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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Saturday, April 15th, 2017

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”?


  1. Mike Says:

    A few things to understand about this incident.

    Federal law apparently prohibits an airline from “bumping” a passenger who has a confirmed reservation and seat assignment for one who does not.

    Federal law is pretty clear that passengers may not be involuntarily deboarded because they’ve been “bumped” for another passenger — that has to happen before boarding.

    And, of course, when the Chicago Aviation Police beat up Dr Dao for calmly asserting his legal right to the seat he was in, and then seemingly dumped him in the gate lounge after breaking his nose, two of his teeth, and giving him a concussion, that sure looks illegal too.

  2. Travis Says:

    Driving would’ve worked, too.

    I’ve never been bumped from my car or treated poorly. The food is better, and I have plenty of room in a comfortable seat. Best of all, my safety isn’t at the mercy of TSA

  3. Steven R Says:

    The applied psychology would be worth trying.

    After that they should have raised their offer well above $800. Maybe they will learn the use use of force was was the wrong option.

  4. George Says:

    This could have been handled worse (I may have to think about how, though).

    The recommendation is quite amazing. Would have worked well.

    There’s an art in business (and personal interactions) that has vanished – service recovery.

  5. Mark Says:

    United dropped the ball, and the police investigation was poor.
    Never call the police unless a crime has been committed! Police collect evidence of a crime. When enough evidence is collected, the officer will make an arrest – That’s what they do. Police have negotiators, but ordinary officers are not negotiators. Tell an officer “No”, stand your ground and tell him “No” enough times, and he will crack your skull (if necessary) – that’s what police do.
    United called the police over a contract of carriage dispute – a civil matter.

    Officer arrives on scene.
    “Sir, may I see your boarding pass and your ID?
    Customer complies.
    “Humm… seat number is correct, flight number is correct, name is correct. Here is your boarding pass and ID, sir. Have a nice evening.”
    United personnel ” But, but, but…
    Officer: “Mr, Dao is exactly where he is supposed to be. There’s nothing I can do.”
    United personnel: “But the contract of carriage, the terms and conditions!”
    Officer: “That is a contract dispute; a civil matter. Unless you have a court order, we don’t get involved in civil matters.”
    Officer walks away.

    What actually happened was a very sloppy police investigation, which led to “No, no, no.” Which led to a skull getting cracked.

  6. Mark Says:

    Another thing United should have done is offer cash, instead of travel vouchers.
    The ONLY time I fly these days is to funerals or dire emergencies. I have no interest in an $800 travel voucher which expires in a year.
    I am interested in cash. It’s a 5 hour drive from Chicago to Louisville. Offer me $800 cash and I’ll get off of the plane, rent a car, drive to Louisville airport, pick up my luggage, and go home $700 richer.

  7. Tionico Says:

    I’ve also read a different legal analisis of this scenario by a contract lawyer who took the time to carefully examine United’s contract, federal regs, etc….. seems United stopped upping the ante too soon.. on a flght like that it seems the minimum price they must offer before they can start bumping is $1300. They were nowhere near that. Hey, I”ve sat on a plane going somewhere, waiting for final boarding, comfy in my seat, and the call comes over the com…. anyone willing to surrender their seat, we’ll offer X plus Y and the overnight hotel. I was in no hurry, easily could have gone later. I decided to wait and see how high it went before stepping forward. Didn’t work, someone else was happy with their first offer. United went from $400 to $800…. had, per law, to get to $1300 before beginning the “hey you” routine.

    And this does not even get NEAR United’s total flub in not making better arrangements to get their four crew to Louisville that afternoon. Knowing they would need that hop, they should have not booked all the seats, holding four for their crew, THEN, if any empties came up from no shows, there are always standby folk waiting to get on. They know their crew schedule at least six weeks ahead of flight time.

    Federal law further prohibits demanding someone give up their bought and paid for assigned seat once they are already warming it with their behind. They can ask, bargain, plead, harangue, offer unlimited free vouchers for a year, cash, whatever…. but they MUST honour the paid customer’s choice.

    This will turn out to be one of the most epic PR fails of the century. And all because someone at United faile dto talk to someone else at United…. if they had even delayed boarding until the four needed seats had been filled, it would have turned out SO differently. Can’t wait till the bums are on the benches to start lifting them off.

  8. Bill Hoppe Says:

    It really makes sense when you look at how the airlines have turned into miniature government bullies after 911. In the name of safety and security they have copt an attitude that we can kick your butt and if you don’t like it your a terrorist. Behavior will change for the better after this incident but I’m glad I don’t have any of their stock. You are right, a little kindness and psychology 101 would have saved the day.

  9. Wood Says:

    Flying is the pits. The TSA is a collossal joke at best. I only fly if I have to cross a very large body of water. I hope United goes bankrupt.

  10. Lew Says:

    I stopped flying after my first encounter with TSA post 9-11. No chance of me getting my butt kicked by airport goon squads.
    I’m curious, will United deliver Dr. Dao’s new airplane to Louisville or will he hold out for his own regional airline?
    Sometimes winning the lottery costs a little blood and pain.

  11. Fred Squillante Says:


    I agree with all you said but United is tone deaf. When you say ‘Maybe someone is traveling to see her dying mother and this is her last chance to see her alive,’ this was a similar situation…a doctor who needed to get to his practice to possibly save someone’s life, or prescribe some other healing care, not to mention he was 69 years old, my age. That makes me cringe. As a 69 year old I have my medical issues and my Dr. appointments are very important to me. No. United totally blew it, especially when CEO Munoz came out and immediately justified what happened. And the Chicago police…what were they thinking?! I agree with the previous comment that their job is to fight crime. They committed the crime by dragging that doctor off the plane. Just my opinion.

  12. MichaelJT Says:

    One must consider the law of unintended consequences. United certainly did not.

    They could have chartered the doctor a Gulfstream V with the Swedish bikini team to sit on his lap and feed him caviar and Dom Perignon and it would have been cheaper than what this result is going to cost them in the long run.

  13. Noah Vaile Says:

    They could have hired a charter plane to take their crew in the first place and been done with it.
    Instead they chose to, 1) maximize their profit by overbooking, 2) minimize their expense by requesting seated passengers to leave, 3) physically remove a random passenger with no consideration for the passenger or his needs which included the needs of the patients he needed to see the following day.
    While the proposed “greater need” argument might have worked in convincing four or so people to give up their seats I am not sure it would have worked and, in any case, it wasn’t attempted.

  14. Dennis Says:

    Not that it will make any difference to the blame the police first crowd, but the SECURITY OFFICERS involved in this incident were not Chicago Police officers. They were not even Aviation Police Officers as has been fake-news reported by cable news outlets. They are security guards who only have the authority to detain until the real police arrive and make the decision on whether to arrest, release, or issue a summons to appear. This may explain how Dr. Dao made his way back onto the plane?

    Can’t let the truth ruin an opportunity to smear the image of the police. Truthful reporting ruins a good opportunity to criticize the mean old police. Please don’t take the news reporting as gospel on sensational stories such as this. Do a little research for yourself. Sad, but that’s the times we live in.

  15. OldTexan Says:

    All of the above, I am appalled at the folks who comments on various sites side with the Airline and not the doc. As the facts are coming out it appears that United had boarded a full complement of passengers in their seats and then the four person crew came up and needed transport.

    Some who know the legal law aspects are quoting laws that say you cannot pull a passenger who has fulfilled his part of the contract by paying the agreed fare, arriving on time and being seated in his reserved space. That’s the first thing.

    Second thing is once all passengers have been seated if the above legal status is correct they must be coerced by offers of compensation to relinquish their legal right to the seat otherwise for the period of the transport they, by contract own that space.

    Then and here being three years older than the doc I can identify with his situation when told that I have been chosen, no matter what the explanation, as the final person on the plane who must give up his space I would try to explain to them why they are wrong and as I have found over my years if I keep talking long enough usually others will see my point of view and give me what I am asking for. (Store refunds, working with people on the phone, etc. persistence can oft times pay off.)

    If I am in the middle of talking about my point of view and someone grabs me and beats the carp out of me I would think I should have been given some sort of warning like, we are not the police but we are security guys and if you don’t move in the next 30 seconds you will receive a concussion, broken nose and have two teeth knocked out. If they said that I am sure I would get up, get off of the plane and go call my lawyer.

    This was a perfect storm of screwing up a situation by having a culture of treating passengers like livestock with money and each person covering their ass by following a flawed company procedure at every level. One does not go around beating the shit out of old people while they are still trying to stick up of themselves.

    At this time, the CEO should lose his job without retirement since his company has lost so much value on the stock market, the buck stops at the top. The perpetrator of the assault should be facing some time in prison and since it appears the whole action was against the law his cohorts, at the least, might be put on probation. The captain of the plane needs immediate and permeant revocation of his license since he did not protect a paying passenger from an invasion of non-police goons. Captain certainly knows the law of carriage of passengers and peaceful passage during interstate commerce. I guess I would add the head flight attendant to that also since that person did not step in and protect the passenger.

    When we go to the airport and except the conditions of giving up our concealed sidearm and put ourselves under the protection of the airport police and federal officers and the pilot and crew we never expect a life threatening assault which we would be within out rights of defending ourselves if we were armed.

    Were I in a resturant in a seat and a man came in and demanded I get up when I had already paid for a meal that I had not yet received and he had not identified himself as a commissioned law officer I would have protested verbally that I had every right to peacefully enjoy the meal I paid for. At that time if he attacked me and started injuring me in a life threatening manner I think I would be wishing my rights to use deadly force to stop the attack on my person.

    I am old and have had enough bumps and bruises in my 72 years so I don’t want anyone to touch or beat on me under any circumstances. Sorry I ranted so much but old people have lots of time and some of shoot every week and practice just in case someone decides to play whack-a-mole on our head and shoulders. Sorry about the rant.

  16. John Says:

    The $800 would have been considerably less than the $10,000 that the airline has offered to every passenger on that flight and certainly less than the settlement that will be arrived at by the attorney that Dr Dao has retained.
    Too funny. One idiot compounds the mistake that the other idiot was directed to make by the first idiot. All those idiots ought to be headed to the trash can.

  17. DC Says:

    The simple truth is the cause of this fiasco is the arrogance on the part of the airline. You’ll do what WE want. <—PERIOD That's easily fixed…fly some other airline, or do what I've done…not fly at all. I can be treated like a dirt bag for a lot less money in other venues.

    To me, the most distressing part of this whole scenario is that at least one police officer felt justified in using physical force in the manner that it was used. I seem to remember all of my LUOF training included the need for any force used to be "reasonable" and "necessary"… have those chapters been removed?

    Shame on the airline for calling the police…but DOUBLE shame on the police for taking the call in the first place.

  18. Captain Bob Says:

    One (minor?) thing that all have seemed to have missed… it was not actually United Airlines who did this screw-up The plane was under sub-contract to Republic Airlines and the Chicago Dept. Of Aviation personnel are the men who physically dragged Dr. Dao* out of his seat but United is taking the “hit” and terrible P.R. This is partly caused by the response from UNITED’S CEO who should have explained THAT rather than stick his foot in his mouth and blame the passenger.
    United’s stock dropped a reported $600,000,000 in value by the next day. As suggested above, if you randomly pick 4 people to get off the plane you run the risk of getting someone like Dr. Dao* BUT if you just start offering compensation to the first 4 to accept you would find that eventually (likely pretty quickly) you would have (at least) 4 volunteers. Whatever you end up paying those 4 people would be a tiny fraction of what it will cost United now.
    *(Note: Dr. Dao had previously been convicted of felony controlled substance prescription writing and lost his license. It had been since restored. Any significance to this situation? Don’t know).

  19. Two-gun Steve Says:

    Beating up a physician on an aircraft ranks right up in intelligence with robbing a court judge on the street. Serious consequences are inevitable. Maybe this incident will result in a serious upgrade of services so people like Lew will want to fly commercial again. I, too, made the mistake of boarding an airline once after 9/11, and haven’t gone back since.

  20. F-111 John Says:

    Four volunteers @ $800 each, plus four overnight hotel accommodations at a nominal $50 each, adds up to $3,400.

    Do you think United could have found another way to move four crew members from Chicago to Louisville for less than $3,400?

  21. Roger Willco Says:

    When I saw the video of Dr. Dao being dragged off the plane, it reminded me of a great old song; “I fought the law, and the law won.”

    I guess the battle is not over. Maybe Dr. Dao will fight the law in court, and win this time.

    I like what has been written above, but I’ve been trained to obey police officers. This is especially true when I have been learning about self-defense. I think Dr. Dao should have obeyed, gotten off the plane, and dialed-up a lawyer if he wanted to continue the fight. We’ve seen resisting the police work out badly for young black men, and here we have Dr. Dao losing two teeth!

    If I was wronged by a police officer, I would comply, but write down his or her badge number and name. Then I would file a report. The only time I can see disobeying a police officer is if I am asked to surrender my weapons when I haven’t committed a crime. In other words, if the government was confiscating civilian arms like they did during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then I would disobey. I would still expect to law to win, but I would resist just as a matter of principle, and honor, and respect for the young men who have died fighting America’s wars.

    If I was the pilot, I may have tried to work out a solution by having the extra flight crew member sit on the floor. I’m sure that is against the rules, but it is just breaking a small safety rule, and everyone would have made it to their destination without all that unpleasantness.

  22. RichNH Says:

    I’ve been enjoying the meme’s. Mr. Martell must not have worked in corporations. I’ve seldom seen such sense from reps of corporations.

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