United Takes “Bumping” Passengers to a New Low


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Anna Zverera | Flickr

Will anyone ever again be able to recall the old United Airlines slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies” without a jolt of irony? There will be no quick fix for the furor over the airline’s handling of a now-notorious incident Sunday night, when security agents dragged a passenger, screaming and bloody, from a fully boarded plane. The airline had bumped him from an overbooked flight to Louisville, Kentucky; he said he was a doctor who had to get home to see patients, and complained he was being discriminated against as an Asian American.

Passengers captured the incident on video, of course, and it went mega-viral. Here are three of the many stories it tells.

(1) Companies like United still don’t know how to talk to their customers. As its stock tanked, United provided a textbook case of how not to respond in a crisis. Its CEO’s public statements were tone-deaf and doublespeak-ridden (he apologized for ““having to re-accommodate these customers”) and immediately subject to volleys of ridicule. Sure, the company has to protect itself from lawsuits, but what good is avoiding liability if you end up losing the trust of the public?

(2) In the Trump era, norms of civil non-violence are fragile. The thuggery we saw at Trump’s election rallies is now beginning to spill over into everyday life, and agents of state security are now quicker to resort to physical brutality. The outrage many citizens feel toward United is amplified by widespread awareness that authoritarian overreach is implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, endorsed by the president himself. (That’s why you’ll find at least some Trump supporters on Twitter defending United.) This kind of breakdown is bad for democracy, and bad for business, too.

(3) The airline industry is a long-term basket case (New York). Large airlines have been losing money for decades. ‘70s-era deregulation lowered some fares but also left America’s middle-sized markets (like Louisville) underserved. There just aren’t enough flights to these cities for their economies to grow. Meanwhile, airlines cut down on scheduled flights and overbook the ones that are left — because they can, and because they’re desperate. We need a smarter national airline policy — one that just might involve more coordination, planning, or even regulation — not simply to discourage airlines from having their passengers beaten, but to reintroduce sanity in an industry that has lost it.

How Harvard Business School Lost Its Moral Spine

Harvard Business School has trained a disproportionate share of the corporate world’s leaders. Now a forthcoming book is blaming the school for creating a culture of greed that has alienated the American public (Andrew Ross Sorkin in The New York Times).

HBS wrote the playbook for successive generations of CEOs and consultants who have engineered our gilded age of inequality, according to the book’s author, business journalist Duff McDonald. McDonald writes: “When students enter business school, they believe that the purpose of a corporation is to produce goods and services for the benefit of society. When they graduate, they believe that it is to maximize shareholder value.”

It wasn’t alway this way. U.S. business schools used to do a better job of balancing the bottom line and social considerations, but in the mid-1980s, “the money got too good,” McDonald says. HBS was founded with the ideal of training professional managers for the betterment of both business and society. If non-profit institutions of higher learning don’t promote humane values in business, who else will?

Don’t Make Tech the Scapegoat For Urban Inequality

Tech workers and the startups they found are often blamed for turning America’s twenty-first century cities into nightmarish tableaux of inequality. That conclusion is part overstated and part plain wrong, writes Richard Florida (Bloomberg), the scholar known for studying how the “creative class” transforms cities.

According to Florida, the popular view that the tech economy is driving up inequality holds true only in the realm of housing, where well-to-do tech workers really do make life harder for less wealthy “creatives” who work in the arts, and whose presence makes the cities attractive in the first place.

When you look at wages and other broader measures of urban economic health, Florida says, the evidence shows that tech companies and workers haven’t stifled the creative lives of cities at all, but rather provided both the revenue and the growth they need to maintain and expand services. In the end, he maintains, the real conflict isn’t between techies and artists; they have too much in common. It’s between both of them, as elements of a larger, well-off creative class, and less-privileged groups further down the urban economic ladder — service employees, displaced manufacturing workers, and the unemployed.


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