Everyone is horrified by how United Airlines has treated a paying passenger it decided to kick off a plane after he had boarded. One minor but chilling aspect of the horror? How United's own comments abuse what language actually means to try and justify its shitty behaviour.
Longtime Lifehacker readers will know that the misuse of language is one of my pet peeves. And even before all the outrage this week, I'd already had a long-standing policy of never flying on United, dating back to an incident with an oil-soaked business class seat in the early 2000s (don't ask). So I could only look on with horrified fascination as United dug its own grave and then proceeded to clomp itself around the head with the shovel, just to be sure.
The three standout examples of United's spin as it tried to deal with the crisis:
- The initial tweet from United after the incident suggests that it had to "re-accommodate" customers. That is not what the phrase means. You don't re-accommodate someone by cracking their skull open.
- The letter sent to staff talks about how United "denied boarding" for the passenger. As the video makes clear and all the subsequent reporting has confirmed, he had already boarded and been assigned a seat, before some late-running crew were given priority. To suggest this equals "denying boarding" is Orwellian in its warping of reality.
- The sequel apology was equally crap, including the phrase "No-one should ever be mistreated this way." Mistreated in any other way would be OK then, right? Is there no-one checking what United says before it spews out this rubbish?
No, this misuse of language doesn't suck as much as an already crappy US airline deciding to use government-funded forces to make a passenger bleed as it drags him off the plane because it's too cheap to organise proper staff rosters. But it underscores why no sane person would ever fly with United again.
Your ticket literally isn't worth the paper it's (possibly) printed on. And it reminds us of that eternal lesson: accuracy matters.
Angus Kidman is editor-in-chief for comparison site finder.com.au , a former editor for Lifehacker Australia and a linguistics obsessive. Follow him on Twitter @gusworldau. An earlier version of this post appeared on his blog.