I am a loyal reader, but your reference to the officers who removed this nut case off the plane as “goons” was uncalled for and unfortunate. With your military background, I would think that you would have been more inclined to view a “lawful order” as one that should be complied with and then questioned later.
This disreputable, defrocked, drugs-for-sex doctor obviously has mental problems, and he refused to comply with federal law and the officers who were merely doing their duty. Were I there in an official capacity, he would have had even more problems. – E.M.
HJL’s Comment: There are a number of things in play here, but the overarching question is not “Is it lawful?” but “Is it ethical?” The tired old excuse of “I was just following orders” has never been a valid excuse. Even if your job or your boss does not make any allowance for you to refuse to follow an unethical order, you still bear the responsibility of your actions. Let’s break this down on several levels:
- The doctor – There is no question that the doctor’s actions more resembled that of a five year old child than an adult. He may even have been, as you say, a “disreputable, defrocked, drugs-for-sex doctor”, but the fact remains that the treatment of him was cruel and not respectable. His background has no bearing on how he was treated at that moment. Those beating him into submission knew nothing more than the fact that he wouldn’t “volunteer” his seat. In addition, the article that is cited attempts to make the comparison of this man’s behavior to that of a terrorist. What they are really doing is manipulating the reader’s emotional response by dehumanizing this man and making it uncomfortable for anyone to disagrees with their view of his behavior. The statement “disreputable, defrocked, drugs-for-sex doctor” also does this. (It’s somewhat how the media can distort the story of a homeowner shooting an armed home invader while defending himself in his own home, yet the story headline read: “Tragic Killing of Local Football Hero” and readers demand charges be filed for the murder of their hometown football hero, disregarding the fact that he was the one threatening a family in their home.) This doctor demanding to keep what he (and all of the other passengers) had purchased from the airline does not constitute terrorism, as he was not threatening harm to anyone; yet the word “terrorism” stirs up emotions, and we see what appears to be violence. The violence just isn’t on the part of the doctor. This is tranference, and it is unjust to apply it to the doctor and then grossly exaggerate it into terrorism on his part.
- The police – Were these private rent-a-cops or were they sworn police officers? If they were sworn police officers, they should be fired and charged with criminal intent for beating a man on such flimsy grounds. I believe they violated their oaths, if they were sworn officers. If they were rent-a-cops (as I suspect), they should still be charged and the organization they work for should have its policies and procedures investigated with the proper consequences to all in the chain of authority. Remember, “I was just following orders” is not an excuse for this sort of jack-booted and thuggish behavior. How abusive does the behavior from anyone in authority (perceived authority or real authority) have to get before the people say “enough is enough!”. The police were not arresting or apprehending someone who was threatening the lives or safety of others. The only one who was threatened was the one who was beat senseless by these “officers”.
- The pilot – This pilot should never have escalated the situation to the level that he did. There are far better alternatives, and the captain has many options at his command. There are far better ways to deal with the situation than an immediate escalation like this. This shows an arrogance and carelessness for those who are trusting him with their lives. At a minimum, there should be an investigation to find out if he has made similar decisions in the past.
- The airline – They know better than this. They have, for years, dealt with situations like this without escalation into violence. This definitely shows that the airline truly doesn’t care about their passengers. You are no more than paying cattle to them. People should vote with their pocketbooks and refuse to fly United. Remember, you could be the next one beat into submission, or it could be your disabled wife, pregnant daughter, veteran son, or a grandchild who is occupying a seat the airline insists upon reclaiming at the last moment.
So how should the airline have dealt with this situation? The same way they have for years! I spent four years in college and flew home with round-trip tickets every spring break, summer vacation, Thanksgiving, and Christmas break, and I only bought two tickets in all of those years. I simply booked my flights on the busiest days of the year and made sure that I showed up in time to be one of the first to board the plane. When the overbooked plane invariably ran out of seats, the head flight attendant would get on the intercom and start bribing customers to give up their seats. They might start with $100 voucher, but I simply waited until they were offering a voucher for an additional flight (preferably round trip) and then I would volunteer my seat. I was always on the next flight, and I had my next plane ticket for the next break in hand. When the bribe got large enough, they never had a problem getting people to volunteer their seats. In this case, even if United had offered free tickets and $5,000 cash to give up the seat, they would have saved many times over what this will eventually cost them. Ultimately, it was United’s policies that failed here, and when the dust settles there should be consequences to those who created those policies. In the meantime, those who “just followed orders” should see consequences for the unethical behavior that they willingly perpetuated.