12.4.17

THE DISPATCHER'S JOB IS TO IMPROVISE.

Naked Capitalism and Reason weigh in on the United Airlines relief-crew-in-Chicago imbroglio.  I'm going to stay away from the legal hair-splitting over denying boarding to passengers who have already boarded the plane.  Cattle pens and boarding lounges have one chute, but apparently "boarding process" is part of some legalese by which the plane is in a state of being boarded until the chute has been pulled back and the drovers have sealed the doors.  Or something out of Upton Sinclair.

Reason's Brian Doherty is having none of it.
Dr. Dao was not denied boarding. He was permitted to board. They ejected him after he had boarded. So that doesn't apply.

If you argue this is being unfairly niggling to the letter of the law as opposed to its spirit, I'd argue that any attempt to welsh on the background obligation to deliver the service you sold by nature relies on niggling letter of the law as opposed to its spirit.

If United or its apologists want to hew to letter of contract rather than commonsense background understanding of commercial transactions (whereby purchasing the service means you get the service), then hew to the letter of contract. By which, nothing about United's right to deny boarding has anything to do with what happened to Dao.

I've also seen United apologists scramble to say, well, "boarding" means something different than just "getting on board," but rather is some ongoing process until the plane is in the air.
Git along, little dogies!  Move 'em on, cut 'em out, rope 'em round and brand 'em, Rawhide!  Mr Doherty notes there's no definition of "boarding" in the Conditions of Carriage.  Unlike in ice hockey, where if the seismograph registers, you sit for two minutes.

The Naked Capitalism post gets to the heart of the matter, which is, it's a business failure.
This is no way to run an airline. The FAA tracks flight status of planes by their tail numbers in real time. If the four crew members were in a fix due to a flight delay, United should have known well before they landed and alerted the gate personnel of whatever flight it wanted to put them on as soon as the gate opened. Even though it was illegal to dump confirmed passengers, United could have come up with a cock-and-bull story, like the had been forced to use a smaller plane and some passengers would have to travel late. They could have called out the names of the four unfortunates. In that scenario. Dr. Dao’s only recourse would have been to make a stink in the gate area, which would have gone nowhere. And if the crew had been in Chicago and got to their original flight to Louisville late and therefore had to be moved over to this flight, that is inexcusable.

This in turn reveals the lack of any slack whatsoever in United’s system. Clearly the urgency was due to the four crew members somehow being late; Plan A had failed and the last minute boarding effort was Plan B or maybe even Plan C. As one experienced passenger said, “They can’t come up with four crew members in one of their biggest hubs?”
United did come up with four crew members in Chicago.  Perhaps the crew dispatcher's Plan A, which is the normal course of operations, was disrupted by weather or mechanical problems or drunken passengers on incoming equipment or something, and perhaps there was a Plan B, but the dispatcher had insufficient Fingerspitzengef├╝hl or was overwhelmed.  But that is the nature of dispatching.  When everything is running according to plan, something as complex as the United passenger schedule, or the Burlington East End works out well, and the dispatcher simply keeps score.  But throw in the aviation equivalent of a derailment on the south approach to Union Station or a Union Pacific to Norfolk Southern transfer passing a red signal at Union Avenue just before Five is about to leave and the first pair of rush hour dinkies are out of Union Station (I was on the first dinky for that one, and I'm glad I wasn't the Union Pacific crew that day).  To add to the excitement, Four is running late, and the conductor informs you that there's a carload of Kansas City fans who would like to catch the 5.08 Hiawatha to Milwaukee and they're kind of unruly, but Four is going to hit Montgomery about the same time as a Bakken oil train for Norfolk Southern to Whiting whose crew is close to going dead on the hog-law.  Better hope Union Pacific gets that transfer sorted at Lumber Street before the oil train and Four get close. Then a passenger on 1267 (the 5.22 Naperville Zephyr) suffers a heart attack, and an ambulance can meet the train at LaGrange Road, but if you do the rescue on the center track, you tie up the rest of the service, or if you cross 1267 to the platform track you still lay out at least three locals and short-turn trains.  And if you're really having a bad day, the 50 mph crossover at the west end of Lisle fails.  But the railroad won't stop.  You earn your salary on the days things go wrong.

And railroads do have rules for the ejection of disorderly passengers from trains.  New Haven Rule 792, for instance.
If necessary to protect passengers from any person who is noisy, disorderly, intoxicated, or otherwise offensive, a conductor must be careful to use no more force than is absolutely necessary.  He must maintain a dignified self-control, and if the comfort and safety of passengers require, remove the offending person to the baggage car or other suitable place of detention, understanding that this does not constitute an arrest, and that the person may be allowed to depart from the train or may be arrested by a railroad or regular police officer.

He must eject only at a station, where an agent or police officer is on duty, and where the ejected person will not be exposed to inclement weather.

A conductor must never eject a child of tender years or a person in a feeble or helpless condition.  The names of witnesses having information regarding incidents subject to this rule should be obtained and sent to the superintendent with a special report giving all particulars.
That final paragraph is from an era before everyone had a video recorder in his pocket.

Taken together, plenty of preventable screw-ups.

United, meanwhile, have contracted out the Louisville service to code-sharing barnstormers operating latter-day Tri-Motors.  (The corporation is called Republic.  Maybe those should be latter-day DC-3s.)  That's a false economy, the Naked Capitalism essay suggests.
It’s bad enough when travelers suffer the indignity of disrupted plans, crowded planes, security theater and too often cranky airport staff. Now we’ve seen United execute a private sector extraordinary rendition. Perhaps this fiasco will lead to some improvements, but the lousy economics of airlines combined with their oligopoly status in the US says they will be extremely reluctant to make anything beyond bare minimum changes.
On the other hand, the same article suggests that the flying sardine can approach offers enough frequency at a low enough price that travellers put up with it.  But extraordinary rendition or not, United have done more harm to themselves with this implementation of their emergency bumping protocol than they would have by cancelling or delaying the first departure from Louisville.  The United CEO is promising a thorough "review of the airline’s crew movement, incentive policies for voluntarily giving up a seat, and how the company handles overbooking and partners with local law enforcement."  And somewhere in the United bureaucracy there is a crew dispatcher, who, whenever the service is disarranged, is going to check that there is a rested crew qualified on Tri-Motors positioned at Louisville.

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