Let’s be clear—the role of aviation security is to protect people from criminal events at the airport. It shouldn’t be used as muscle when an airline mismanages a flight and offers an unappealing incentive to coax a passenger to give up a seat. Yet, this was the case on Sunday when Chicago Department of Aviation officers dragged United Airlines passenger David Dao off of a plane. As commentator after commentator have pointed out, United had a civil problem on this now infamous flight from Chicago to Louisville; it didn’t have a criminal problem. You could also say that it had a deal-making problem. They didn’t offer Dao enough money to voluntarily deplane. Everyone has a price, and someone should have made a better offer before igniting a chain of events where a passenger was roughed up.
The bigger problem is that this airline, more than any other, should have been sensitive to the differences between a financial problem and a criminal threat to aviation. Having been a United pilot in the aftermath of 9/11, I’ve experienced the great training that employees received to promote safe and secure operations. But it looks like the ability to think through and deescalate a situation was lost on at least one member of the workforce.
The greatest problem is that this was a colossal misuse of scarce aviation security resources. Airlines need to ensure they are using security for the right reasons. The Chicago Department of Aviation has things to do related to counterterrorism, keeping crime in check, and providing a visible deterrent at one of the world’s busiest airports. How someone at Chicago Department of Aviation thought it was within their mission to protect United’s bottom line is way beyond me.
Passengers are people, not just a summation of a la carte pricing options. I don’t care what price you pay— getting bloodied and dragged from an airplane is just wrong.
Shame on United for colossal mismanagement. Shame on United for abusing the aviation security resources that are there to protect us from terrorism. Shame on Chicago Department of Aviation for being witless muscle in helping the airline save the relatively small sum of money it would have cost to pay Dao to take another flight.
Having lived through 9/11 at United, I know you were trained better.