Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


An Easter Message from United Airlines

As I look at Easter in the rearview mirror, it occurs to me that United Airlines has given us a stunning example of how extraordinary Jesus’ sacrifice was for each of us.

On April 9th Dr. and Mrs. Dao intended to fly home to Louisville following a brief vacation in California. Routed through Chicago, they boarded the “friendly skies” of United Airlines. Unfortunately, that is when friendly stopped for flight 3411.

This flight needed four seats to accommodate employees due in Louisville to service another flight. United Airlines had a problem. Everyone with tickets arrived and boarded the place. There were no empty seats.

Overbooking flights is allowed under federal rules, and airlines regularly leverage this opportunity based on general no-show rates for passengers that miss flights. An empty seat is lost revenue.

Federal rules state that an airline cannot bump passengers without first seeking volunteers. The carriers offer travel vouchers that make the inconvenience worthwhile. United Airlines was required to offer up to twice the amount of the one-way fare.  Passengers delayed more than two hours must be paid up to four times the one-way fare, or in this case, $1,350.

When there are absolutely no volunteers, regulations permit airlines to involuntarily remove individuals from the aircraft. They are called “bump” passengers. There are four general reasons for bumping a passenger: 1) flight is overbooked; 2) aircraft is overweight; 3) seat(s) needed for in-flight Marshall(s); and 4) seats are needed for employee(s) commuting to work for a flight departing from another city.

So what happened on flight 3411 that day?

After passengers had boarded the plane, United asked for four volunteers to give up their seats to accommodate their employees commuting to Louisville, KY. But no passengers took the travel voucher offers that went as high as $1,000. Therefore, four passengers were randomly chosen and ordered to deplane the aircraft; three were rebooked on another flight.

Dr. Dao was the fourth passenger chosen to involuntarily vacate his seat, but he refused to do so and for good reasons. He was traveling with his wife, but United only chose him to exit the aircraft to make room for its employees. Like a good husband, Dr. Dao refused to give up his seat and leave his wife unescorted, and also explained that he was a doctor who needed to return home to see patients the following morning.

United Airlines didn’t budge. The police were called to extract Dr. Dao.

By now most of us have seen the disturbing video of Dr. Dao being removed from the plane. He was dragged down the aisle, his face bloodied from a broken nose. Two of his front teeth were knocked out and he suffered a concussion.

Two things amaze me.

First, the airline employees could have avoided the entire situation by offering increased monetary compensation. Once you cross the $1000 threshold, someone eventually comes forward. United could have used sound business acumen to avoid forcing anyone to be bumped. Free-market forces would have yielded a much better result

Second, when I heard this story I immediately wondered about the other 200 passengers on that plane. I suppose many were shocked and stunned into silence. Most were probably grateful that they weren’t randomly chosen.

But why didn’t anyone stand up and say, “Stop! Take me instead. This man has done nothing wrong.” No one came to Dr. Dao’s assistance; no one offered their seat. The passengers just watched.

Two thousand years ago I should have been the one bloodied, dehumanized, and rejected. But Jesus stepped forward. “Let her go,” he said. “I’ll take her place.”