The other day, my friend Aaron called to plan his itinerary for an upcoming college get-together. “I think I’m gonna fly United,” he said. “I’ll bet they have the best prices right now.” And he was right. As ruthless as airlines are, we travelers are pretty cold-blooded ourselves. If your fare is low enough, I’ll at least consider your side of the story when you drag a guy off the plane by his face.
When you saw the video of bloody Dr. Dao getting manhandled, ritualistically humiliated by the company he entrusted to get him home, you probably thought exactly the same thing I did: He’s so lucky. I’m so jealous. I would definitely allow some fisticuffs around the head and upper torso in exchange for an undisclosed settlement. If any sadist flight attendants are reading this, my safe word is “peanuts.”
That settlement, incidentally, is certainly higher than it would have been thanks to the United CEO’s initial response, which was essentially “If you don’t like United, get your own planes, you vile wretches. In conclusion, all passengers can chomp our butts.” United eventually sent out a groveling follow-up email that included the line “You can and ought to expect more from us.” But should I, really?
It’s an unfortunate rule that if you fly often enough, every airline will betray you. Even a onetime media darling like JetBlue (DirecTV! Dunkin’ coffee!) sits on the tarmac for six hours with overflowing toilets every now and then. But I’m proud to say that I’ve hated United for years. I was way early on this trend.
A decade or so ago, United’s petty mendacity caused me to cash in all my miles and avoid it at all costs. The incident in question: I was heading to Japan when the pilot dragged the tail of the 747 on the O’Hare runway at takeoff, meaning that we had to head back for an inspection. But a fully fueled 747 is too heavy to land, so we spent six hours flying to the Arctic Circle just to burn fuel. That screwed my schedule to the point that I just flew home, having spent the day on a pointless sightseeing trip to the Bering Sea. All of that notwithstanding, I still didn’t hate United until I got my frequent flyer statement and saw that my trip accrued zero miles. When I protested, they informed me that I didn’t complete my itinerary; thus I didn’t get the miles. This was just the little extra tap to the groin for which United is now famous. I promptly liquidated my miles on merchandise, like a contestant on the early years of Wheel of Fortune. Pat, I’ll take the Bose Bluetooth speaker for 30,000 miles and put the rest toward a gift certificate to Service Merchandise.
Now I’ve cast my lot with American, which, yes, recently had a flight attendant fight with a woman over a stroller. But American has been pretty good to me. When you sign up for their frequent flyer program, they give you a booklet of commendation cards so that you can recognize employees who provide exceptional service. No, I’ve never used one, but I carry them with me just in case anyone’s really nice to me. On American, they’re not promising they’ll be great. But they’re telling you it’s a possibility!
The worst thing I’ve had happen with American is that they lost one of my kids’ car seats—and I mean, for days. In the meantime, they just handed me another one from their stash. That struck me as very chill of them. “Hey man, sorry about that car seat, bro, but just grab another one and we’ll come get it when we find yours, or something.” I’ve never encountered a have-one leave-one policy for pediatric safety devices. But it worked out fine.
And the new American boarding system, much mocked for its excess of groups, actually adds clarity to the boarding situation. Because now, either they called your number or they didn’t. No arguing about whether you’re gold or ruby or Emperor’s Codpiece Club. I’m group four. That’s high enough that I get an overhead bin, but low enough that I know my place. Hey, I don’t want to be business class. There’s nobody sadder than the people in domestic business class. They’re the ones who board the plane and say, “Hi there, Dave and Rhonda. How’d the flight from Arkansas go this morning?” Then Dave says that a passenger spilled Diet Coke all over him and Rhonda said she had to divert around turbulence over Kentucky, because Dave is the flight attendant and Rhonda is the pilot and I hope you take a moment to think about your preconceptions of gender roles.
Anyway, funny story: I’m flying United next week. I think they were a little bit cheaper than anyone else. And I doubt they’re going to repeat that passenger-assault debacle on me. But a guy can dream.