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Don't Blame United

United Airlines

A recent Twitter storm involving the removal of a United flight in America has led to the universal condemnation of United Airlines with passengers threatening to boycott the airline and calling for the head of United's CEO.

To my mind, this is wrong. I do not blame "United Airlines" at all. In November, last year a United Airlines Captain was praised for diffusing an air rage situation, simply by speaking over the intercom. I am sure United have many dedicated and hard-working crews who take pride in trying to offer their passengers a comfortable and stress-free journey.

So who is to blame for this incident? To my mind, it is the Purser (or whatever they call the head of the cabin crew, these days) and ultimately, of course, the Captain. Sure, United's CEO may benefit from some better PR guidance, though at the end of the day on an aircraft as much as a ship, "The Buck Stops Here" is the sign on the Captain's seat.

Traditionally, with any vessel, on land or in the air, the Captain is in charge of his craft and it is in the Captain's skill, ability and judgement that the passengers (and crew) place their complete trust. Captain Sullenberger proved this point, by saving the souls of all under his care, through his dedication, skill and judgement. I am sure many of us can even remember a time when the Captain used to walk down the body of the aircraft during a flight, with a smile and friendly word for all - that's all - passengers.

In this case, no one has made any mention of the actions of the crew. And no one has certainly made any mention of the actions of this particular Captain. Decisions were clearly made by external bodies - an instruction to get some needed crew on board, offers were made, no one volunteered... and then some instructions were followed to march some innocent passenger off the aircraft. This begs the question: "Whose instructions?" A ramp agent? Some manager? Whoever it was, the Captain and his crew allowed matters to get wholly out of hand. They are to blame.

The Purser should have alerted the Captain. The Captain should have come out, assessed the situation and made such decisions as were appropriate, that is his (or her) job. In this case, the Captain failed in his principle duty, which is to be aware of and be in command of, his or her aircraft or ship at all times.

The most worrying aspect of all this, is that it appears no-one was in command. No one had control of a situation that was escalating out of all proportion. I would still fly with United; but I would never fly on any aircraft (or with any airline) where I was unsure as to who was in real command and in whom I was placing my trust.

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