United and the free market

By Nathan Barton

Seems that folks are ticked at United Airlines.  Dragging passengers off, overbooking and refusing to let passengers be passengers (by overbooking), and all kinds of other things have people posting and tweeting and more against United.

And, as always, there is the “there-oughta-be-a-law” crowd right out there screaming with the rest of them.  And some of THAT crowd include the lawmakers itching to… well, to make more laws!  They want the government to get involved to make sure that United doesn’t mistreat more customers, and of course, that the other dozen or so airlines serving the Fifty States don’t get any ideas from United. They are screaming for “Action Now.”

In essence, what these people are saying is that they do not want the free market to work – or even exist.  They want someone with a gun (or who has a guy with a gun at his beck-and-call) to get on that plane (figuratively or literally) and tell that pilot and those flight attendants how to do their job and what they can and cannot do to and with passengers.  And they want other people with guns to interfere with private contracts and tell people what they can and cannot buy.

This is, of course, nothing new – it has happened hundreds (if not thousands) of times in the past 150+ years.  It happens a little faster now than in the past: newspapers and letters were supplemented by television and radio and telephones, and now it is blogs and websites and instant messaging and e-mails.  But the process is the same.  Something happens that people get all het up over, and scream loudly enough that some politician stands up and proclaims “something must be done” (It does have to be a subject which does not threaten the politicians’ power and prerogatives (or those of their patrons) – or better yet, increases it.) And very quickly, some staffer writes a bill which says that a bureaucrat will (usually figuratively) whack off the hands of companies X, Y, Z, etc. and those of their employees if they even think of doing something like that again.

And since a good part of the problem in the first place is government meddling and passing laws like that in the past, nothing really improves.  Oh, that particular action might not be done again, but there will be CONSEQUENCES.  More cost, more hassle, more time, greater risk and so forth.

In United’s case, although it is not a monopoly, in many places government regulations and decisions have effectively made it one (as far as air travel goes).  The very actions which are ticking people off are caused in part to respond to government’s regs and the decision of bureaucrats (to fix other perceived problems).  The free market has been thwarted and castigated by government, directly and indirectly.

United is NOT interested in ticking off people unnecessarily.  They realize that even if there are not other airlines flying the particular route potential customers what to use, there are alternatives such as driving (even if just to a different airport and airline location).  They realize that in order to provide services at a reasonable cost, that they must sometimes do things that anger people.  But they also realize that the market will punish them for doing that  – and that is what is happening right now.

Perfection is not possible. Especially not if government gets MORE involved in affairs like this.  Everything that government does is far, far more likely to create MORE problems like this than it is to eliminate the issues (or even reduce them significantly).  People angry at United for poor customer service need to think about the quality of service provided by government agencies at all level – and the choice (or lack of choice) offered by United versus the FedGov or local drivers’ license bureau.

Mama’s Note: Absolutely, Nathan. The thing that is so amazing is that this particular problem, overbooking, could be dealt with so very easily otherwise – instead of becoming a media circus.  Each ticket could be issued with the clear instructions that overbooking might happen, and detailing the compensation offered to anyone who would stand by for another flight. There would be no grounds, then, for misunderstanding.

And then, the airline would board the first people who show up! The idea of sending goons into the aircraft later to pull someone out, especially battered and bloody, is insane. That’s assault and battery, and in a free market wouldn’t likely happen because that passenger might be ARMED. And would be perfectly within his rights to resist assault with deadly force.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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6 Responses to United and the free market

  1. “Each ticket could be issued with the clear instructions that overbooking might happen”

    How is announcing “we might defraud you” a legitimate alternative to just not defrauding people?

    If the airplane has 120 available seats, sell 120 tickets. Instead of selling seat 14A to two people and then telling one of them “sorry, we defrauded you, here are some cookies to make up for it,” sell explicit “standby, you might get a seat if someone cancels” tickets once the 120 seats are sold ONCE.


  2. Mark says:

    At what point though does a company get to exercise their private property rights? In this case, the company ordered the passenger off of the plane, their property and the man refused to leave. The business then contacted airport security to have the man removed from their property. The man then refused to leave when ordered by security.
    At what point does the passenger take on some responsibility for what amounts to trespassing. Does the passenger get to enforce his contract with the airline with force? Especially since there are already guidelines in place to compensate someone who suffers a breech of contract which is what getting bumped off of a plane due to overbooking amounts to.


    • MamaLiberty says:

      How is it trespassing when the man paid for a ticket, was boarded onto the aircraft, and had every expectation that his contract with the airline would be honored? The airline had already exchanged their private property rights temporarily when they accepted his money for a ticket and let him get on the airplane. He had not been doing anything to warrant such attack at any time.

      Of course he could have accepted the deal offered by the airline and not been attacked, but that’s not the point. And “offered” is not accurate either. He had no real choice in the matter beyond submitting to this injustice or being attacked and injured.

      The TSA molestation and terrorizing is more than enough. The airline had no rational reason to dishonor their contract with this person, and I hope they suffer seriously for doing so.


      • Mark says:

        Yes, he had a contract with the airline for services. However the airline withdrew from the contract as allowed for by current law and I’m guessing it’s even mentioned somewhere in the fine print when you make your reservations.
        I agree that the airline’s withdrawal from the contract was ethically wrong. However, that is something to be hashed out through arbitration or in court. Not by getting into a pissing contest with security.
        I also agree with your comments regarding government restrictions on services to guarantee profits. It will be interesting to see if United suffers a drop in profits in response to this incident.


      • MamaLiberty says:

        The details should certainly be worked out, now in court. I think fighting with the “security” goons was a bad choice myself, but nobody asked me… I flew for the last time in 2009. I’m mostly deaf, and this was long before I got my hearing aids. The airline employees were about the most friendly and helpful I’d ever met. One gentleman was assigned to accompany me through the “security” lines and finally delivered me to my boarding gate with a smile. The attendant at the gate watched out for me (more than necessary, really – but it was nice not to have to worry I would miss some important information from the overhead announcements) and I was among the first to board.

        But none of that helped with the TSA molestation, or the fact that I was totally unarmed and helpless, both in the airports and on the plane. Never mind that I was flying to visit grandchildren in California – where I would have been disarmed anyway. So I won’t be flying any airline, ever again most likely.


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