United Airlines’ Choice Of Language Proves What A Deadshit Company It Is

United Airlines’ Choice Of Language Proves What A Deadshit Company It Is

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.


  • The passenger was certainly treated very shabbily, an injustice piled upon by the gutter press when they saw fit to dig up some irrelevent personal details.

    • Right, them trying to justify why it was okay to do what they did by trying to smear him. The police didn’t know about that history before they bashed his head in.

  • Can’t help but think that this had something to do with him being a minority compared to a lot of the passengers. I can’t imagine some posh white dude being treated this way if he refused to go after being chosen by the machine. Guy was Asian-American and they probably thought he wouldn’t put up a fight or is lower than everyone else and proceeded to bash his head with no regard for him.

  • I’m not sure Dr Dao is the martyr he is being portrayed as. My understanding of the situation is as follows:

    – United Airline overbooked a flight (their mistake) but had to fly crew on the flight to avoid crew flight time restrictions (i.e. flight crews have to take madated rest after a certain period in the interest of safety).
    – After offering passengers cash to take a later flight, the United computer system randomly selected four or five passengers to be removed from the flight. All the selected passengers, except Dr Dao, left the flight peacefully.
    – New video shows Dr Dao provoking a physical confrontation with police after being instructed politely to leave the aircraft.

    I’ll concede that United PR management of the situation has been poor but the full facts are often not available immediately. And just because you’re a paying passenger doesn’t mean you get to disobey instruction from flight crew. In fact, catch a flight to Bali and get a feel for how many people believe they can behave like an a***hole because they paid for their ticket.

    • Here’s an idea. Put your flight crew in the hotel and make them catch a flight another time.

      • Yeah no worries. It’s cool we can just cancel the flight they were probably going to be crewing!

        • They should be planning their scheduling better. If there’s no room on the plane, BOOK THEM ON A FLIGHT WITH ANOTHER CARRIER rather than treating paying customers so poorly.

  • Meh. It’s pretty much an open and shut case. You want to fly then you must follow all instructions given to you by airline staff. He didn’t do that.

    Also pretty obvious that if you resist arrest then you run the risk of personal injury.

    The responsibility lies solely on the individual here.

    • I think you should do some more research. It’s an open shut case alright, as in every lawyer agrees he’s got a fantastic case to be paid a hefty settlement.

      UA violated their own policies. U gotta remember that at the end of they day, if they needed to fly 4 crew members, they already got 3. Are they that unprepared to not have 1 standby crew on site?… Ok maybe they are…

    • That’s so wrong. We book flights mostly because we have to be somewhere at a certain time. Just arbitrarily booting us off on a whim is not fair.

      • I think in air travel, you get what you pay for. If you book a cheap ticket on a cheap airline you should expect to get screwed in some way. If you expect service, then don’t fly discount.

  • I have never had a flight on United Airlines and I will never.

    It is NOT because of “race discrimination”, “overbooking policy”, “low airfares or not”, or “value of compensation”. It is because that this incident has revealed that one can be turned down flying at any point in the journey by United Airlines because of priority and not because of accident, mechanical breaking down, emergency, weather or the likes.

    Those points of a journey/flight are in order of booking, telephone to confirm (for some categories of tickets), checking-in at the airport counter (if not checking-in online), checking-in at the terminal gate, and boarding the plane.

    How can one be refused flying because of priority when the plane can fly?

    Is this about human right?

  • I agree that they are a shit company, however for someone who is supposedly a ‘linguistics obsessive’ your comprehension of English appears rather poor, based on how you took their statements out of context and misinterpreted their meaning. I don’t mean to offend you, but I felt the need to call out what I see as poor writing and journalism.

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