Airline Dragging Video Prompts Conversations About Income Inequality

April 10th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A viral video showing a man being forcibly dragged from his United Airlines flight has prompted discussions on everything from shoddy booking practices and over aggressive policing.

But there's one more topic some writers think we should be discussing in the wake of the incident: income inequality. United Airlines passengers with less expensive tickets are more likely to be asked to leave the plane if the flight is overbooked.

A viral Tweet about the incident highlights the divisions in flight seating, joking that United Airlines added a new section called "fight club."

Another tweet points out that the much of the consumer experience in the U.S. is divided up into "luxury" or "bargain" purchases.

Like most airlines, United divides its seating sections, but it also decides who gets deplaned on an overbooked flight by "fare class." As Ethan Wolff-Mann from Yahoo Finance pointed out, United has a policy under Rule 25 of the Contract of Carriage, which says passengers can be denied boarding based on "passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership" and other considerations.

Here's the rule on United's page:

United Airlines' contract of carriage.

Paul Constant, a political writer at Civic Ventures, wrote the the United scandal was ultimately a story about "class warfare."

"When you get down to it, like everything else in America today, this is about the haves and the have-nots. If you’re in first class, you don’t need to worry about shock troops coming and beating you until you get out of the seat that you bought. If you’re not in first class, you’re on your own. If you’re in the top one percent on Wall Street, you turn a tidy profit off the whole ordeal. This is what class warfare looks like."

The latter part of Constant's argument is a reference to the fact that United's stock reportedly soared after the news of the incident, which one pundit speculated came in response to investors learning the airline's flights were overbooked (a sure sign that business is good).


Since we're talking about income inequality — how bad has it gotten in the United States?

A 2016 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that income inequality has risen in every state since the 1970s and that the top 1 percent of Americans received 85 percent of the income growth in the U.S. from 2009 to 2013.