United Airlines Is Not Alone
United Airlines found itself at the center of social media controversy this week, after a horrifying video of a doctor being forcibly removed from a coach class seat on one of its planes went viral. The man was, according to published reports, randomly selected to be bumped because the airline needed to transport four employees on the sold out flight. The doctor refused to leave, airline officials called law enforcement, and security dragged him, bloodied, off the plane.
It seemed, in the way these viral sensations frequently do, to capture something about the way we live now. All too often we feel powerless, both politically and economically. A 2015 Gallup poll found large majorities of Americans agreeing with statements like Congress “is out of touch with average Americans” and “focused on the needs of special interests.”
So what’s this got to do with United? Well, most of us don’t encounter the government on a daily basis. We do, however, live life as consumers. And our treatment is both increasingly disrespectful and reflective of our society’s growing income divide.
In 2017, it often seems that the customer is the least important part of the transaction — unless he or she is paying top, top dollar. Take medical care. While the wealthy can turn to the growing practice of concierge medicine, where for a fee of over a thousand dollars annually, their personal doctor will always return their calls promptly, the rest of us are ever more likely to be relegated to a narrow insurance network.
This great economic sort is on blatant display when we fly. The airlines are seemingly forever coming up with new and innovative ways to coddle an increasingly small group, while treating the majority of fliers with greater and greater contempt. United Airlines is all too typical. The airline recently debuted fold out beds for business travelers, complete with mood lighting, adjustable lumbar supports and bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue. But United’s coach class travelers are subjected to constant nickel and diming. Extra legroom is now an extra charge. So too, for travelers in the airline’s new “Basic Economy” fare class, is the ability to choose one’s seat when booking a flight or the ability to bring more than one small, personal tote or bag on the plane.
当我们乘坐飞机时，这种超乎寻常的经济排序会得到更加明目张胆地展示。航空公司似乎总能想出极富创意的新点子，去讨好人数越来越少的一群人，同时以越来越蔑视的态度对待大多数旅客。联合航空便是颇具代表性的一个。该公司最近新推出了面向商务仓旅客的折叠床，配有氛围灯、可调节的腰部支撑以及来自萨克斯第五大道百货(Saks Off Fifth)的床品。但联合航空面对经济舱旅客时却锱铢必较。现在，要获得额外的腿部空间，就得支付额外的费用。同样，该公司新推出的“基本经济舱”的旅客，要想获得在预定机票时选择座位的权利，或者在登机时随身多带一些行李，而不仅仅是一个小手提包或背包的权利，也得额外付费。
United’s initial apology for this most recent offense simply bolsters the case they are less than concerned with rank-and-file customers. The company — which reported $2.3 billion in net income last year — isn’t exactly issuing a heartfelt mea culpa. A spokesman told The New York Times, “we had asked several times, politely” for the man to leave his seat, as if that justified subsequent events. In a statement, Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive officer, said he was sorry for “having to reaccommodate” the passenger and that the airline was working with authorities to find out what happened, but did not admit that allowing officers to physically manhandle a customer who was simply sitting in a coach seat hoping to get to his destination was, you know, wrong. A subsequent statement, issued on Tuesday, offered a much more full-throated apology.
The same dynamic plays out in our political lives. In a study published in 2014, Martin Gilens at Princeton University and Benjamin Page at Northwestern University found government policy and actions rarely reflected majority sentiment, but instead favored corporate interests and the wealthiest Americans. When congressional Republicans offered up a health insurance reform package earlier this year that would have covered fewer people than the Affordable Care Act, Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, initially defended it by claiming Americans needed to choose between spending on necessary medical care or buying an iPhone. Meantime, the fabled 1 percent would have received an average tax cut totaling $37,000 if the legislation were fully enacted.
同样的情况也存在于我们的政治生活之中。在发表于2014年的一篇论文中，普林斯顿大学(Princeton University)的马丁·吉伦斯(Martin Gilens)和西北大学(Northwestern University)的本杰明·佩奇(Benjamin Page)指出，政府的政策和行动很少反映大多数人的情绪，而是有利于增进企业的利益、倾向于照顾最富有的人。当共和党国会议员于今年初提出一项覆盖人群小于《合理医疗费用法案》( Affordable Care Act)的医保改革方案时，犹他州共和党众议员贾森·沙费特兹(Jason Chaffetz)一开始曾为其辩护，说美国人需要在为必要的医疗服务付费和购买一部iPhone之间做出选择。与此同时，如果这项法案得以完全实施，传说中最富有的1%人口将平均获得总计3.7万美元的税收减免。
Don’t mistake me. There are a lot of other things you can take away from this sorry event. There is the increased militarization of American life, with authorities reacting to common disputes in increasingly aggressive ways. There is a positive lesson, too, in that ordinary Americans have access to more potential publicity — and, hopefully, recourse — than ever before, courtesy of social media. Finally, there is a narrative of privilege at play. More than a few pointed out this contretemps would likely not have received as much attention if the unwilling passenger were poor or African-American. Others noted that the doctor, who is Asian-American, might have been treated differently by officers or airline staff if he were white.
But this isn’t an either-or situation. Yes, we can tell people who perceive themselves as privileged to get used to the second-class treatment those poorer than them have been receiving for a long time. But it seems like a better bet, both ethically and for the sake of our futures, to improve conditions for all.