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Flying home recently on a United
black-eye red-eye to Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the parallels between the airline industry and Big Government go a long way to justifying Americans’ contempt for both. The former has for years been shoehorning ten seats into rows which previously had only eight, which is fair enough: that’s the free market in action. But to then charge a fee for the “extra legroom” made scarce as a result? That suggests a scorn for customers normally associated with the political class for its customers.
As evidence, consider how both parties to varying degrees cater to those who receive health insurance subsidies as a result of Obamacare while largely ignoring those who have lost their health insurance as a result of Obamacare. Seen in this context, the ordeal of passing TSA inspection is a kind of boot camp to harden soldier-flyers for the real deal.
The fee-based model now favored by airlines becomes increasingly indistinguishable from a racket: “Nice carry-on you’ve got there, it’d be a shame to lose it.” Some are asking why don’t airlines simply institute a bidding system in which those passengers willing to cough up the most money can avoid an ass kicking altogether. The reason why not is simple: because government regulations place a cap on the amount of money airlines may compensate passengers booted from their flights in order to accommodate employees of the friendly skies. Gee, I wonder who came up with that idea, regulators or the airline industry? (Google “regulation capture” and see if an image of a smiling airline lobbyist waving back at you doesn’t appear on your computer screen.)
As if attempting to reinforce the disconnect between the corporate and political worlds from the lives of everyday Americans, the initial statement issued by United CEO Eric Munoz managed to accomplish a rare two-fer: at once revealing contempt for his customers while illustrating corporate jargon’s ever-more tenuous relationship with plain English. It’s United’s policy, he explained, to “re-accommodate” passengers, which raises the question of who (outside the GOP consultant class) even thinks in those terms? How did the first draft of his statement read, that it’s United’s policy to send passengers to re-accommodation camps? Everything Munoz has said in response to the incident makes the Obamacare rollout look like the debut of the iPhone in comparison. He might as well have said “At United, you can keep your doctor”.
Having backtracked on the insinuation that none of this would have happened had the good doctor simply “tapped out”, Munoz is now transferring blame for United’s behavior toward its customers on what he calls “the system” which he says “failed” in this instance. You’d think this might be the beginning of a death spiral… In any event, Munoz knows a lot about “the system”, given that its the offspring of an unholy alliance between his industry and government regulators, designed to protect both from being inconvenienced by inconvenienced consumers.
Air travelers, like Trump voters, are no dummies: they know when they are objects of derision. As United continues to deal with the fallout from the appalling treatment of its customers, one can’t help but wonder how awkward it will be the next time one of its flight attendants must ask if there’s a doctor on the plane…