Unless you’ve been hiding from North Korean nukes incommunicado for the last few days, you’ve seen the viral video of Dr. David Dao being dragged stunned and bleeding off a United Airlines flight out of Chicago. It seems that the plane was full and United needed to ferry four crew members to another upcoming flight out of Dr. Dao’s destination airport. When the airline didn’t offer enough incentive for four volunteers to disembark and fly later, they arbitrarily picked four people to kick off the aircraft so they could take their seats. Three departed obediently. The physician did not, and physical violence ensues that will be an example of bad customer relations for all time.
In Chinese philosophy, “tao” has been defined as “a way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.” Bloodying and physically removing a customer from a seat he has paid for is certainly not the natural order of things, even with us frequent fliers who have tales of airport frustration to tell.
Much dialogue (and many amusing memes) have ensued. However, the most cogent commentary comes from one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever encountered in a lifetime spent in the criminal justice system, that of appellate lawyer Karl Erich Martell. He recently wrote:
My very first thought when I heard this story was about the economics of it, but also the psychology. I immediately remembered the book Freakonomics and thought, “If only the gate agents had presented their offer in terms of the number of people who would be inconvenienced should the flight crew not be able to be relocated.” Seriously, I think an appeal along these lines would have worked:
“Ladies and gentlemen: I need your help. I know that it’s very important that all of you get to your destinations on time, but I’d like for you to listen to our quandary and see if you’d consider helping. We have a flight crew that needs to get to Louisville right away or else their plane cannot go out. None of the people on their plane will get to their destination. I know your trip is important, but I’d like to ask you to please consider the possibility that there might be someone on the Louisville plane that has a trip that may be even more important. Maybe someone is traveling to see her dying mother and this is her last chance to see her alive. I can’t say. But I can tell you that we would be so, so grateful if you’d consider giving up your seat for one of these crew members so they will be able to fly that entire plane of passengers to their destination. And I wouldn’t ask you to do it for nothing: we will fly you to your destination tomorrow. We will pay for your hotel overnight and meals. And because we’d be so grateful, we’d like to give you $800 cash to thank you for your kindness in helping us, and helping that whole planeload of passengers.”
I’m telling you, a little applied psychology, and they would have had ten volunteers. Alas, I wasn’t the gate agent.
Here’s an economist’s blog posting on the subject – and his take on why it wouldn’t have made sense to offer more.
Me, I don’t think it would have hurt to do that before sending in the (police), but I think they could have easily gotten all the volunteers they wanted for $800 if they’d just asked the right way. People are empathetic and want to help.
To what Erich just said there, I can only say, “Amen.” Ya think that might have been more in line with “a code of behavior that is in keeping with the natural order”?