Much has been said since the dramatic video was released last weekend of a United Airlines passenger being dragged off a plane after he refused to be “bumped.” All I have heard is how Uualpaxnited is horrible, how people will boycott United and how the whole thing was “disgusting.”

Breaking news! And I am certain this will be a very unpopular point of view, but here goes. While United may have some blame here, the real blame rests with this “doctor” who was asked to get off the plane. His conduct was shameful, immature, hysterical, unprofessional, undignified and possibly even a bit disturbed.

Let me stipulate that United should not be bumping revenue generating passengers from its flights to accommodate deadheading crew. Let me stipulate that United needs to figure out a better way to handle this kind of thing in the future such that crew gets where it needs to get and paying passengers get to where they need to get.

But the issue I have is a larger one and it transcends the immediate issue of bumping people off commercial airliners. Rather, it has to do with following lawful instructions given by a member of a flight crew. This country is awash in eroding respect for law and order, rules and regulations and quality and standards. And one need only look to the White House to see just how low our standards have sunk. But I digress.

If one is in Wal-Mart and is given “orders” by a sales clerk, they likely need not be followed. If one is in Chili’s and the host tells you to get off the line, perhaps that likely needs to be argued on the spot. But when a person is on a commercial aircraft and a crew member issues a lawful order, you follow it. Even if you think it is stupid or wrong or even discriminatory, you follow it because you don’t know why it is being issued. In this case it was clear they needed the extra seats. I would again stipulate that this is a stupid reason. BUT, just suppose the REAL reason was they needed room for a pair of sky marshals? Must they tell you that? Of course not. The fact is we cannot and likely should not know all the things that the cockpit crew knows or that the flight attendants know. I have several pilot friends and flight attendant friends. I trust them and their skills. I trust that they are good at what they do and likely know what’s best for me while aboard their aircraft.

Here’s my greater worry. If you refuse an order to leave the plane and go limp and need to be dragged off, this sets up a very dangerous precedent. Next time a flight attendant might ask three passengers in a row to get up and move aft … they might not tell the passengers why, but have a very good reason. Is there a bomb near them? Is there a leak or imminent fire? Is that the time for the passengers to lay down and throw a temper tantrum and refuse? Hardly! I never want to see the institutionalizing of bad behavior on aircraft. Ever!

Bottom line, when on an airplane and told to do something, do it! Assume they know more than what you know. There will always be time to gripe and complain and to Tweet and call the media and to sue. There might not be time to avoid a danger known only to the crew. Instructions from a flight crew are not suggestions. They are orders. Follow them!

As for this case?

  • United was wrong to bump revenue passengers to allow room for a dead heading crew.
  • This passenger was wrong not to follow instructions. He was worse still for his absurd, histrionic behavior that bordered on disturbed and it is THAT which led to his being dragged off the plane. He should have left in a dignified manner and raised holy hell at the gate.
  • When you fly you agree to the rules of carriage. Don’t like them, seek to have them changed. In the meantime, don’t fly.