Dr. Dao’s Loss Was Our Gain

The saga of former United Airlines customer Dr. David Dao is getting more and more expensive for the airline. According to the Daily Mail, he didn’t get home with all his teeth or his baggage. It seems that although United’s O’Hare Airport staff had time to order Dao beaten, which caused the loss of two teeth, they didn’t have time to take his luggage off the plane before it departed.

Maybe the baggage compartment isn’t subject to being oversold.

After the incident United CEO Oscar Munoz evidently decided to emulate Jim Carrey in the movie “Liar, Liar” and kick his own a**. He issued a number of news releases and endured a series of interviews that only served to illustrate the truth of the old public relations adage: When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

First Munoz contended the 69–year–old doctor was “belligerent.” Then Bloomberg reports that Munoz said no United employees would lose their job or be punished in the wake of the incident. “It was a system failure across various areas, so there was never a consideration for firing an employee or anyone around it,” he explained.

Although accurate, the statement doesn’t begin to address all of United’s legal problems. Dao was bumped because of what was termed at the time an “oversold” condition. The contract United customers enter into and never read when they buy a ticket addresses “denied boarding” on an oversold flight. United’s enormous liability problem is Dao wasn’t denied boarding; he was boarded and seated on the aircraft, so the contract provisions no longer applied.

After the initial death–by–streaming the video caused, United clarified the situation. Their particularly aggressive brand of musical chairs wasn’t caused by overbooking. United needed to move a crew of four to Louisville for a flight the next day and Dao was in the fourth seat.

Now there are many examples of passengers being beaten during their commute. An entire train was hijacked in Oakland just this week. But Dao may be the first person in history who was beaten so someone else could commute.

What many people don’t know about the airline business is many, if not most, of their cabin crews don’t live near the airports where they’re assigned. Crews flying out of Louisville may choose to live in a happenin’ city like Chicago, since the airborne commute is free. Dao’s teeth–rattling adventure could well have been the result of a lifestyle choice by the cabin crew in question. A tidbit that will cost even more if the case goes to trial.

The airline’s “system failure” was a pennywise–and–pound–foolish approach to overbooking. United supports the free market when it helps to make money, but dislikes the market when it costs money.

United began the market–based bidding process by offering $400 to passengers, but there were no takers. Then United offered $800. When that didn’t work the bidding was abruptly closed.

The supervisor hadn’t even gone up to the $1,350 maximum compensation required by law when he awarded Dao a free trip to Fist City.

And this is where the doctor’s loss becomes our gain.

Delta Airlines saw the post–knockout $1.4 billion drop in United’s stock price and decided to expand its auction for oversold seats. The Daily Caller reports Delta gate agents can now offer up to $2,000 in compensation and ground supervisors can go up to $9,950.

Now United is following Delta’s lead.

I’m a very satisfied Premier 1K flyer with United and today I received an email acknowledgement from Munoz that admits, “Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”

To show Dr. Dao didn’t bleed in vain, in the future United “will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000.” Now the only violence in the cabin during an overbooked event will be when passengers didn’t think a volunteer held out for enough money and reduced compensation for the rest of the volunteers.

Even better, United now has a “no–questions–asked” $1,500 reimbursement policy for misplaced baggage. So if Dr. Dao’s new dentures are lost during a future flight he won’t have to supply the baggage supervisor with a cast of his teeth.

This is the most customer–oriented policy change that I can remember in the airline industry and we owe it all to Dr. Dao. I would almost suggest we start a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the good doctor’s physical therapy and PTSD sessions to demonstrate our gratitude.

But something tells me that after either the settlement talks or the trial concludes, Dr. Dao will have so much money he won’t be participating in any seat auctions regardless of how high the bidding goes.

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Climate Change Doesn’t Affect NWS Forecasts

How long would firemen remain the nation’s genial mascot if they forced you to move into a hotel for a few days because you smelled smoke in the garage? As you were wondering if ten years of chainsaw, lawn mower and leaf blower gas cans were about to be launched into a low earth orbit while you waited for firemen to arrive, once the truck arrived the first responders weren’t worried.

They knew in 30 seconds the smell originated in an overheating freezer, and unplugging it solved the problem. But the brass was concerned.

The chief worried that since your house didn’t go up in a giant fireball, you would be so relieved that you’d fail to view the problem as the narrow escape from a fiery death that it was.

Consequently, you might be tempted to plug the freezer back into the socket after they departed; potentially melting you and the lamb chops if the freezer shorted out while you slept.

That’s why, to impress the gravity of the situation on your family, the chief delivered a scary, arm–waving lecture and ordered you to earn two nights of Hilton points at Embassy Suites.

Unlikely you say? Tell that to the National Weather Service.

It was responsible for scaring airlines into canceling 9,000 flights, schools into closing, the federal government into delaying three hours, the DC Metro into cancelling transit services for the handicapped and a variety of other private businesses into shutting down on Tuesday for a storm that put a mere 2 inches on snow on the ground in Washington, DC.

Even worse, the NWS knew “Winter Storm Stella” was going to be more on the order of Snow Shower Sweetie but it refused to revise the forecast. The Associated Press reports, “After announcing that snow could reach record levels in the city, NWS meteorologists in New York and other Northeast cities held a conference call Monday afternoon about computer models that dramatically cut predicted totals.”

Taking a cue from “climate scientists” who never cut back on their hyperventilating over smoldering polar bears – in spite of their computer model’s failure to come close to predicting how the climate has changed – the weather service took a stern line on sleet.

Instead of calling off the evacuation of the Eastern Seaboard, they decided to stick with hysteria. This monumentally bad decision relied on that byword of the modern bureaucrat: “Extreme caution.”

These Chicken Littles felt people wouldn’t view a storm with a potential for just two to seven inches of snow as a harbinger of the apocalypse. Which is right, since it isn’t.

Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the Weather Prediction Center observed, “I actually think in the overall scheme that the actions [by states and cities] taken in advance of the event were exceptional.”

If “exceptional” is another word for lunatic overreaction, then right on!

The NWS thought costing taxpayers millions of dollars in lost time, revenue and emergency daycare was a small price to pay if it prevented one granny from slipping on her way to the mailbox.

In their defense the weather wardens at the NWS are under a certain amount of pressure from the incoming Trump administration. Since it rained on him at the inauguration, the president has felt the NWS might be secretly participating in the “resistance.”

I’ve written the NWS is under a severe hiring freeze warning, which comes at a bad time for the organization because it’s been down 650 employees and no has appeared to notice. The solution for the weather mavens is to reinvent the NWS and make it part of the nation’s public safety apparatus, which the Washington Post says might allow NWS to exploit the hiring loophole Trump left for agencies involved in the military, public safety or public health.

If the NWS brass can finesse this textbook example of mission creep, the guy who eyeballs the rain gauge at the airport will join Seal Team 6 on the front lines of homeland defense.

Downgrading “Winter Storm Stella” into “Scattered Flurries Flo” and lifting the No Fly Zone on the East coast might have been accurate, but it wouldn’t enhance the sense of urgency management wants to convey to the White House.

Just mentioning these potential cuts in a previous column was enough to unleash hounds of humidity. My protestations that I’ve had my own Wi–Fi weather station on the roof for years fell on deaf ears connected to a dangerous high–anger zone.

I’ve suggesting the NWS concentrate on getting the data and let the private sector handle the forecasts, which in the case of the Weather Channel have proven to be more accurate. This latest exercise in paternalism and over–reaction hasn’t changed my mind.

Flyers Progress from Passengers to Freight

More foreigners are complaining about discrimination and Donald Trump hasn’t even taken the oath of office. This time it’s Samoans, which I always thought were New Zealand’s problem, but evidently are ours.

The Telegraph reports two businessmen “filed complaints to the US Transportation Department after they were weighed before boarding a flight from Honolulu – and assigned specific seats to keep the aircraft’s load evenly distributed.”

passenger-sizing-boxOne of the weighees, claims the rule is “discriminatory because it only applies to those flying to or from American Samoa,” which pretty much proves his claim false, since a rule that applies to everyone by definition can’t be discrimination.

Hawaiian Airlines is fighting obesity — or at least poking it in the side — in two ways. First passengers flying to or from Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, are barred from selecting seats online and must endure the instrumental version of “Fat–Bottomed Girls” while completing their purchase. Later at the airport everyone is weighed before boarding.

This fact alone creates a mental picture of American Samoa that’s not appealing and pretty much flies in the face of all Pacific tourism advertising. If you’re getting the feeling it would require a tarpaulin rather than a sarong to cover the women of Samoa, you’re correct.

The CIA has done research into the topic — why fight hard–to–find ISIS when it’s so much easier to locate the obese — and its World Factbook informs us American Samoa has the highest rate of obesity in the world.

And this is without a single Old Country Buffet location on the entire island.

The spooks found 74.6 percent of the population comes in the large economy size. But since Samoans haven’t stopped eating since 2008 when the research was done, more current estimates “claim the obesity rate could now be as high as 94 percent.”

Since Jenny Craig’s nation–building effort has evidently failed, the airline was forced to weigh all passengers in the balance. “Our aircraft cabin weight was heavier than projected. This requires us to manage the distribution of weight across each row in our cabin and we have elected to do so by making sure that one seat in each row is either empty or occupied by a traveller under the age of 13,” a spokesman explained.

Samoa Air, which competes on the same route, came up with a solution in 2013 that’s completely neutral. It determines all passenger fares based on weight. Wikipedia ran the numbers and the program works like this: “The fare is calculated by multiplying a base fare (depending on the route flown) by the total weight of the passenger plus their luggage. So a passenger flying from Apia to Asau weighing 176 lbs. and carrying 45 lbs. of luggage would pay $132 for the flight (220 lbs. x $1.32 base fare), while another passenger weighing 132 lbs. and traveling without luggage would pay $79.20 for the same flight. Children are charged in the same way at a 75 percent rate.”

That’s a much more equitable fare structure. I think the bodybuilder that weighs 300 lbs. should pay a premium just like the couch potato who weighs 300 lbs. Right now flying in the US is airborne Obamacare only in this instance smaller people’s ticket prices are subsidizing larger people.

On second thought, here on the ground a lot of the pre–existing condition class is made up of people who annex your armrest when you share a row. And to add insult to injury they often claim a disability and board early, getting your overhead space, too.

Weighing passengers is certainly less punitive than the baggage–sizing boxes at the gate. Sadistic gate agents know any bag larger than an Altoids box won’t fix in those Iron Maidens, which are designed solely to force passengers to check bags.

A slight modification to Samoa’s idea would make the fares more palatable for US flyers. Airlines could publish height and weight ranges for passengers. I was 6 feet tall before I got married and my wife crushed my spirit. That height and my 186 lbs. puts me squarely in the 160 — 196 lb. range for males, so no extra charge for me, but if I was over then it’s only fair to add to the fare.

If a passenger is below their weight range and able to get down the Jetway unassisted then I think a rebate is in order.

The only downside to a weight–based fare structure is it would encourage parents to ship their kids more frequently. I can’t decide which is worse: A dormant obese person passively invading my space, or a juvenile kicking the back of my seat.