“For fifteen tense minutes on Thursday afternoon, United Airlines’ fare booking engine was operating at full steam. Someone, likely a Flyertalk user, noticed that fares between Washington DC and Minneapolis were pricing at $10 and posted his finding onto the forum. Attention grew rapidly, with over 100 replies in just an hour, and the news spread to Twitter. The glitch in the system appeared to offer $0 fares plus $5 in tax for many domestic flights, and was apparently caused by human error. Some forum readers reported finding $10 flights between Washington DC and Hawaii, while others scooped up over a dozen tickets to destinations all over the country.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Week,
(as if you couldn’t guess), is:
Was it ethical for people to take advantage of this computer glitch and purchase tickets at an impossible discount?
I bet you also know what my answer is.
Of course it isn’t.
It isn’t fair, and it isn’t honest.
And you know it.
Though the law of contracts may well uphold this as a valid offer and acceptance, ethically it is as wrong as wrong can be, except for the genuine mental defective who believed that United really intended to commit financial suicide. When the price on any item for sale is obviously wrong, I always alert the store and pay full price. Sometimes, in gratitude, the store gives me the marked price, but then it’s the store’s choice.
This is pure Golden Rules territory. You know it’s a mistake: it is wrong to act as if it isn’t, and wrong to capitalize on what you know is an error that will cause someone devastating harm. Taking tickets that you know are incorrectly priced because a computer system is broken is very close to stealing a TV because the store is empty and the windows are broken. It is just one small step from looting.