[ And yes, it is worth the attention it’s getting on an ethics blog. Greater ethical lessons and enlightenment can arise out of a transaction at a lemonade stand than in nuclear disarmament talks; this basic, establishing principle of Ethics Alarms still is elusive to many readers, and I don’t know what else I can say to explain it for them. Of course other things are going on: Bulletin: this isn’t a news site. No, the fact that Sean Spicer said that “Even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons” and the news media, knowing full well what he meant (and that what he meant was technically correct, though still a jaw-droppingly cretinous thing to say) still turned it into a big deal —because he works for Donald Trump, and there for is evil—and Nancy Pelosi even said the it mandated his removal (no, the fact that Spicer is incompetent mandates his removal—“Best people,” Mr President? Remember “Best people”?—but we knew that) is not a more important ethics story.
I am seriously considering just banning every commenter who makes one of those “Why are you writing about this when children are dying in the Congo and Flint still has bad water?” complaints. Write your own damn blog. I have clients, a full time job and many other responsibilities, taught for four hours yesterday, and most of all, had a Red Sox game to watch. Istill posted about 2000 well-considered words. I am not your Ethics Monkey.]
Reports from the still accumulating United Flight 3411 ethics carnage:
Look! A new apology! United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz performed a backflip and issued a brand new apology for the fiasco on United Express Flight 3411, and said in a statement;
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.
I promise you we will do better.
….Well, I hope you will do better, because it would be almost impossible to do worse.
…Wait, I thought the United agents were following procedures and that this was all the fault of the “disruptive” passenger? Didn’t you say that? I’m sure I read that you said that…
…”Outrage, anger, disappointment”? When did Munoz express any of those? The word he used before was “upsetting.” In his previous “apology,” which extended to the passengers who were “re-accommodated,” a weasel word if there ever was one, since they were “un-accommodated’…
…Yes it is too late to do the right thing sometimes, and this apology is a perfect example.
If the soon-to-be-forcibly retired United CEO had issued this apology immediately, contemporaneously with placing every involved employee in Chicago on leave until the matter was fully investigated, it would have been a #1 apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, the best of the best, the top of the line….
1. An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.
However, when such an apology follows a previous apology that expressed none of this, but instead a reflex insistence that no wrong had been committed and that the victim of the wrong was at fault, the second apology becomes a #7 apology on the scale, one that is insincere and not a true apology at all:
7. A forced or compelled [apology], in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent .
Munoz’s second apology also insults the intelligence of everyone following the incident. We know what United’s attitude was: the United CEO expressed it:
“Be still peasants, and don’t scream like little girls when you get your comeuppance! We decide what your rights are! Next time, try walking to Louisville! I bet our surly representatives, cramped seats and stale pretzels will start looking pretty damn good before you get though Indiana.”
Now he’s suddenly horrified and contrite. Sure he is: he’s horrified because United stock is falling, and contrite because a public relations crisis management specialist told him to be.
Too late. We know what you really think, and we don’t forget that easily.
Ann Althouse jumps on board. The usually astute contrarian law professor/blogger wrote yesterday…
I can’t bring myself to look at the video, but I’m not as sympathetic to this person as most people seem to be. I don’t like the bumping of passengers, but if it’s going to happen, and if the airline uses some random method to select the ones to bump, I don’t see how the chosen person should be allowed to avoid the bad luck by refusing to leave.
Obviously, choosing people by race would be unacceptable, but this man seems to have resorted to that accusation only after his go-to I’m-a-doctor argument failed. That is, at first he argued in favor of discrimination, that he should get a special doctor privilege. That amounts to an argument that people with less important jobs should be discriminated against — class discrimination.
Maybe it would be a good idea for the airline to have a policy of giving doctors a special privilege over other passengers, but if it hasn’t, I don’t see why the doctor should get a different outcome through civil disobedience tactics, physically resisting. If the airline actually had a race discrimination policy, I would support resistance, but I don’t believe that accusation. I think this was someone who, like everybody else who didn’t volunteer to leave, wanted to stay on the flight. Should everyone willing to resist get to stay and the burden of the bumping fall on the people who are too polite and unselfish to go into resistance mode? I just don’t understand how caving into people like this will work.
And, again, I don’t like bumping, but my understanding is that airline fares are kept low by overbooking and bumping when needed. Doesn’t everyone know they are exposed to that risk when they buy an airline ticket?
Ann, Ann, Ann.
1. How can you presume to analyze the incident without looking at the video?
2. Talk about an ethics shrug: “if it’s going to happen”? This is rationalization 1A, Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it,” one of the worst on the whole Rationalizations list. First, who says we can’t stop it, and second, if it’s going to happen like this, it absolutely must be stopped.
3. This wasn’t “bumping” as passengers have come to understand it, and you’re a lawyer: did you check to see if the ticket contract allows seated passengers to be ejected after they have been boarded? Because it doesn’t. Why are you blaming the passenger when you don’t know which party had the contract on their side?
4. This isn’t “bad luck.” This is an airline presuming to make its problems, due to its own internal ineptitude, more important than the lives of its passengers. Gee, United, I’m sorry your flight crew screwed up, but that’s not the problem of the the passengers on this flight, nor the doctor, nor his patients.
Make the flight crew take a cab to Kentucky.
5. Why is selecting by race “unacceptable” (I don’t believe he was chosen for ejection by race), but fingering him because he was old, or small, or looked harmless, or any other reason anything but arbitrary and unjust? Maybe he looked like a college professor that the agent hated. Maybe the agent had an uncle killed in the Vietnam war, and is biased against Asians. Who knows what biases were involved? Why should a passenger picked out of a crowd to have his day, schedule, responsibilities and perhaps the lives of others depending on him disrupted automatically assume that his selection was truly random? It would be random if the passengers flipped coins or drew lots, but not this. He was singled out. He has every right and reason to argue that he shouldn’t be.
6. “That amounts to an argument that people with less important jobs should be discriminated against — class discrimination.” No, that amounts to a valid argument that in such a situation the obligation is to mitigate harm. If he were a heart specialist being flown to Louisville to perform a delicate and rare operation on, say, Justice Ginsberg, wouldn’t he have an obligation to let the United agent know that? Wouldn’t he have an ethical obligation to do everything he could to stay on the flight?
How does Althouse know how important his commitments were? Is she really saying that it doesn’t matter, that passengers, no matter what harm will be caused by their removal from a flight for no fault of their own, should not make the case that someone else should be chosen whose inconvenience would cause less harm? What a lazy, unethical position! You can’t tell me that a Senator on the way to a crucial vote, or a parent flying to be at the bedside of a dying child, or a lawyer flying to make a crucial Supreme Court oral argument would be subject to Ann’s objection, or that the United agent wouldn’t agree to substitute someone else in these cases, and many others. Is that “class discrimination” too?
7. “Should everyone willing to resist get to stay and the burden of the bumping fall on the people who are too polite and unselfish to go into resistance mode?” Yes, everyone who is threatened with force and ordered to leave a seat they have paid for after they are seated should resist until they are offered compensation that they deem acceptable, or until the airline arrives at another solution.
“Unselfish?” Are you kidding me? It’s selfish not to resist being kicked out of your seat when you have planned on the flight and paid for your ticket?
8. Did Ann not smell something fishy about the facts? Has anyone heard of an airline suddenly realizing it was overbooked after the plane was filled with passengers? Airlines know when they are overbooked; they have these things called computers. After they know who has checked in, they address the problem before the flight is boarded by anyone. Yes, the news media botched its reporting, and everyone just took United at its word that this was an overbooking episode. I know I did. However, that unwarranted assumption isn’t crippling if one takes the position, as Ethics Alarms did, that the passenger’s treatment was unethical anyway. Althouse bases her lack of sympathy on principles of overbooking, which in fact don’t apply, which she doesn’t understand, and which she’s heard somewhere are essential to keeping prices down.
9. Funny, that sounds a lot like the justifications for letting in illegal immigrants.
10. “Doesn’t everyone know they are exposed to that risk when they buy an airline ticket?” Ugh. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I fly all the time. Do I know that I can be hauled off the plane at any time after I am seated if a flight crew shows up and wants my seat? NO. I still don’t know that. And if that’s true, I promise any airline that tries to do it will be sorry that it chose me to abuse.