The Price to Be Paid for Vile Customer Service

When a constituency has been beaten down for long enough a crystallizing moment can prove fatal. Beware tonight, United Airlines. Beaten Down: Airline passengers. Average seat pitch formerly 35 inches, 31 now. Fees, fees and more fees. United Airlines, already last in customer satisfaction, richly deserves the pain coming from it’s just really ugly, unforgivable police action today.

The frowning, sometimes dimly-qualified, testosterone-pumped enforcement cowboys whose gauntlet you must run these days to all the airlines’ friendly skies may wish to think otherwise, but the interior of an airplane is not a war zone. Although you wouldn’t know it on this day.

Honest now, most likely United Airlines chairman Oscar Munoz, like a thousand other captains of industry, kissed his wife and kids and obeyed traffic rules this morning on the way to the office. There is no reason to believe he did anything besides look after his shareholders’ interests right up until, entirely outside his control, an incident occurred on board one of his planes waiting to leave O’Hare airport.

Mr. Munoz’s company needed four of its employees to be somewhere other than Chicago and all of the passengers declined to volunteer their bought and paid for seats for the airline’s benefit.

The airline tried to bargain with its customers. The first offer? $400. No takers. The second? $800. Again, no takers. People gotta go where they gotta go. Interesting to note: rules are, passengers are eligible for up to $1,350 for such a disruption but United Airlines apparently decided not to offer more than $800. They preferred to enlist strong men to haul a paying passenger from his seat instead.

It would appear that in the wake of the incident, after a wavering moment of incipient decency in which Chairman Munoz called the incident “an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” the chairman tilted awry by calling the bumped passenger “disruptive and belligerent.” Said he, the airline agents “were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight.”

Oh, Lordy, whether the passenger was belligerent or not (and none of the emergent videos, see here, here, and here, demonstrate such), this was exactly, precisely, even perversely the wrong response.

The passenger declined to be forcibly bumped from a flight he had paid for with money or airline miles, because the airline thought a better use of his seat was to transport its own employees. (And answer me this, why should police abet the airline in the airline’s wrongdoing?)

A single event won’t usually overtake a career. On this one, Mr. Munoz, who was under fire just last week for denying passage to teenage girls for wearing leggings, just might get caught up in the deluge. Sometimes, a constituency beaten down for long enough will rise up. Sometimes a big enough misstep from the loftiest heights can lead you over the corporate cliff.

Even while I have written just now, I see 2310 new Tweets with the hashtag #United. Since Mr. Munoz kissed his wife and kids this morning, I wonder if he may have kissed his job goodbye.

 

 

The Fire at Chernobyl Is a Real Danger Right Now

chernobyl

Articles with titles like Ukraine Fire Near Chernobyl Disaster Site Brought Under Control create an incorrect impression. They probably mean to reassure by suggesting that the sarcophagus that contains the ruined reactor four is not under threat.

But as I’ve been tweeting this afternoon, it’s not that simple. The forests around the Chernobyl nuclear facility have been irradiated since the event itself in April of 1986, and the forests are still toxic. A study has shown that radioactive cesium 137, for example, with a half life of 30 years, “isn’t disappearing from the environment as quickly as predicted.”

Ukrainian authorities established the exclusion zone in the first place to keep people away from dangerous materials like cesium 137, strontium 90 and others. Visitors to the exclusion zone are made to sign an agreement not to wander into the woods and disturb the ground. We were instructed not even to rest a camera bag on the ground while changing batteries.

Fire needn’t reach the reactor proper to cause the dispersal of cancer causing material. It can be lifted from the forest floor into the air in clouds of smoke from the fire. People in Kyiv, Minsk and rural areas of Ukraine and Belarus must be careful not to breathe smoke from this fire.

New Tibet Travel Troubles. Same Old Story.

You've been thinking about it for years, and of course you've been planning for months. You HAVE to. After painstaking research and dogged persistence through the bureaucracy, you've finally got your Tibet Travel Permit in hand. And now you can't go.

Jokhang

Numerous news sources report that, like they did in 2008 – 2009, Chinese authorities have banned foreign travelers from Tibet.

The move comes after two Tibetans self-immolated on 27 May outside the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, pictured above.

Unsettling Weekend Reading

Prison

We've all done trips that were … less fabulous … than others. (Funny: Search "worst travel" on Amazon and the Lonely Planet guide to Ukraine comes in at number twelve.) Let's just say these are trips that involve more trials than, oh, losing your luggage. I can nominate my friend who had to have an emergency appendectomy in the Soviet Union in the mid-80's, for example. No, no, he didn't speak Russian.

Farther along on the scale, maybe, here's the Amazon description of the book The Worst Journey in the World: "hoping that the study of penguin eggs would provide an evolutionary link between birds and reptiles – a group of explorers left Cardiff by boat on an expedition to Antarctica. Not all of them would return. Written by one of its survivors, (this book) tells the moving and dramatic story of the disastrous expedition."

But the really worst worst trip might have been this one. Enjoy reading about it in front of your cozy, warm fireplace this weekend.

•••••

And then there's Cruise Passengers Overboard. Somebody out there has it in for mega-ships even more than me. They describe their site as "a comprehensive list of known cases of persons falling or jumping overboard since 1995. " This thing must take a lot of work. It's up to date as recently as seven days ago.

 

Defeat!

Sumo

How much is just too much for a Japanese budget wonk? 10,000 free airline tickets, apparently.

In an effort to relight the fire under travel to Japan after the Fukushima disaster, the Japan Tourism Agency submitted a budget request for money enough to give away 10,000 tickets. The budget was to have been aproved and applications were to be received by about April this year. To apply, you'd send an essay describing why you'd like to visit and where you'd go.

Just found this on the Tourism Agency web site. It was posted while we were away for the holidays:

"The project titled Fly to Japan! (to offer flight tickets to 10,000 foreigners with high potential to communicate Japan’s attractions), which had been covered in a number of media in autumn this year, was not approved as a governmental draft budget of FY 2012."

And I already had my essay written in my head.