be escalating and getting violent, still it seemed nobody volunteered to give up their seat to spare the man the visit to the hospital, the humiliation, and maybe even his trip to Louisville that night. 

Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but was there really no way for any passenger to foresee the fiasco? When the violence started, other passengers just sat there. I wonder what would have happened if just one passenger said, “You can take my seat! Leave that man alone!” What happened instead is that all the other passengers stayed on the flight, landed in Louisville when they wanted to, and posted on social media about the injustice afterwards. It’s slacktivism at its finest.

Recently, in one of our country’s own cities, a group of black boys were being a bit noisy on a public train. Someone called security and the train stopped. An officer got on the cab and attempted to shoo out all the black boys on board. One brave fellow passenger took a risky stand to clarify to the officer that one boy was not, in fact, with the rowdy group and should not be shooed. This passenger sent a message that prejudice does not control this country.

A few years ago in Kenya, a group of Islamist gunmen stepped onto a public bus and asked the Christians and Muslims to separate, as the former were very likely to be executed. The passengers refused, and the Muslims among the passengers responded to the militants, “to kill them together or leave them alone.” Thankfully, the Islamist gunmen then left the bus. It was a statement from the passengers that religious terrorism does not control that country.

One columnist said that the incident of United 3411 shows that it’s really corporations that are in control of this country, because of the power they have and what they’re willing to do to keep and get money. Whether that idea is the heart of matter, I won’t address. But I’d say that it’s really easy to control a group of people who don’t stand up for each other.


Maybe I’m way off base, and many fellow passengers on United 3411 did indeed stand up for the unwillingly removed passenger when they saw the situation going sour. If so, nobody (not even the press) is talking about it.

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