United’s curious tale about flight ‘volunteer’ takes us back to ‘1984’
— George Orwell, “1984” appendix, “The Principles of Newspeak”
There is something very “1984” in the words fluttering around over the strange case of a doctor being ripped from his seat aboard an airplane, pummeled into submission by three burly men and dragged — quite literally — bloody and screaming down the aisle and off the plane.
One word that has emerged is “re-accommodate.” The passenger wasn’t dragged off the plane; he was “re-accommodated.” Another is “overbooked.” We’ve heard that word before, but really only from airlines, and we the sheeple just accept it as part of life. Yet another is “voluntary.” And we have the Chicago police to thank for a brand new definition of “fell.”
Let’s use them all in a couple of sentences. The airplane was “overbooked.” The plane needed passengers to “volunteer” to get off. When one refused to leave “voluntarily,” he was “re-accommodated.” Then, when three husky men assaulted him, he “fell,” smashed his face and poured blood as he was dragged down the aisle.
Or, as United said shortly after the incident: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.” Then United chief executive Oscar Munoz added that’s when they had “to re-accommodate these customers.”
Let’s take them one at a time. Airlines “overbook” planes. That means they sell more seats than they have. The thought behind the practice is that some passengers will cancel, others will rebook other flights and they’ll end up with a full plane to maximize revenue.
But in this case, the plane wasn’t overbooked in the classic sense. Instead, United Airlines decided to kick off four paying passengers to make room for flight personnel trying to get to the destination so they could staff a flight the next day. That explains why the passengers were let on and then ordered off.
Wait, they weren’t ordered off, not according to United. The airline asked for “volunteers” to “voluntarily” get off the plane. They sweetened the deal, first with an offer of $400, then with a deal of $800 plus a free hotel overnight and a first-in-the-morning flight the next day. But since it was already late in the day, no one took the offer. So some passengers had to be involuntarily “re-accommodated.”
In this airline Newspeak, to be “re-accommodated” means to be kicked off the flight — without the offer of the cash and hotel. United claims it used a random system to decide which four passengers were to be “re-accommodated,” but the airline is known for being petty and vindictive, so few believe the process was really random.
As of yesterday, after the incident occurred, “re-accommodate” is defined by Urban Dictionary to mean “to beat up and violently drag paying passengers off an airplane in order to make room for airline crew on stand-by.” Ouch.
During the debacle at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, one passenger did not “volunteer” and did not want to be “re-accommodated.” So, of course, three massive thugs were dispatched to make him “volunteer.” As they physically ripped him from his chair, they smashed his face so hard he poured blood. Wait, strike that. The Chicago police officers called in by the airline said Monday that the man “fell” as he was being “re-accommodated.” “His head subsequently struck an armrest causing injuries to his face.”
Mr. Munoz doubled down later, throwing some new words into the mix. He said airline personnel “followed established procedures” when removing a passenger from a plane because it was “overbooked,” and he then called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent.” He was being ripped from his chair and smashed in the face, so, yeah, maybe.
Wait, we mean he “volunteered” to be “reaccommodated” after the plane was “overbooked,” and he “fell.”
United threw another doozy out on Tuesday. The four United flight crew members, they said in a statement, were “must-ride” passengers. Uh, what were the paying customers, then?
Only George Orwell knows for sure.