Portrait Of A Really, Really Stupid Ethics Train Wreck

This is the incredibly ridiculous United Airlines/dress code/ leggings story. I don’t want to write about it: there are no good guys, lots of miscreants, and I have a well-earned bias against United already.

Fortunately, the travel site One Mile At A Time did a thorough and ethically astute analysis, here, ending like this:

I see non-revenue passengers asked to follow different rules nearly every time I fly — you probably do too. Nothing about two non-revs being asked to change clothes and/or take a later flight is shocking or newsworthy or even interesting to anyone with an ounce of perspective.

Exactly: not even interesting. So how did this become a hot story on cable news and social media? Well..

1.  Two employees of United didn’t follow company policy regarding proper dress when they fly free. They were Wrong.

2. A family behind the two employees in line and who didn’t understand what was happening leaped to conclusions, and made their daughter change what she was wearing too, completely unnecessarily. They were Wrong.

3. A prominent  publicity-seeking social justice warrior, Shannon Watts, was an observer of all this, and began furiously tweeting, misrepresenting what was going on, and claimed that United was engaged in sexist and discriminatory conduct, when it was not.  She was Wrong.

4. United’s Twitter team responded by referencing the §21 of the company’s Contract of Carriage, stating that passengers can be denied boarding for being “barefoot or not properly clothed”. This was confusing, since that provision had nothing to do with why the two non-revenue passengers were told to change. Typical of the crack United staff, however. Incompetent. Also Wrong.

5. Social media went off half cocked. Of course it did. It was Wrong.

6. The news media picked up the story without checking the facts, pushing the sexism angle. the reporting was Wrong.

7. Even after it was clear that the facts did not support her narrative, Watts continued trying to stir up outrage. She was Wrong.A gain.

Three United employees may lose their jobs; United was embarrassed, for once, without deserving it; hours of time were spent debating dress codes and leggings on news shows while Americans continued to be bewildered about how their government works, feminists worked themselves into a frenzy over a non-event, and the news media once again trafficked in fake news. But Shannon Watts grabbed another 15 minutes of fame, so I’m sure she thought it was a good day.

And that, my friends, is what makes an ethics train wreck.


13 thoughts on “Portrait Of A Really, Really Stupid Ethics Train Wreck

  1. Well as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “Hell is other people.” That strikes me as what the airlines have devolved to as well as the media.

  2. I was wondering who she was, but I thought she was just some busy-body getting in a huff. I thought it was extremely irresponsible for her to be tweeting about it judging by what she saw from a distance, without checking into what the facts were, and now I KNOW she was. I hate Twitter with a passion. Things spread with lightening speed, wrong or right, and then time has to be wasted by newscasters, bloggers, and the rest of Twitter, saying ‘Oops, that’s not what really happened’. People end up bickering about inconsequentialities for days.

    People can’t talk to each other without misunderstandings occurring under the best of conditions, I can’t see how limiting speech to 140 characters is supposed to improve the situation. It hasn’t so far. Some Tweets are so vague due to the brevity that there are several ways to interpret them. It just seems more trouble than it’s worth.

  3. Thirty years ago, I had a girlfriend who worked for a major airline and we flew non-rev pretty regularly. I was required under their rules to wear business attire (including a neck tie) and she was required to wear clothing at least as business oriented as she wore as a customer service representative (there was a fairly lengthy list of clothing that she could not wear, including open toe shoes, shorts etc).

    If any of the early news reporting had included the simple fact that the girls who were denied boarding were flying non-revenue, this story would have had no legs at all. Since Watts has a following that agrees with her world view, this story automatically became a story about how women are discriminated against.

    What this does is cause me to discount pretty much any story about discrimination against women (and other minorities) even if the discrimination is actually happening. The SJW approach seems to me to turn as many people off as it does to activate people to make changes because we so often find out later that the story was wrong in ways that completely change the context.

  4. Spartan said: This is slightly off topic, but I’m pretty sure I would take up arms if yoga pants/leggings ever became outlawed.

    Spandex is tacky though unless you are on a long bike ride. Well, actually, they still look gross on most people, but they should be allowed.

    On a related note, I’ve recently noticed a very disturbing trend: Young people, thirty-somethings or forty-somethings, coming down to breakfast in hotels in their sleepwear. Absolutely bizarre.

    • Sorry to tell you, it is a trend — pajama (bottoms in particular) is in fashion. I first saw it as peculiar but understandable wear with two people who started coming on night shift in a call room (7pm-7am) with jammies under their jeans, to be discarded for casual comfort — and a formal mid-time break which often turned into a brief nap. One of them forgot to change back on morning. She said she was too tired to notice if people were staring at her, but no one said anything. She lives close by and walks fast, so it’s possible no one did notice or care. The male of the other nightshift liked wearing his night shift too. He had a legitimate reason since he had a dermatological problem that did better with loose and cotton clothing. To be sure, he liked the attention, thought most of the commuters who noticed were jealous, and he too walked home, right through the heart of the Financial District, which starts revving up in tandem with Wall Street hours. He started buying fun and fancy pjs and soon had people giving him a smile, a wave or a greeting as they passed. Now, this is five or six years ago, and he did get refused a bus ride when he tried it once. But about a year ago, one of the up-scale department stores had pajama-looking clothes sharing a display window with trendy “travel in comfort and style” items and I remember saying it would make boarding a plane a lot easier and then thought no more about it. Since then I have run into several people in suspiciously well-fitted and opaque nightwear, all but one on Fridays (per company agreement I presume) so there it is. My co-worker is still wearing his, and now carries a letter from his dermatologist, just in case.

        • Really, Spartan, you must know that pajamas are Varicolored and have neat Designs repeated all over (not just plopped on in one place), and sometimes Words upside down and sideways. Seriously, one of the people I know who has taken to wearing the nightclothes has a terrible dermatological problem which is significantly helped by having air circulation between body and cloth and never-never-never having to wear synthetics.

          As far as leggings go – personally, I just can’t see myself in them.

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