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Advertise on the Tentacle

April 17, 2017

The Road to Hell and Big Government

Ken Kellar

You may have recently seen news coverage of a man being bloodied and physically dragged off a United Airlines plane. His crime was refusing to accept United’s decision to use him to alleviate their overbooking of a flight.


It’s reported that United overbooked that flight by four too many (and they were United Express employees!). They commenced the practice instituted by Ralph Nader’s legal victory (Nader v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc. 426 U.S. 290 (1976)). That practice is to offer compensation for people to voluntarily leave the plane and wait for another flight.


United offered discounts on future United flights: $400, $800 and then $1000. Not cash, discounts. With at least three seats still overbooked and no takers of the $1000 flight coupons, United ran an “algorithm” and chose some victims to be ejected against their will. A couple was chosen and left.


Then it came to the final seat. The man chosen said he was a doctor and needed to get home on time to care for his patients. Too bad for the doctor, the ”algorithm” had chosen. A security detail was dispatched and forcefully dragged the doctor from his seat and off the plane. A video shows horrified passengers witnessing the spectacle.


So, who is the bad guy? Well I happen to have an opinion on that. United was in the wrong. But not for overbooking, but for not being prepared to deal professionally with the consequences of overbooking.


If this were a restaurant table reservation dispute, we could rationally philosophize about what should and should not occur in a table overbooking situation. However, an airline seat comes under the heavily regulated jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. So, DOT has established compensation rules for compensating bumped passengers.


As with most big government market solutions, it appears the DOT is out of step with the market. On a plane packed with probably well over 100 people, the “generous” offer of $1,000 future flight discount was not taken. United’s mistakes was blindly following DOT regulations rather than business sense.


Airlines might overbook due to errors, or they might being playing catchup from other cancelled or delayed flights. They also may overbook just to make sure they have full flights to maximize their revenue. So, why didn’t people take the coupon?


I have several guesses as to why there were not enough takers. Most fliers are on a schedule, especially business people. The harm of a delayed flight could be very significant professionally. Catching the next flight these days is not a sure thing due to full flights and yes, overbooking. Also, have you ever waited in an airport for hours, hungry, tired? It’s not fun.


Many people already fly for “free,” They cash in on their business miles for vacations, or they have credit cards, or other programs that pay for their flights. Also, a discount coupon is not free. I’m guessing you still have to pay certain fees out of pocket. More importantly, a vacation involving an airplane can be super expensive. The free flight is great, but what about rental cars, hotels, eating out, etc. That “free” ticket might cost you thousands you hadn’t planned on spending.


I think the market and our civil courts will handle this latest United situation. In my opinion, the doctor has a major case against United. He will win millions and United might even see a slump in bookings. That financial pain will cause United to modify its policies and serve as a warning to other airlines


Reportedly, Delta Airlines has handled a huge spate of bumpings quite well by handing out gift cards. Not for more stinking tickets but for stuff. If I had the choice of a $100 LL Bean gift card or a $1000 United ticket coupon, I very well might take the gift card, a bird-in-the-hand if you will.


Now, for the point of this column, I saw former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie interviewed on Fox News about the event. He had a solution. The DOT should ban overbooking. Problem solved. He added something like, “You want regulatory reform? There you go!”


Excuse me, Mr. Christie, Trump’s regulatory reform is a movement to reduce or eliminate regulations that harm or inhibit prosperity and business growth. To include increased DOT regulation under Trump’s catch phrase fully explains why you were not invited to stay in Trump Tower.


Christie’s proposal is an excellent example of how we built the leviathan called the federal government. It’s in the details. It’s how our representatives handle every little situation: “Oh, in this case, a new regulation would be fine;” “In this case the government should fund that,” “In this special case, there should be a new law.”


Step-by-step, drip-by-drip, the government grows. Every little step was justified by the best of intentions.


During election times we get Republican candidates declaring government is too big and regulations need to be reduced. Once in office, drip, drip, drip. The ones that do hold to conservative principles are often chided for having an empty legislative record. Well, yeah!


Locally, I’d love to read no news regarding Frederick County’s legislation other than approval of frugal annual budgets. However, drip, drip, drip…


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