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The Present

Why So Many People Think the United Airlines Video Shows the Decline of America

Video of a man being dragged off a United Airlines flight sparks widespread outrage.

Chances are, by now you’ve probably seen the disturbing videos of a passenger getting violently dragged off a United Airlines flight when he refused to give up his seat. The airline wanted to boot four people off the April 9th flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY so it could accommodate some of its employees. While the others got off the plane without incident, the 69-year-old Dr. Dao said he needed to get back to his patients and did not want to leave. United called in airport security which pulled him out of his seat and through the plane to horrified looks and exclamations from other passengers. In the process Dr. Dao was hurt, bloodied and was spotted afterwards repeating “Kill me” over and over, clearly very traumatized.

The security officer involved in the altercation has been placed on administrative leave, while investigation takes place. It seems to reason that the officer will get a big part of the blame. It also seems at this point that the United Airlines is within its right to boot people off their planes. Even for no reason. But this fact has only added to the flames of a resounding public outcry against the actions of United, which is ultimately held responsible for this chain of events.

@United overbook #flight3411 and decided to force random passengers off the plane. Here’s how they did it:

— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017

#flythefriendlyskies @united no words. This poor man!!

— Kaylyn Davis (@kaylyn_davis) April 10, 2017

Many on social media are outraged at what happened to Dr. Dao and feel strongly that what United did was completely uncalled-for. While the law may be on the side of the airline, it seemed to fail miserably in human terms.

One other common refrain of the outpouring of reactions is the sentiment that the incident shows America is in decline. 

Why do many people feel that way?

While certainly more details will come out, the initial reaction often reveals something important about us. The hard-to-watch video that’s by now been seen by millions around the world encapsulates within it many American fears and failures.

Here’s what people see:

America is no longer a moral authority -  what happened is the kind of thing people expect to see in developing, unstable countries. Not in a civilized society that’s always prided itself for promoting freedom and human rights around the world. And this would be an overreaction if this truly was an isolated incident, but in America of today this feels like a part of an expanding pattern. Social discourse, the way relate to each other, has lost much civility. The country’s travel industry is set to be decimated by the effects of the recent travel restrictions. It doesn't seems like a welcoming, special place any more.

The demise of customer service - the maxim that the customer is always right is an American institution, a myth that actually often approached reality in the service industry, a proud standard respected around the world. United Airlines offered Dr. Dao $800 to get off the plane, but resorted to violence when he didn’t want to take it. No matter what argument it could have had with the man, who remained peaceful - this is an atrocious resolution. With a recent national survey showing that 2/3 of Americans experienced “customer rage” in the past year due to poor customer service, it’s safe to say this issue is not confined to United.

The encroachment of corporate power on individual rights - not only do corporations buy our politicians, but the law seems to enshrine their increasingly unreasonable rights and protections. How is overbooking legal? The airlines are trying to account for human nature by selling more tickets than they have seats, counting on the fact that some people won’t show up. And then they boot people off planes if too many do show up. In what other industry is this kind of business structure possible? Selling something you don’t necessarily have. And if you don’t agree with this, they are calling the cops on you and not feeling too apologetic, as the response from the CEO of United Oscar Munoz showed. He said sorry for having to "re-accomodate" customers, as if the only issue here is the airline's efficiency, while ignoring the brutal facts of what was done to their passenger.

The growing police state - there are continuous instances of the increasing militarization of American police as well as numerous times when they seem woefully undertrained, reacting to situations that can be resolved in further dialogue with extreme violence. The grotesque actions of airport security personnel are not justifiable by any means as the passenger posed no threat.

Racism - many Chinese are seeing racism in the fact that the singled out Dr. Dao was Asian. Discussions of the incident garnered millions of views on the social network Weibo, with many calling for the boycott of the airline. They wonder if the American vision of a cohesive multi-cultural society is falling apart.

Monopoly - this is what happens when there are only a few companies in the market. Customer service goes down the drain. Prices are unreasonable. And now you can even get beaten up. This is also in an industry that U.S. taxpayers supported via a government bailout, with the once-beloved United getting the largest chunk of the money.

The upside of the public's reaction so far has been the near-universal condemnation of the company. Maybe this is something that can bring us together. First the Pepsi ad, now this. People are not only appalled that this happened, but appalled that they live in an America where they can witness such treatment of their fellow citizens. This doesn't look like the country that has always been a symbolic beacon for many in the world. 


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