As most people are aware by now, United Airlines faced a scandal last week after forcibly removing a passenger from an overbooked flight at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. The passenger, a doctor named David Dao who claimed he had patients to see the next day, refused to get off the plane and hit his head while resisting arrest by Chicago police invited onto the plane to remove him. The video of his resistance, taken by another passenger, went viral on social media over the past week.
Airlines often offer cash or other incentives for passengers who are willing to give up their seat on an overbooked flight; this way, as was this particular United flight’s case, the airlines could make room for crew members who reserved a seat too close to the flight’s departure. When not one person takes the incentives provided and chooses not to reschedule his or her flight, most, if not all, airlines have fine print stating that they can escort passengers off the plane. This is totally legal and happens from time to time, but this instance was different because of Dr. Dao’s resistance and the public’s assumption that his bloodied appearance in the video was caused by crew members.
After the public’s outcry over the story and video, people stopped buying tickets and United’s stock prices fell; according to one article by Fortune magazine, up to $1.4 billion of the company’s total market cap was lost in a day. In order to gain back profits and the good will of the consumers, United has since issued a public apology and has officially changed its rules about passenger displacement. Where crew members could previously book their tickets as they boarded, they must now do so at least 60 minutes before boarding and will not be able to displace passengers already boarded on the plane.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me that wants to think that it’s all symbolism. Pardon the pun, but united, we can make a difference. Within the past year, we’ve seen so much about how badly people want to make a change, and we’ve seen their failures and victories. What this instance with United Airlines shows us is that the people do have a voice. We can make a change, just in a different way than we thought. The world around us revolves around money, and by carefully choosing how we spend our money, our collective voice can be amplified.
We’ve all heard the saying, “You vote with your dollar, so cast it wisely,” but most people tend to brush it off. Maybe those words of wisdom can ring true more than once this year. Regardless of how we personally would have handled the United Airlines situation had we been in Dr. Dao’s place, Dao stood up for himself and found that he was heard. Often, when we witness that something isn’t right, we try to call attention to it, but if no one is listening, nothing changes. However, the outcome of this incident reminds us change can happen when everyday people stand up against wrongs—whether they be problematic corporate policies or something greater. In our society, the people have buying power, and thus companies have no choice but to listen when our money is withheld.