United Tinpot Tyrant Violates Contract, Abuses Customer by Cancelling Ticket for Being Videoed

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Do not fly United if you have any choice. As bad as most airline customer service is, it’s now becoming clear that United stands behind employees who violate United’s own contracts and call in the cops when passengers assert their legal rights.

It’s always risky to reach conclusions from single incidents, but now we have a pattern. Despite earnest-sounding claims by United CEO Oscar Munoz after the notorious United-instigated illegal removal of Dr. Dao, in which the Chicago Department of Aviation’s security force knocked him about so hard he got a concussion, lost 2 teeth and has his nose broken, nothing has changed. And that should come as no surprise. Munoz’s initial statement after the incident was to back all the United employees involved and depict Dr. Dao as “belligerent” and “disruptive”.

Even though Munoz later walked most of his initial remarks back, no employees were fired or even sanctioned for their out-of-line conduct in the Chicago incident. That send a loud-and-clear message to United employees that even egregious abuses would be forgiven.

As we explained at the time, once a passenger has been seated, United’s contract of carriage sets forth the grounds on which a customer can be denied transport. “We need the seat because we’ll lose money otherwise” as in screwed up on crew logistics, isn’t one of them.

Revealingly, I have yet to find any US mainstream media reports on this incident, but the foreign press has taken interest, so I am relying on the Sun and the Mirror for details beyond the the video embedded in the tweet below.

One has to wonder if discrimination played into this, since the passenger was “Indian origin,” Navang Oza from California. He was checking into the international airport in Louisiana. The bone of contention was over an oversize bag. He was reportedly told the fee for checking it would be $300 when he had only been charged $125 to check the bag on his inbound flight (I infer the same city pair, that this was the return flight on a round trip ticket).

This is what happened when Oza decided he needed to record the interaction:


Oza was completely within his rights to record the discussion. This airport is a public place, owned by the City of New Orleans. Courts have repeatedly ruled that no one in a public place has an expectation of privacy.

The airline attendant had no legal right to cancel Oza’s ticket. Read the United Contract of Carriage, Rule 21, Refusal of Transport. There is nothing here that even remotely resembles Oza’s situation. Note that Oza made clear he was willing to pay the baggage fee. “Passenger was recording airline employees” and “Agent got pissed off at passenger” are not on the list. I also searched for “film,” “video,” and “record” and found no general prohibitions regarding video recording (ironically, I am told that the airlines regard taking videos on airplane as a violation despite the lack of any such provision in the Contract of Carriage. But as the Dr. Dao incident demonstrates, if enough people start recording, the airline does not enforce, apparently due to recognizing it would get even more recordings if if tried evicting that many passengers, plus lose too much in the way of revenues on the flight and potentially delay takeoff).

The agent threatened to have United steal Oza’s bag, apparently as punishment for the sin of filming her. The exact quote: “I need you to call the cops because this will be confiscated.”

The agent clearly misrepresented Oza’s position. Oza insisted on getting a manager. The agent instead places a call and it does not appear any “manager” ever showed up. The agent tris to move out of range but you can hear her say that Oza was “refusing” to pay the fee, and Oza repeatedly corrects her right after that. You can also hear her saying “videotape” so she made an issue of that too. 1

An airport cop escorted Oza out. This again is legally dubious. After the Dr. Dao incident, when his lawyer included the Chicago Police Department in his initial filing, the CPD and some other major police departments instructed airport security forces, who often lack full police powers, not to get involved in customer service disputes. Apparently the New Orleans police didn’t get a memo like that. From the Mirror:

A Sheriff’s Deputy from Jefferson Parish approached Oza to calm the situation and told him: “Sir, you have the right to do what you want. It’s a public space.”

Fox 8 Live reports that when asked if he had been drinking Oza replied “obviously” but he claims he had only drunk two beers before this incident – and the subject of alcohol does NOT come up in the video footage.

But according to Fox 8 Live the deputy escorted Oza to a taxi and suggested he get a flight when he was “sober”.

I didn’t see this in the footage above but from the Sun:

During the confrontation, an officer approaches the scene and asks Oza: “Sir, you have the right to do what you want. It’s a public space. Have you been drinking?”

Oza replied “obviously” but claims he had only drunk two beers before the drama unfolded and the agent never mentioned his intoxication level.

There’s no blood alcohol restriction in public places in of all place the famously rowdy New Orleans. This is a pretty thin excuse for removal, but Oza erred in answering the question. It would have been better to call the cop’s bluff and say he’d submit to a blood alcohol test.

United has apologized but that hardly seems adequate.

Oza made another tactical error. At 1:07, the agent offered to let him pay the fee but at that point, he wanted to talk to a manager even though he repeatedly said he was willing to pay the fee. So he might have still been wanting to argue against high charge he had been quoted. But managers are scare to non-existant at check-ins, and that gave the agent control of the situation, since she made a call instead.

This incident follow United allegedly killing a giant rabbit and trying to wriggle out of paying for it, and making a nurse who has a bona fide bladder problem pee in a cup in full view of fellow passengers rather than let her use the bathroom close to landing time (I’ve regularly seen people run to the loo when the landing announcements are made and in all my years of flying, have never seen anyone stopped, so this looks like yet more tinpot tyranny).

Things have gotten so bad that USA Today, the highest circulation newspaper in America, published an op-ed urging passengers to unite and stand up to bullying airport staff:2

Bravo to a brave male passenger who confronted the American Airlines bully (aka flight attendant) who hassled a woman with a baby on Flight 591, from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth on April 21. Just when I was beginning to be worried about the notable absence of passenger solidarity in support of David Dao on that United Airlines flight, along comes Sir Galahad to renew my faith that chivalry is not dead.

Unfortunately, that courageous traveler seems to be the exception. Witness the latest episode of passenger abuse aboard a Delta flight from Hawaii last month. The viral video shows the poor husband/father being hassled by both cabin crew and security officers. He has to deal with these authorities on his own, with no other passengers coming to his aid….

We, the flying public, should take lessons from the Flight 591 hero, Tony Fierro, in addition to praying he is on our next flight with abusive cabin crew. We have got to stop accepting airline mistreatment as the norm; grin and bear it will lose your front teeth, as Dao found out to his cost…

Modern airline travel has become so stressful that the flying public seems to have adopted a survival strategy to get safely from departure to arrival. I call it the three-wise-monkeys coping strategy: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Whenever bad stuff happens around our flight, we tend to hunker down, hoping it will go away — or at least that we won’t get sucked into the drama. “Don’t get involved” has become a modern mantra for urban civilization. Perhaps this is the “Kitty Genovese effect,” named for the young woman murdered outdoors in New York in 1964, and the conflicting claims over whether people came to her aid.

When Dao was assaulted, there was no Tony leaping out of his seat to come to the rescue of a fellow passenger being abused by “authorities.” Why not? Are we all suffering from anomie, the term used by French sociologist Emile Durkheim to describe a disconnectedness in modern society, a social and moral malaise, a kind of alienation that disrupts the human connection of solidarity between the individual and the group.

Many of us have participated recently in anti-Trump rallies around the country as a way of expressing our solidarity with other citizens and neighbors against common threats to American values. Can we now harness some of that collective energy next time we take a flight and be prepared to stick up for one another in the face of abusive treatment by an airline?

While I applaud the sentiment, the author, a psychologist who specializes in child abuse, doesn’t offer concrete suggestions on how to intervene.

In the meantime, my solution is to avoid United, which is leading the race to the bottom in airline service.


1 I once had a tinpot tyrant gate agent misrepresent the airline, so this “I’m the decider” attitude looks to be pretty common. I had a US Air Shuttle ticket that should have allowed me to get on an earlier flight with no penalty. When the gate agent insisted I pay an upcharge, I called reservations, which confirmed that I should not be charged. The gate agent refused to talk to the reservations personnel on my phone, claiming it was illegal. I had to get a supervisor at reservations (regular reps aren’t allowed to make outbound calls) who agreed with the position of the lower-level agent, and took the phone number of the gate agent. The phone rang, the gate agent listened, and then hung up and told me the supervisor had told him I had to pay the upcharge. The absence of any discussion is a strong tell the agent lied; you’d expect some ego-based pushback like “my system says otherwise”.

2 One issue the op-ed failed to clarify: the passenger that it lionized. First, the woman with the stroller was trying to take it on the plane. It appears a first agent had said there was’t any more room and then a second agent wrestled it out of her hands, hitting her in the face in the process. He left the plane and when he came back and appeared to be starting to argue with the now crying mother, kthe passenger threatened to hit the agent.

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  1. Paul Jurczak

    Let’s add one more data point about United. I flew United in 2014, Chicago to Aspen and back. I had a snowboard with me, which is an oversized item, but excluded from extra fee as a personal sport item. I’ve spent almost an hour arguing my case with two escalations to the next level “manager” at O’Hare airport and got nowhere with them. They didn’t want to consult their rule book or check their own website and read clearly worded rules. I paid $225 luggage ticket, which I got refunded a few weeks later and another bit of my time wasted. On my way back in Aspen airport, my snowboard wasn’t exotic and oversized anymore, so the standard $25 fee for an extra luggage piece was just fine. Go figure.

    1. hemeantwell

      Could there be an incentive for airline agents to extract fees? Seems unworkable in anything like a fair manner — that is, among airline employees who would be interested in their comparative standing in the race to extract.

    2. Optimader

      You are far better of to pay with your CC and then dispute the charge. In my experiences the CC company wins … and are very polite at the point of customer contact.
      Let the airline invest the time/money if they choose to fo so before issuing a credit.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Yes, that has worked for me. The CC company was very cooperative, while the car rental company was deliberately giving me the runaround. The charge did show up in a call from a collection agency, but a little yelling about fraud, which they were guilty of, ended that in a hurry.

        We have since (unintentionally, as part of a larger deal) rented a car from the parent company of the one that overcharged us, so they don’t even keep track on that level.

    3. MtnLife

      United’s Chicago to Aspen route is abusive. They purposely make it a too small of a plane to deal with the regular Aspen weather and to carry all of the passengers luggage. It blew my mind when the gate attendant told me the airline basically had no intention of getting both the people and their luggage to the destination. A destination where people are going to need their luggage. United – never again.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > They purposely make it a too small of a plane to deal with the regular Aspen weather and to carry all of the passengers luggage

        What on earth can be their motive?!

        1. Optimader

          I think that can be a very challenging place To land in ski season with bigger aircraft

              1. bob

                G5 and above required for travel privileges.

                HST called them Burghers. I think that label should make a comeback.

  2. Jake

    I’d say here that its ALSO the fault of the passenger here. Yes one cant expect privacy in public space but it doesnt seem very reasonable in this situation to simply whip out the camera and start recording a stranger up close in this day and age. He broke an tacit social contract and hence her abrupt reaction.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, there is no “tacit social contract”. This is a commercial setting. The agent was behaving in a manner that violated United’s Contract of Carriage. Without documenting what was going on, she could have made up all sorts of stuff (as United did initially with Dr. Dao, like falsely depicting him as belligerent) and gotten away with it.

      The video clearly shows that she was the one who was aggressive, lied to whoever she spoke to on the phone, and threatened further to confiscate his bag, which she had no right to do.

      More generally, videos are the only line of defense the great unwashed public appears to have these days against actual and illegitimate authorities.

      1. skippy

        “No, there is no “tacit social contract”.”

        I would proffer with the amount of CCTV or other video deployment [devices with inbuilt video capture] that there is no such thing as a “social contract” wrt privacy in any setting…. full stop….

      2. Caelan MacIntyre

        Hi Yves,
        In a way, it’s neither here nor there, if the ‘agent’ is a wage-slave and United is a corporate slavemaster within a global industrial crony-capitalist plutarchy. Maybe if United was an anarchist cooperative, within a similar, larger context…

        Something’s got to give, and it’s giving, as we can see…

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You are letting the agent off the hook when she doesn’t warrant that treatment. She was not acting as a “wage slave” in insisting that Oza turn off his camera, in lying to the person on the phone about Oza refusing to pay the fee, in threatening to confiscate his bags, in cancelling his ticket, or in calling the cops. Those were all unilateral decisions taken by her.

          1. Caelan MacIntyre

            “She was not acting as a ‘wage slave’…” ~ Yves Smith

            If she was a wage slave, then she was acting as one, yes? Maybe not in some idealization, perhaps…

            …But maybe just before the falling apart of things, where the slaves are once more, free…

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              The “slave” part of “wage slave” connotes lack of discretion, that if you step out of line you’ll be beaten or worse.

              This gate agent exercised tons of discretion. I don’t know why you keep defending her.

              1. Caelan MacIntyre

                I am not so much defending her as, perhaps, explaining her in a larger context. If that can be construed also as a form of defense, so be it.
                If this is ‘naked capitalism’, Yves, perhaps you forgot to take your underwear off as well.

                I would also suggest that she may be echoing or channeling the general contempt toward people of the system that United ‘dysfunctions’ under.

                Do you think that beating slaves and having slaves in the first place is sustainable or resilient? Do you think that slaves will forever fall in line and maintain the status-quo?

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  Mark Ames has written about the history of slave revolts, as part of his book Going Postal.

                  The short summary of his chapter is every one failed. The rebelling slaves were very quickly rounded up and punished brutally (as in killed in particularly inhumane ways).

                  I’ve also had airline staff (and assume you also have had similar experiences) regularly be 1. polite or 2. clearly stressed and therefore curt , but they nevertheless stay civil and aside from showing they were having a bad day, didn’t take it out on passengers.

                  By contrast, United clearly tolerates passenger abuse. That as I said in my comment regarding Munoz at the top, is the message he sent. United just can’t be bothered to treat passengers well. Even so, you keep insinuating that the gate agent was somehow affirmatively acting on United orders. That is a big logical leap and does serve as a defense of the gate agent.

                  1. yenwoda

                    Are Ames’ examples limited to a certain context (i.e. in the United States)? Surely the Haitian Revolution wasn’t a failed revolt and I think there was at least one other successful uprising in the Caribbean. But the vast majority throughout history have been unsuccessful.

                    1. wilroncanada

                      The Haitian Revolution was very much a failed revolution, in that the “freed slaves” had to pay reparations to their erstwhile slave masters for more than 100 years, enforced by the two major powers, Britain and the US.

                  2. Caelan MacIntyre

                    The ‘agent’, or human being, influences, and is influenced by, the current ‘sociogeopolitical’ dynamic, not just United, alone, with its own baggage and contingent of hierarchies.
                    This obviously includes those who take the plane, along with their own personal baggage and ‘interactive dynamics’ that they ‘bring along for the ride’.

                    Insofar as a so-called civilization declines and/or collapses, perhaps due in large part to embedded inequabilities like wage slavery, so wage-slavery may decline and/or collapse along with it.

                    Status and power-struggles and whatnot may always be with us as animals, but they may be more in line with our ‘tribal wiring’ as things possibly simplify and go more local, where, for example, we can scream at each other and do it again the next day, and so on.

                    Perhaps it’s a bit like in-person communication versus online: Those two at the airport may never see each other again. That’s going to influence their behavior vis-a-vis if they were, instead, to see each other again the next day and the day after that, and so on.

            2. Optimader

              Wage slave is a BS excuse for lying, poor behavior.
              You can have the shittiest job in the world but still maintain personal integrity

          2. robnume

            As a former customer service rep for insurance companies I agree 100% with you on this matter, Yves. I just happened to be up late last night reading your comments section and when I saw the video, provided by a reader here at NC, I was appalled. When the man begins recording, I could have sworn that I heard that ticket agent say the word “shit” at this paying customer. That did it for me. I would no more curse, or “cuss” as we southerners say – former Tarheel, here – at a customer of mine than I would jump off of a cliff if anyone told me to.
            I watched the entire video; it was around 2 minutes 20 seconds, IIRC so I was curious as to how this matter was resolved. Imagine my surprise to see that you actually wrote about this today.
            Thanks for paying attention to even the smallest slight that can happen to our fellow humans. It matters that you care.
            Too many Americans are just fine with the U.S. becoming a total police state and seem to have no problem with letting people who are supposed to be helping you, abuse their authority. “They’re just doing their jobs,” these folk say. “Bull,” I say to that.

      3. Optimader

        Did Dao have two teeth knocked out or did he loose dentures? If the former is accurate I surmise that would have been another seven figures on the undisclosed settlement.

        If i were Dao I would consider leaving the settlement out on my desk “waiting ” to be filed then express shock and invoke plausible deniability when the settlement $$ value is exposed.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, he lost two front teeth. And that wasn’t the worst of his injuries.

          A summary from his attorney’s press conference:

          A significant concussion as a result of disembarking the plane.

          A “serious broken nose, injury to the sinuses.” He will need reconstructive surgery to repair his broken nose, said Demetrio.

          That’s not all, either. “He lost two front teeth. He’s shaken,”


          1. Optimader

            I know what his attorney said, what he didnt say was he had two teeth knocked out. Just curious on this point as i percieved attorney word parsing and i did not see blood from his mouth. Loosing a couple natural teeth can be a real gusher.

            Doesnt change the deal thematically, i just wonder about what his attorney said vs what he may have wanted to imply.
            I know UA winced and quickly rolled when they found out who the attorney was that Dao engaged… and good for Dao.

  3. gardener1

    When Dao was assaulted, there was no Tony leaping out of his seat to come to the rescue of a fellow passenger being abused by “authorities.” Why not?

    Because as nearly all American travelers are well aware, US airports are Constitution-free zones where showing any kind of disobedience or uncooperation with law enforcement is a federal crime which could land you in prison for quite some time under the pretense of terrorizm. You don’t have any civil rights in a US airport. None.

    Who is going to risk multiple federal charges under various Patriot Act violations which could put you in the hole, for a fellow passenger? The numerous unConstitutional laws that have been passed in the last 15 years very effectively prevented the airplane neighbors of Dr. Dao from coming to his defense. (which it was obvious they wanted to do).

    Fait accompli. The law now prevents US citizens from defending themselves against police violence.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is not correct. Airports are almost without exception owned by the local municipality. TSA personnel handle security threats, not other airport enforcement duties. Depending on the jurisdiction, the airport “police” may or may not have arrest power. The Chicago Department of Aviation security staff that hauled Dr. Dao off the plane didn’t have the authority to detain or charge him. They would have had to call in actual police. That is why it is often a good ploy to call 911 (the real cops) if gate agents threaten you with removal. Other readers have said that they’ve had gate agents back down when they’ve done that.

      In addition, most people don’t understand that when the airplane door is closed, the pilot and the crew, by law, are in charge. When the door is open, that critical state change has not taken place. Passengers assume they have fewer rights in that scenario than they actually have. If the airline (the airline, not the pilot, in in charge when the door is open) does something out of line, you as the passenger have recourse as long as you are smart about what you do. You may (probably will) lose that battle but will win the war (as in inflict reputational and possibly hard costs on the airline).

      The airlines also seem to have gotten lucky in that none of the people who have been roughed up of late seem to have lawyers in their immediate family.

      1. skippy

        Sorry in advance YS, especially with responding twice.

        What the law says and how its administered is two completely different things. The RE debacle is noted here.

        disheveled… we both know its a crap shoot, you found that out with the apt if memory serves.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes but the difference here is:

          1. The RE debacle had many moving parts on each and every foreclosure, plus each foreclosure was unique. And no one wanted to believe the banks would lie as much as they did. Even I found it difficult to fathom at first.

          2. Most of the borrowers had missed a payment, even if the banks had in a lot of cases told them to to qualify for a mortgage mod (which it then proceeded not to give them). Debt = sin in German and even in English to a degree (“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”). So foreclosure victims could be depicted by banks as deadbeats and a lot of people bought that.

          3. By contrast, most people now hate flying and all the petty authoritarism associated with it. They are predisposed to side with people who have been bullied. And unlike complex, MEGO-inducing multi-chapter foreclosure fights, it isn’t hard to understand incidents that are vividly captures on one to four minute video clips.

        2. Katharine

          You say what the law says is different from how it’s administered. Are you suggesting people should simply accept that? Sorry, that sounds plain crazy.

          1. skippy

            Not suggesting anything Katharine, acknowledging the difference between what is depicted in any code vs. its administration is just an observation in and of reality.

            How people feel about it and respond to it is another discipline of inquire, see YS comment on information arb and complexity. Whilst one would be befuddled wrt the foremost the latter of this episode discussed should be broader in acceptance, at a base level, too the unwashed or one would think. The latter bit its tricky imo.

            Conversations of late with someone that has decades in individual psychology from a brain chemistry view, countenanced by past medical views on a wide verity of medical concerns – is – how should I say…. melancholic.

            Disheveled…. what happens when most cant or won’t understand or worse refuse too…

            1. Paid Minion

              Forget what the law says. At minimum, ypu will get yanked off the airplane too, and will be looking at a giant lawyer bill to get the government to say “sorry”.

              The classic lose-lose situation. Too many things can happen, all to you detriment.

            2. Katharine

              Maybe the coffee hasn’t done its job this morning, but I don’t follow this at all:

              the latter of this episode discussed should be broader in acceptance, at a base level, too the unwashed

              Could you rephrase somehow and see if I get your meaning on the next try? Thanks!

              1. skippy

                NC did a post a long time ago about how the military did a post study on the effectiveness of combat shooters and were horrified at the dismal ratio, they fixed that.

                disheveled… two basic things shape our lot, enviroment and indoctrination w/ a side of biological factors.

      2. Optimader

        OHare security are not sworn officers of the court, and they have been advised on record not to represent themselves as such (Chicago LEO)so it will be interesting to see how their labor union BS plays out. https://www.google.com/amp/www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-aviation-police-complaint-met-0427-20170426-story,amp.html

        Calling 911 is probably a good idea because it signals everyone that you know your rights.

        As well, if you are inclined to stand your ground (miss your flight) you would be fully within your rights to perform or at least state that an individual assaulting you or someone else is under citizens arrest -breach of peace/ felony assault- in Dao’s case.

        And best that be recorded.

      3. Tim

        As your post keep showing Yves, laws don’t matter. General accepted perception of the situation by airlines, enforcement and passengers is precisely as Gardener1 describes so that is what get’s acted on.

        I’m a dad my first responsibility is to protect myself so I can protect and care for my family.

        I will hunker down look the other way every time. I didn’t make the rules or the interpretation of the rules, I just stay well clear of violating them. That’s where we are at as a country.

        Let’s hear a round of applause for the Terrorists, they indeed won.

    2. Oregoncharles

      I may just be causing trouble here, but there is an overlooked option in a Dr. Dao situation on a plane: stand up in the aisle. If even 3 or 4 people do that, they aren’t hauling anybody out. It’s classic passive resistance. The real problem was that no one had encountered the situation before. And To Be Fair, filming the incident was very effective retaliation. The cops lost their jobs, and the airline lost heaven knows how much.

      I’m actually thinking of the beginning of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, lo these many years ago: the police arrested a guy, loaded him in their car, and thousands of students sat down around them. Nobody was going anywhere. The students could come and go, exchanging places, and the cops couldn’t. Of course, that was in a much more rebellious era. We were a bit spoiled back then, and the authorities have been adjusting to that tactic since. However, a very similar tactic started the Battle of Seattle, and at least delayed th eopening of the WTO conference, empowering the resistance.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I like that as an idea. The plane can’t take off with passengers standing and if enough do it (probably 4+), it screws up the economics of the flight. Better if more like 10, though.

      2. different clue

        United Airlines hasn’t lost anything it can’t make back in due time. The only way United will lose something that stays lost will be if United loses its “life” as an existing bussiness. United should be boycotted into a state of irreversible extermination from existence and total enwipement from off the face of the earth. That might serve as a warning to other bussinesses which choose to act in such a nasty manner.

        Not every United traveler is a helpless bussiness traveler who has no choice. Some people have a choice to fly another airline . . . or just not go to places only United can get them to. Perhaps “some” people is enough people to exterminate United from existence if all those people withhold their money from United for long enough.

  4. Pablo

    It seems to me on TYT Network, it was mentioned that the simple fact or recording their employees is seen as an aggression and the “offender” might be blocked from flying. It happened to their host a few months ago. He was recording an altercation and was later barred from boarding the plane.

    As for the reaction, considering that every passenger (at least in economy class) are on the same boat (plane) , what could the crew, or airport authorities or the company itself do, if half the airplane gets up and start filming? Would they risk a sit-in (best case scenario, riot is more like it) in their airplane or lounge or airport desk if the expel everyone in a plane?

    People forget that one isolated individual can most times be crushed with no consequences. Once a bunch of those stand together, it is a different matter, specially in a confined space and in a situation where the company looses money by the minute. It might work.

    I am reading “You cannot be neutral in a moving train” by the great and late Howard Zinn. Not only the title applies here, but all the stories, situation and popular initiatives he describes, are highly relevant nowadays, and specially against airlines. And any injustice actually (and there are plenty of those…)

    As for airlines (and politicians, and cops) and their attitude lately, I am remind of a quote (forgot the author, sorry) — I am paraphrasing : “Please do not consider as normal an horrible thing, just because it happens to happen everyday.”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As I noted, there is nothing that I can find in United’s Contract of Carriage regarding restrictions on filming. The problem is that no one has had the energy to sue them over this. We need some pissed off retired lawyers to saddle up. But the damages would be small enough that you could sue them in small claims court if the airline had an address at which they could be served by mail (that’s how it is done in NYC). And they’d have to hire a lawyer to defend the case, so it would be cheaper for them to make restitution than fight.

      To your point about group action, United didn’t attempt to stop the filming of Dr. Dao being dragged off, at least in part because too many people were doing it. And if a third party had started filming Oza and the gate agent, or even just pretended to, she probably would have backed down because she would have had no leverage over that person. The cop even said Oza could film, so he wouldn’t have pressed a third party over that (plus one cop dealing with two independent witnesses also gets awkward when there is only a weak issue in play).

      1. Harry

        Forgive me but I am a foreigner. I don’t want to get my body cavities searched because airline employees make a call to friends in the TSA to teach an uppity brit a lesson. I’m very unlikely to make a fuss in an airport precisely because they appear to be above the law.

        I’m sure that with the right lawyer I have a good chance of being compensated eventually for whatever abuse they heap on me. But I just don’t have your confidence I will not regret standing up for my or others “rights”

        1. Oregoncharles

          There were plenty of American citizens around. We shouldn’t need some foreigner intervening in our fight.

          And in fact, there was a recent incident where other passengers did intervene and the plane never took off!

          That costs the airline hugely.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          The airline employees will not call the TSA. The TSA will not get involved in a customer service dispute.

          They will call the airport police. If you call 911, you will be ahead of them in that game.

      2. Pablo

        I agree there is no such rule. But as H.Zinn just pointed out in a paragraph I just read, something like : there is a difference between the letter of the law and justice, and that usually depends on the person wielding the power in a given situation. (which you also more or less point out when you mention the discretion given to the gate agent in a reply above — if I understood the expression correctly).

        The incident I was referring to is mentioned in this article (I had seen it originally on TYT’s own coverage) :

        “American Airlines later reached out to Uygur confirming that filming other passengers or personnel is against their airline policy.”

          1. Alejandro

            Seems the ‘power’ of this ‘law’ may be in the perception that “our” very sustenance, seems inextricably linked to corporate deliverance… seemingly in a deluded trance of ‘freedom’™ and independence, in denial of dependence, and ignorant of interdependence (with each other and the planet)…the hypnotizing effect of unchallenged repetition…

            1. skippy

              C-Corp Policy is a bit like the canons where a deft practitioner can weld the homilies in any order, justifying an outcome or bush away any troublesome events, per se the individual agents bare responsibility and not those that wrote or administrate the policy.

              disheveled…. not that neoliberalism is a new form of corporatism or anything….

              1. Alejandro

                With recycled sermons in a vacuous language of lofty abstractions of nothingness, with the predictable outcome of a lullaby…”rock-a-bye baby…”. Not that challenging “the policy” AND their writers or administrators has ever been hazard-free or anything, but it does require being awake, imho.

        1. Kris

          Thanks for the link. What is troubling about one of the incidents described is that it took place in the airport, not on the plane:
          “Last week, Mashable fashion writer David Yi was waiting on a delayed American Airlines flight in Charlotte when he recorded an iPhone video of the gate agent speaking to stranded passengers. When the agent noticed Yi was recording, he demanded Yi delete the video or risk the possibility of jail time. “Sir, if you’re recording, that’s against the law. We can take you to jail for that,” he says, in the video embedded below, “I need you to go ahead and delete that video.” Yi was later escorted out of the airport by local police.”
          If what Yves said above is correct, then it seems to me that airlines cannot make policies prohibiting future passengers in the airport terminal from taking video/photos there as it is pubic space – in other words, it is the same as the situation with Mr. Oza described above. Is this correct?

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            It is not against the law. The airport is a public place. There’s no security issue in filming passengers who agree to be interviewed. This is all corporate PR.

            Yi should have Mashable sue the “police” and American. They have the bucks to make this an issue.

      3. Optimader

        I am waiting for asshatlike like Munoz to be named as a an accessory in a felony assault charge for endorsing bad behaviour (illegal) and cultivating an environment for subordinates that encourages it.
        That would be newsworthy.

        1. Inode_buddha

          In case you haven’t heard of it, I recommend you take a look at popehat.com. Its nothing but lawyers doing exactly as you describe (if you can handle the extreme libertarian bent there, both the blog and the comments tickle my schadenfreude gland)

  5. Kalen

    Yves, thanks for keeping up with this subject and not letting go. It is not only about political, economic, social deterioration but the totalitarianism spread into everyday life and that includes business and commercial life.

    We have shareholders who have absolutely nothing to say about corporation they formally own and we have customers who have absolutely nothing to say how business is run facing massive monopolization of economy as well as capital markets.

    Commercial markets became fields of legal/or not extortion and violation of human and civil rights.

    I worked for a airline company over a decade ago when supposedly were “good times” and what I saw and what I heard was horrendous so forgive me being a little bit emotional but the words I use I heard from others who were in this industry whole their lives and they swore are appropriate to describe the reality they faced.

    Here is some taste of it in a concise way, mixed my own experiences, conversations and compilation of many publications at that time dealing with the issue in context of airline crashes and accidents.


    Too many airlines operating within US (also elsewhere) are disgrace; they offer comforts resembling comforts of cattle cars.

    Disregard for safety, comfort, destroying travel experience by what amounts to torture (can’t pee for hours) or simply cruelty against passengers called customers is all permeated by greed and elitism.

    The so-called classless American society turn into a medieval world of neo-feudal elitism, a jungle of bought and sold privileges ordering people according casts of super humans, humans and subhumans. From soft persuasion to intimidation to raw violence, all are used to enforce this nonsensical system of privileges in the realm of 30k feet altitude where well founded existential fear of dying is funneled into interpersonal hatred, racist/classist rants and bigotry mostly drowned in overpriced alcohol used to flush down disgusting food substitutes.

    The unprecedented drastic cut in the number of connections and number of seats per flight, massive mergers acquisitions, monopolistic practices or just so call partnerships reduced number of flying airliners massively and loaded US desert aircraft junkyards with just 15-25 year old aircraft that could be safely and easily flown but since they require little bit more jet fuel and little bit more maintenance they are being dumped into scrap metal parks and new aircraft are leased from global (monopolistic) leasing companies owned by two world aircraft production monopolists Boeing and Airbus with freshly printed FED money (Corporate Junk Bonds) .

    The picture of abhorrent reality, a nightmare created as a incarnation of the lust for oligarchic profit sucked out of desperate living corpses (airline customers), candidates for dying and paying for it since this same chaos is applied to the aircraft maintenance industry what exactly makes thousands and aircraft maintenance workers to refuse to board any aircraft from fear of sudden death.

    The global corporate governance, tax avoidance and evasion schemes, financialization of the airline operations prioritizing stock market performance not the passengers services, hedging, optioning of commodities (fuel. food etc.,) or insurance products makes them to waste massively the resources of people, machines and materials. (airliner flying empty from DC to Polynesia for a minor maintenance that could be done on any US airports at competitive prices)

    If you complain that you have been mistreated by airline ask pilots to tell you their horror stories.

    Too many pilots are no longer full time employees of airlines, not in old sense of belonging and loyalty but what amounts to a part time on-call contractor.

    While mostly strict rules on flight hours are followed it does not means pilots are rested and ready to fly since most of them have to travel sometime thousands of miles to where their airliner for today is located or sleep in bunk beds paid per hour in the RVs or shady motels near the airports all over US and elsewhere since they cannot afford a decent hotel and airline does not cover expenses for many pilots being paid effectively now from 25k to 50k depending on flying hours, while trade unions have been silenced, bribed or destroyed unable to stand up for pilots rights and safety of passengers.

    And if they refuse to fly they are not being paid regardless if the delay is weather or technical failure or other administrative reasons, and next time no legal overtime or even minimum required hours are schedules and so-called trouble pilots may even lose their licenses when they do not fly enough hours per year. Too often they have to fight for basic rights with management.

    The beaten up passenger or passenger being shamelessly extorted like in this case is not a one off event, not just a sorry incident but a direct and expected result from the culture of recklessness and corporate greed that dehumanizes pilots, flight, ground and maintenance crew as well as passengers treated like animals.

    I say enough is enough.

    1. Synoia

      I have been flying since I was under 2. I estimate I have about 3,000,000 miles flown as a commercial passenger, over my life to date, both in the cheap seats and the expensive ones.

      I can remember my mother complaining about the discomfort of air travel in the ’50s.

      It have never been comfortable in the cheap seats, and probably never will, because the airline strives to cram as many people into a limited space. \I’m ambivalent about security, but do not want to experience explosive decompression at 33,000 ft,

      However, and there is always a however, service in any business get bad when the service company treats its customers as marks.

      Airlines appear to have utter contempt for passengers. Pay up front, no refunds, fees everywhere, and pricing designed to grind their customers into penury.

      More than one industry behaves in this manner – Banking especially and Credit Cards are similar and I would not depict buying a car as an enjoyable experience, either.

      Being considered a mark, not a customer, is a clear symptom of our rentier society.

    1. Vatch

      What a great quote! It’s tragic and hilarious that something so imbued with common sense is actually quite rare.

  6. Stephanie

    The recent spate of news on airline atrocities has been illuminating. As someone who has flown maybe 5 -6 times in the last 15 years (all work-related trips), I really had no idea it was this bad.

    On the other hand, as someone who has worked a lot of retail/restaurant service gigs, I am very, very grateful I was able to transition into office work before the culture of online video-shaming took hold.

  7. Old Hickory

    A problem with the USA Today op-ed is that it would have been exceedingly risky for any passenger to come to the aid of Dr. Dao after the police became involved. Cops, especially thug cops, don’t take kindly to citizens intervening in their business. If someone had confronted them, it would not have ended well.

  8. p

    Have to admit I am stained by a decade of 250k miles/yr purely domestic travel and certainly 100+ flights a year. I have been IDB’d, given “alternative facts” by gate and ticket agents, treated aggressively by FAs inflight, and still, for my money, the absolute worst part of travel is typically the other passengers, not the employees.

    When IDB’d I didn’t stage a counter coup, I found another flight. Alternative facts? I self advocated and produced the right facts. Aggressive treatment by FAs, I wrote a long social media post about how I was shamed in front of the cabin #neveragain#hateunited (kidding…I dealt with it like you deal with any human having a bad day…altho one time I expressed concern over peculiar behavior to the captain on the way off the plane)

    What’s changed since Dao? I’d wager still hundreds are IDBd daily, but now if they need someone off a plane, they just deplane EVERYONE (many instances of this), delays be damned! Again…I’m perhaps messed up, but air travel is a unique pickle…safety concerns are certainly more important than our presumed civil rights against poor customer service. Tight schedules and unpredictable weather sometimes run counter to our GOD GIVEN RIGHT to fly. And time and again, the american pocket book has shown we’d rather buy the $100 cheaper tix with the $200 change fee, and then flee to social media to decry the absurdity of the $200 change fee when we decide we need to, well, change our non-changeable.

    I’m not a lemming nor a sheep. Airlines certainly aren’t infallible and needed change has come to the industry sometimes too slowly. I just don’t think Dao is Rosa Parks. I don’t show up drunk and argue belligerently with gate agents. I have inserted myself into situations to de-escalate, but never to escalate (passenger threatening to beat up FA on AA). And I certainly don’t believe every crime against humanity that is claimed on social media by claimants who “just can’t sleep” after how poorly they purportedly were treated.

  9. cnchal

    What with getting manhandled and thrown around and the unfriendliest skies ever, combined with mall massacres and the daily insanity where the development of bulletproof drywall looks to be a promising capitalist enterprise, eventually the attitude will be, fuck it, I am not going anywhere, and home becomes bunker and sanctuary.

  10. Paid Minion

    PITA airline employees vs. an even bigger number of PITA passengers, who do stupid s##t. A marriage made in heaven.

    And you wonder why the supposed “fat cats” buy their own jets. The airline industry has turned airline flying into the functional equivalent of a Juarez shuttle bus.

    Myself, I’d rather drive eight hours than take an hour and a half airline flight.

  11. Carey

    What I see the present-day airports as, is testing grounds for what the Few have planned
    for all of us, possibly quite soon. As well as a general softening-up of the hoi polloi (see TSA humiliation esp.)

    Hope I’m wrong.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      Unfortunately, I don’t think you are wrong.

      It’s hard to conceive of a more highly pressurized petri dish than an airport / aircraft. Anxious people jammed together in waiting line after waiting line, trying to make a time schedule that may or may not be workable and powerless to control delays; constantly having their persons and belongings searched, probed and prodded and their “papers” examined as if they were criminals; worrying about complying with opaque and constantly changing “regulations” on everything from expensive personal electronics to illegal toothpaste; all dissolved in plenty of alcohol.

      And all mediated by low-level employees of corporations or government contractors who have internalized their empowerment as front line protectors of “national security” to an alarmingly pathological degree, under surveillance by men and women in full swat team regalia wielding unlimited power.

      This is what the major transcontinental transportation system in these great united states has become. It’s pretty hard to believe that it’s an accident. Or necessary.

      1. habenicht

        as a business traveller who regularly opts out of the machine screen at airport security, I’m sometimes asked why.

        Some of the times I make a joke along the lines of “the way this country is going, everyone needs more practice with these” (i.e. patdowns)

        If I get roughed up, I wonder if I can file a workers comp claim!

  12. Bukko Boomeranger

    Yves, didn’t you fly United on your trip last month when there was the meet-up near Dulles Airport? Did you witness any surliness or worse service with that airline than you did on others? Are you going to forswear any further trips on United, regardless of price differentials?

    I got stuck on United flights across the U.S. when I had to make an emergency trip to the U.S. last winter to help my sister die. I only did that because they’re a code-share partner with my preferred airline, Air New Zealand. This was pre-Dao. The ground and air crew seemed unsmiling and robotic, unlike the people at Air En Zed, who appeared to be satisfied with their jobs. Most non-American airline workers seem to regard passengers as customers to be treated respectfully. On American airlines, the people in the seats seem to be viewed as enemies, potential trouble-makers who are likely to act up at any moment.

    Flying into the United States is a degrading experience, with the “TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES, SERF! If you look at me cross-eyed, I’m going to make you miss your plane or ship you to Gitmo” attitude from airport SSecurity gropers and bordergoon passport-checkers. I wear a brace due to having part of my leg cut off after a rattlesnake bite years ago, so I’m not legally required to take off my shoes. When I’d be going through the patdowns, pornoscans, wipes, etc. I used to take that opportunity to go into a (non-cursing) lecture about the pointlessness of the shoe security theatre because ONE idiot in November 2001 tried unsuccessfully to set his footbomb on fire. I wouldn’t try that these days, because any sign of disagreement will result in trouble. Except for that one emergency, I have refused to fly into the U.S. for five years. I fly from Australia and cross Canada by air, then hire a car in Toronto or Montreal and drive to where my family lives near Washington, D.C. I’m iconoclastic that way (plus I can afford it.)

    As others on this thread have pointed out, the airline hostility dynamic is part of a wider trend in American society. In so many circumstances, there’s a seething hostility toward customers just below the surface. Workers fear and distrust the people they have to deal with. Workers with even a little power often love to use it. Maybe it’s a revenge thing for how they’re pushed around in their own lives. Boss yells at man, man goes home and hits wife, wife spanks child, child kicks dog. There ARE a lot of entitled jerks in the USAnian public, and as a result, everyone is treated as a potential berserker. I travel a fair bit around the world, and that aggro ‘tude is not the case in most countries. Widespread interpersonal animosity in a culture does not end well. Ask anyone who lived in Yugoslavia or Rwanda during the 1990s.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > Widespread interpersonal animosity in a culture does not end well. Ask anyone who lived in Yugoslavia or Rwanda during the 1990s.

      There’s a cheerful thought!

    2. Punxsutawney

      It was almost a decade ago, so I’m not sure how pertinent it is to today, but I was flying in Australia and New Zealand, and the service was significantly better there than in the US.

      The other thing I noticed that there was at least twice the crew on the planes as you would find in the US, Maybe not as overworked and maybe with National Healthcare you can afford to employ some extra bodies?

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      It was not price differentials.

      United has the only non-stop between Laguardia and Dulles.

      And I had purchased the ticket before the Dr. Dao incident.

      But yes, I will not fly United. Sadly, that means no Denver meetups.

  13. Angie Neer

    There was a major turning point in aircraft security when, on 9/11, passengers on flight 93 realized they needed to fight back. Previously the advice for dealing with hijackers was to be passive and let authorities negotiate a safe ending. The 9/11 hijackers rewrote that playbook when they made it clear that their goal was to die and wreak havoc, and the passengers decided passivity was no longer an option.

    Don’t know what made me think of that just now.

  14. Angie Neer

    I think it would be appropriate for customers to state that “this conversation may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes.”

  15. Punxsutawney

    I worked in retail decades ago and management treated people like crap. When I objected, one of my managers told me “Deal with it! Shit flows down hill!”. To which my reply was “Yep! Right onto the customers!” He went red in the face and I was sure I was about to be fired, but somehow survived, though getting fired would have been a blessing in retrospect.

    I will say that the attitude of United employees starts at the top and reflects management’s attitudes and conditions they create. There’s always exceptions of course, but…

  16. Wisdom Seeker

    We all know it’s not just United.

    It’s time to end the impunity. The government has been corrupted by the legalized-crime corporations, so only a populist uprising will produce reform.

    The uprising will require sacrifices of time, income, security. It will require boycotts of products that people like, but whose producers and vendors are evil. The products will not disappear while demand persists – but the producers and vendors must be brought to heel.

    Consider the following first batch of inductees into the Corporate Hall of Shame:
    Wells Fargo – customer abuse
    United Airlines – customer abuse
    UBER – employee abuse; legal system abuse
    Mylan (Epi Pens) – Monopolistic price abuse
    Hewlett Packard (spyware on laptops) – customer abuse
    [ How long could this list be? How many corporations from each industry would be on it? Too many! ]

    … pick an industry, you’ll find a Hall of Shame candidate. Hit them all in the wallet until they reform.

  17. Mary C.

    Pilot cousin (not United) says most of his troubles are subcontractors putting tremendous pressure on their employees to “make things happen”. These people do not have authority to do anything outside of narrow parameters, and will be fired for calling a supervisor to bargain on behalf of a traveler. Their supervisor is only for deciding how much force will be used once the ability to bribe is gone.
    If you can’t “Get him out”, “Get him to sit down”, etc. you don’t have the skillset they need and you will be canned.
    His pilots’ association is complaining about this, because these are usually feeder airlines and he ends up with the angry passengers for the longer flight. Often someone who gave in on the feeder plane shows up with a big chip on their shoulder on the next flight, just waiting for somebody to cross them so they can claim their rights. He gets to talk them down.

  18. Robert NYC

    won’t be reported in U.S. media because United is huge advertiser in corporate media. Corporate media sells audiences to advertisers, they do not sell news to audiences. Can’t risk offending a major advertiser. The David Dao story was so outrageous they could not ignore that one, but this incident can slide.

  19. Harry Shearer

    Just a factual note. The airport authority owns the Armstrong International Airport, not the city of New Orleans. And the airport is not actually located in the city (and coterminous Orleans Parish) but rather in the adjoining Jefferson Parish. Thus, it’s “served” by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Officers.

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