Given the news of United Airlines grabbing a paying customer already seated, knocking him bloody and unconscious, and dragging him off the plane because the plane was “overbooked” calls for me to revisit the reason United Airlines is on my “permanent blacklist without the possibility of parole.”

(And yes, technically it probably wasn’t UA that grabbed him, it was likely the police department, but I can’t say that for sure because the guy who knocked him unconscious and dragged him out was wearing regular jeans, regular shirt, regular jacket and a simple baseball hat. It was uniformed police behind him.)

Back towards 2005, I traveled a fair amount by plane for my job and I knew United Airlines to be a general shit show at that point. At one point, I had a cross-country flight from California (probably Orange County John Wayne Airport) back to BWI. I got stuck with a seat all the way in the back of the plane. After I walked the length of the plane past moron after moron, I got to the back and a guy was in the aisle seat whereas I was in the middle. He flat told me he couldn’t move. I flat interpreted this as him being an asshole (who isn’t on flights?), so I simply climbed over his legs into my seat without saying anything, all with a poker face because I wasn’t sure what was going on and I wanted to make sure I was seated so the flight could go.

Then when I sat down, I realized he actually couldn’t move and that there was something wrong with him. I also re-examined in my head his telling me that he couldn’t move and realized he was embarrassed for the situation. Very shortly after that, a woman (obviously, a business traveler like me) showed up to take the window seat. I politely explained to her he couldn’t move and that I would have to climb out over him and she would have to climb over him to get to her seat, then I would climb back over him into mine. And that’s what we did.

The guy then opened up to me and said he had some disease that I can’t remember the name of. It effectively made him quadriplegic. He had very limited use of his hands and feet and I guess arms and legs, but they were effectively immobile and he had to have someone wheel him around in a wheelchair all the time. United Airlines had brought him onto the flight via wheelchair and dumped him in the very back away from other passengers. At this point I was rather irritated – not at the guy, but at both United Airlines and society in general. Several questions were in my head:

  • Why is someone not traveling with this guy?
  • Why did UA dump him in the back?
  • Does it not represent a safety concern of both the woman and I to have to climb over this person to exit our seat?
  • Why didn’t UA give the woman and I warning that this would have to be done?
  • Does it not represent a safety concern for the guy that the guy can’t move at all?

And really, I wasn’t that concerned about the safety of the situation because if a plane has a problem and is going to crash, you’re up shit creek without a paddle anyway. So I let my Colin-tude die down. I didn’t ask too many questions of the guy because I didn’t want to be prying, so I never got any answers as to where his people were. I do remember that at one point he said he was from Nanjemoy in Charles County, MD.

At some point during the long flight, UA flight attendants announced they were selling boxed meals for $5, exact change only. And these weren’t “meals” per se, but a box of a few shit-snacks. Totally not worth $5 and something that the airline should have been giving out for free prior to an even larger meal that should have been free as well. I immediately decided I wasn’t going to get one and forgot about it.

As the flight attendants started at the front of the plane collecting money from people, the effectively quadriplegic guy started moving a bit and continued to move, and continued to move, and continued to move. I didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t want to inadvertently be a dick by asking. Over the course of about 10 minutes as the flight attendants moved from the front to the back of the plane, he continued to move and fidget. Then as the flight attendant neared the back, I realized what he was doing – he was getting his wallet out of his front pants pocket to pay for the shit-snack “meal” box.

I then pulled it the rest of the way out of his pocket for him and it took another couple minutes for him to unfasten the Velcro (seriously). Just in time too – the flight attendant arrived, a guy, and asked if any of us would be getting a box. The quadriplegic guy was delighted to be getting one, had a 20 in his hand, and the flight attendant rudely told him exact change only. In fact, the flight attendant seriously may as well have said “fuck off.” I immediately pulled a ten out of my wallet and told the flight attendant both him and I would be getting one. The flight attendant then brought back a couple of boxes and handed them to us.

At this point, United Airlines was on my “blacklist watch” list. While it may not seem like much had happened, a significant event, in my mind, had taken place. The flight attendant was basically treating the guy, a paying customer, as sub-human. And yes,

  • The flight attendants had said exact change only at the beginning.
  • I could have misinterpreted the flight attendant’s attitude.
  • Even if the flight attendant had a ‘tude, it could have been an isolated incident.

Except we all know airlines, and United Airlines had a history of having attitude problems on the flights I was on. It wasn’t an isolated incident and that’s the reason they went on my blacklist watch list. Plus, people along the entire length of the plane had just ordered boxes – could UA not have pulled back out three fives to give a crippled person change, or am I missing something?

The quadriplegic man was really grateful that I had bought him some food. He immediately went for the apple sauce in the box and was having a difficult time grabbing the foil lip to peel off the top of the container. Not wanting to watch him struggle again like with the velcro on the wallet (or the 10 minutes to get the wallet out for that matter), I went ahead and told him I would do it for him. Again, he was very grateful. We then chatted a bit more and that’s when I learned this was the second leg of his journey, as he had been on a connector flight from Arizona or something and hadn’t moved at all. He said he was treated that way on that flight too. (And no wonder he was hungry.)

That’s when I saw the same flight attendant as before get stopped by another passenger up towards the middle of the plane. Apparently the passenger had decided she wanted a box after all. That’s when the flight attendant turned around and asked everyone in the vicinity on the plane very nicely if they had change for a 20 while waving the 20 around that the woman had just given him.

While it may not seem like much, UA then got put on my permanent blacklist without the possibility of parole for inhuman treatment of a crippled person because that’s exactly what had happened. I’ve never flown them again and the incident being reported in the mainstream and social media hardly surprises me. What makes it even more egregious in today’s incident is the fact that it appears the flight wasn’t “overbooked”, but rather UA wanted to put four of its employees on the flight at the last minute.

United Airlines is a shit show operation and you travel at your own risk with them – I’ve known that for 12 years. Unfortunately, they will no doubt continue to be in business because whatever boycott occurs will be weak and I’m sure more subsidization from the federal government (taxpayers money) will be given to them if they start to stumble.

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