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United Airlines Lost My Friend's 10 Year Old Daughter And Didn't Care (bobsutton.typepad.com)
242 points by Brajeshwar on Aug 14, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 188 comments

This is a problem bigger than United -- which has a lot of problems. This is what you get when you subsidize bad companies that need to fail. United needs to fail so someone better can take over. The moral hazards are ruining the country.

I saw it recently with farmers struggling from the drought. Compare this farmer: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417774n who has acres full of hay that don't do well in the drought to this farmer who planted a solid base of drought tolerant sorghum http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417664n in addition to his corn. The second farmer is diversified. He's making smarter decisions with his farm, but because he wasn't hit as hard as other farmers who aren't making good decisions with their land, he's not going to get as much compensation for failed crops. That first farmer needs to go to work for the second farmer so he can learn better and more profitable methods of farming and we will all benefit -- including him. Watch the two farmers. Look how worn out the first one is compared to the second one. The first farmer is working harder the second farmer is working smarter. We need to reward that.

The same thing with United. United Airlines was the largest recipient of cash grants from the US after 9/11, getting $774.2 Million [1]. If the US hadn't kept United alive over the past 10 years so an Airline that cares could fill the void, this little child may not have been left stranded at the airport by a company full of employees who don't need to care.


Ryanair isn't subsidized. It's a bad airline that doesn't need to fail because it makes money. It's one of the airlines in Europe with the worst customer service track record. The same is true for lots of other compenies with terrible customer service.

On the other hand, there are many state-owned or subsidized airlines that have very good customer service.

So whether or not United needs to fail, I think the problem runs far deeper than subsidies.

Ryanair isn't a bad airline. It's a fairly good airline in terms of moving passengers around. They are completely honest, even proud, to offer literally no customer service and comfort.

Look at the comments here: http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/ryan.htm

Not one is about Ryanair failing to deliver the service they've sold (as the article is very much about United failing to) - they're all about people being disappointed about a £25 flight on an airline that prides itself on not caring one bit about your comfort ... not caring about their comfort. All of the extra charges complained about are loudly and clearly announced as part of the ticket buying process. Don't bring a 20 kg bag on a flight when your ticket clearly says "max 15 kg, excess charges apply", then complain about excess charges being leveraged.

If you want service, comfort and flexibility, fly BA and pay for it (or EasyJet, they're usually very good IMO, and usually priced in the sweet spot between Ryanair and "proper" airlines). If you want to get to the beach in the cheapest possible way, everything else be damned, fly Ryanair.

Agreed. People only feel "screwed" by Ryanair because the are used to flexibility, and Ryanair are not flexible. "Oh I'm 2kg over, but that's not a lot, so they'll let me away with it.... What do you mean I have to pay €40?" "Oh they'd have to let me take my handbag, so I'll bring a massive one... what do you mean only one cabin bag?"

double agreed. however, it does bug me charging on weight for baggage when fat people pay the same price as extremely lightweight people. Someone who's 105 pounds with a 52 pound bag gets charged extra, while someone who's 290 pounds but has a 49 pound bag pays no extra charge. Dunno quite how they'd ever get around it, but it does bug me. And I say this as someone who's got a few extra pounds of his own :)

The only reason I presume Ryanair haven't done it yet is because I presume there would be some law against it.

Weigh each passenger and charge proportionally.

And then employ very small thin people for any work that requires foreign travel?

Seriously the implications of that are boggling although I suppose modern technology makes it possible to do so.

"Proper" airlines generally aren't very picky about the weight of your luggage, so it probably wouldn't apply to them, only to airlines like Ryanair that are.

I don't think it's a good solution, but I can relate to to bitterness of being charged for a 2 kg overweight and then getting stuck in half a seat because the person next to you is the size of a cow.


Some airlines do have policies in place for such situations.

Ryanair makes it possible for a work colleague of my sister to commute from Cork to Liverpool (4 day work week, digs while in Liverpool). You get what it says on the packet.

My wife and I once flew the length of the UK return for under £4 on one of their sales deals.

No typo there, under £4.

And I used to commute Glasgow to London once a week and would regularly pay for for the train from the airport to the centre of town than for the flight.

And if you take the train from London to Glasgow, it is currently £120 for a single ticket, whereas I can book on British Airways for a flight tomorrow for £74.

Should probably be a bit fairer to the train as you can get better deals than that and pay a lot more on BA. I've paid £80 for a first class return and I've paid more than £250 return on BA (both London - Glasgow).

But yes, the train can be terrifyingly expensive if you can't pick and choose your time (though I also find it more productive - no putting away your laptop for take off, no security, just sit down and do stuff).

Actually, there have been numerous cases where Ryanair has decided to not cover expenses for cancelled or delayed flights, something they are required by EU law to do. (You'll find posters stating those rights put up by the aviation authorities at most airports, and most other airlines abide by them.)

Many of the fees and extra charges can't be avoided (like an internet booking fee and credit card fee) yet they're usually not included in the advertised price.

And many of the extra charges (like if you forget to print your boarding pass but have it on an iPad) seems almost designed solely to get more money out of people.

What are you talking about? Ryanair is great, it's pretty much always on time, you get what you pay for (which is little, it's a knife that cuts both ways) and because there are only a few people operating each flight (from checkin to trollying around peanuts, which you pay for, so that you don't pay for you neighbour's peanuts if you don't want any) so it's always clear who to ask when you have something to ask.

Think of Ryanair as the libertarian airline. Them fucking over the passengers not clever enough to figure out the rules or causing exceptions makes it a particularly joy to fly with them as you do not subsidize others' inefficiency.

Ryanair is no frills but is INCREDIBLY punctual. Punctuality beats cushiness in short-medium length flights ( < 5 hours ) IMHO.

1st, $8b in theoretical subsidies after September 11th isn’t material when an industry has $100s of billions of debt and equity. Delta and United have about $65b alone. AIG’s bailout was $182B.

2nd, It is inexcusable for a human being to not help a young child regardless of the company they work for. However, the other stories about airlines being terrible with customer service are dumb. In general people are stressed out when they fly and they project it on staff. I see it every time I travel. People are mad about weather delays, mad about gate changes, mad, mad, mad. If I had to deal with that as an employee every day, I wouldn't be freindly either. What is the point?

3rd Most airline employees are making 30% less than they were in 2001. People’s retirements have been wiped out and they cannot change jobs in the industry because doing so would require they start at the lowest pay offered at a different company and wait until their seniority number allows them to climb. They work for zombie companies in which the employees have limited opportunity to help meaningfully change the business.

When I fly, I am nice to the staff and they are nice to me. I recognize the complexity of the daily achievement of getting people from place A to place B via air and I am extremely happy with today’s price point.

[added] Most people on HN hate the TSA, can you imagine having to deal with them every day on your way to work?

To address your second point, how is it that Southwest can consistently provide friendly service? They have to deal with the same stressors that their competitors face.

Don't underestimate the importance of leadership and management prowess in how employees perform.

South West management hedged fuel in a risky financial bet which paid off when fuel prices unexpected skyrocketed in the mid 2000s. This risky bet led to industry leading profitability. Once South West's hedges came off their profitability has declined. They are not burdened with the same debt because they had profitability for so long. They also do not maintain a hub and spoke system which keeps their costs down.

Because management got lucky with a fuel hedge, their employees did not have to take pay cuts like the rest of the industry and have not lost their pensions.

For additional information read this (ignoring the stock price stuff, just for a little history)

”Mr. Alukos says the AirTran acquisition makes sense in the context of rising fuel prices. For many years, Southwest hedged rising fuel costs better than any other large U.S. airline, saving $2-billion from 2004 to 2008 by his estimate, something that “overshadow[ed]any of its other cost-containment measures.” Those contracts have gradually expired, and the current hedges are no longer a significant cost advantage, he believes.” Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ide...

[added] I didn't really answer your question, but I believe that number 2 combined with number 3 to create the problems we are seeing at most airlines. People can handle a lot until they realize when they get home they have no savings, no retirement and no future.

Southwest has been around for 45 years. I haven't looked at their P&L for those years, but I doubt that their key to longterm success is due primarily to hedging at the turn of the century. Hedging fuel costs is simply a part of doing business in the transportation field, whether it's shipping, airlines, trains, or trucking.

Also, many posters have said that Southwest is non-union. This is incorrect. Their pilots are part of a union, just not the ALPA.

The airline industry has dramatically changed since the days of PanAm and Braniff. Ticket prices have been brutally cut, yet the "premier" airlines have been poor stewards of their image and reputation, and relied a lot upon heavy regulations in the industry that protected their turf. Unions have done some damage, but poor management has been the biggest culprit.

I agree in part that poor management has been the problem at many airlines, but the another real problem is that the airline industry has high fixed costs in a perfectly competitive environment. Before the airlines were deregulated in the 80s, ticket prices were high, everyone made money. The 90s ushered in low oil prices with strong US economic growth (good for cyclical businesses).

After deregulation oil stayed cheap until the mid 2000s. For whatever reason, South West hedged far more oil than industry practice and when oil went up dramatically in the mid 2000s the airline benefited dramatically. I have looked at their 10Ks, Qs, (P&Ls) and have studied the topic in some level of depth.

South West has a great culture, which could be unrelated to their profitability, but no one knows that for sure. Their profitability has far more to do with fuel hedging than any other single factor. My argument which cannot be proved, but I hope is considered is that the culture has more to do with the employees being compensated well, and the airline seeming stable than the reverse.

Southwest employees participate in a profit-share program which allocates a substantial amount of profits to an employee pool. Thus, the better the airline does, the better they do (financially).

I've only been to the US once, and I really wasn't sure how I would find the 'service industries' (waiting, bar staff, shop staff) always asking if I 'had a nice day' etc. I thought I would find it cloying and draining.

In reality I generally felt VERY well taken care of by everyone I met in retail or service industries - EXCEPT for the airlines.

We flew BA, London to LAX, and as ever BA were fine. We then flew Delta to Hawaii, and I couldn't believe how rude, unhelpful and almost angry these people were. I mean coach drivers in the UK are grumpy but these were something else. When my partner requested the gluten free meal she had confirmed with the check-in staff, she was told they didn't have anything and was given a bread roll (!!!) and an apple as a replacement.

Returning we flew United Airlines, and again they were curt, unhelpful, and generally annoyed that we were there on their plane.

I couldn't believe that these airlines could be operating in a country that prides itself so highly on service.

As the parent says, these are companies that need to be built up again from the ground up - subsidizing them is not helping them.

In reality I generally felt VERY well taken care of by everyone I met in retail or service industries - EXCEPT for the airlines.

One problem might be the scale of the company.

Your examples of service industries are restaurants, bars, shops. Owned by franchises or small business owners. The boss is frequently behind the counter, filling in. Bad apples are noticed. And easily replaced.

Delta / United / American are huge businesses. You just don't see a small airline with one or two airplanes, with the CEO loading baggage and flying the plane. Bad apples get lost in the noise.

If my theory is correct, simply replacing Delta with another company is not going to fix the problem for long.

FWIW the last time I flew Southwest Airlines the staff was courteous, had a sense of humor, efficient. I will choose SWA over the competition when I have the chance.

(edit: content)

The unions are the big problem along with a lack if accountability. They can break baggage laws, for example, with impunity leaving the passenger little recourse except to attempt to sue in federal court.

That's not the union, that's the business. I guarantee that they would have no trouble getting rid of anyone, even a union employee, for stealing baggage: simply calling the police and charging them would take care of the problem. It's just that in the absence of government regulation[1] or a market with more competition, it's cheaper to pretend bag theft doesn't happen and let passengers pay for private insurance.

At this point, our best chance is probably convincing people that the bag theft rings are ripe for terrorist exploitation and we need point-to-point video tracking to prevent mass mayhem.

1. e.g. banning the “we reimburse everything at $2/pound & $0 for anything which uses electricity" clauses in every airline's ToS

BA is just as bad as any other US-based carrier. Surly staff are everywhere.

I don't think weather forecasting is currently good enough for a farmer to plan which crops to plant based on rainfall predictions.

If every farmer planted a diversity of crops to account for all likely weather scenarios, then the average productivity would drop, as most crops would turn out to be unsuitable for the weather that occurred.

Exactly. Anyone that thinks farming in the US is a matter of pulling out the almanac and hoping the rain will match expectations is naive at best.

Here's the thought process a farmer goes through in deciding what to plant:

1. What's the expected market price for corn and soybean. 2. What is the cost of crop insurance? 3. What's the current rainfall estimate? 4. What's the cost of water via irrigation and the cost of the irrigation equipment. 5. What's my field rotation state? 6. How much is fertilizer? 7. What subsidies are in effect for the various crops? 8. How is my cash flow?

And so on. The stereotype of farmers either being stupid hicks or suckling at the teat of Federal subsidies is ridiculous. The technology farmers use is amazing, and the factors they have to consider are multi-variate.

Sometimes farmers get screwed, and sometimes they make a fortune. Subsidies (as well as futures and other hedges) are a means of smoothing out the market so that farmers can stay in business while also providing for steady agricultural returns. It's not a perfect system by any means, and subsidies for things like ethanol drastically distort other markets, but to try and simplify it into Farmer A works hard but dumb and Farmer B is a smart, HN guy is just too simplistic.

So, context, I'm a libertarian. But, bear with me a moment.

Why are subsidies bad? They "distort the market". How do subsidies distort the market? They cause overproduction of the subsidized good. Where an efficient allocation would tend to fairly precisely match demand to production (more precisely than any other known way of doing it), thus allowing the rest of the capital to go do other useful things, a subsidized good overinvests capital into producing the subsidized good, thus producing an opportunity cost to civilization due to the misallocation of resources into overproducing a good rather than doing something else more useful.

What is the result of farming subsidies? An excess of food. What is food? Food is one of the fundamental foundations of civilization. No food means total chaos in a matter of days. What does precisely producing 100% of the expected target food production means? It means the slightest bobble in production translates to shortages, and as we all know, shortages happen, and in particular, black swans will happen. A free market does not blindly assume everything will be swell and does build in some buffer against expected disaster, but the buffer can always be exceeded and the free market makes it very difficult for a given producer to make their own buffer larger, lest a competitor eat their market share.

Suddenly, a bit of "overproduction of food" doesn't sound like such a bad idea. Ideally we'd be storing the excess as much as possible, though regrettably food doesn't store as well as you'd like. Still, I'm actually in favor of a certain amount of food subsidy.

The ethanol subsidy is still stupid, and given subsidies may be bad on the grounds of being excessive, or because the interest group has captured the regulator and are managing to harvest the surplus directly instead of via overproduction (which is the result we're actually trying to produce for once), but in general, I'm not actually against a bit of overproduction of the foundations of civilization.

Oh, I'm libertarian in many ways as well, but generally agree with you on farm subsidies with the exception of ethanol. I think it's criminal for us to be taking some of the most productive farmland in the world, and growing corn on it to burn in our cars. It's a net negative in terms of energy, and is almost solely due to Iowa having an inordinate amount of influence due to the timing of their primary.

Also, witness the affects of the sugar tariffs that have given rise to the widespread use of HFCS. If it weren't for these, we'd still have Coca-Cola flavored with real sugar. Instead we have to import it from Mexico...

An economics professor of mine said that, besides food subsidies, another reason rich countries have few famines is livestock farming.

There's a lot of energy lost in the process of feeding corn to cattle and turning them into burgers; you could feed more people by eating the corn directly.

So when there's going to be a corn shortage like this year, livestock go to slaughter ahead of schedule, which reduces the demand for corn, and increases the supply of meat.

On its face, eating meat is a luxury, but it actually serves an important function as a buffer against shortages.

If vegetarianism ever became a very popular lifestyle (I'd say, very roughly, if it was adopted by a majority), the risk of food shortages would increase.

"I don't think weather forecasting is currently good enough for a farmer to plan which crops to plant based on rainfall predictions."

It's good enough to offer insurance to farmers for when harvests will fail. This exists, I know because I (even if only at arms length) work in this field.

Agriculture is boom-and-bust, precisely due to the unpredictability of the weather, infestations, etc. It's more predictable today than in the past, but there is still a lot of guesswork going on. There are sophisticated mechanisms in place for mitigating this, such as the futures market and insurance.

I'd wager that the "compensation" the hay farmer mentioned above is part of an insurance-type scheme. Maybe like this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/drough...

The insurance plans I've seen were based upon historical data, and didn't take weather forecasts into account. (My family is in farming and ranching.)

I'm not sure how these insurances are sold to end users at small scales. I'm involved in building crop harvest forecast systems to be used by insurers who insure large businesses (think multinationals) who need resources from mostly Asian and African countries for the production of their goods, e.g. palm trees. So this use case is different in scale from your example, our work is mostly in risk modeling on a large scale.

That said, if I were selling insurances, I'd want two things: data to justify or explain my rates to my customers, and data to make predictions of my own risk and/or profit margins. The two might be correlated in a highly competitive and transparent market, but I have a hunch that these insurances are not, and that there isn't a whole lot of pressure to work on a cost plus pricing model, so that these insurers can work on a value-added pricing model.

It depends - surely, studying the weather (how much snow there is on the mountains in winter affects how much water there is in the rivers in the spring) can reduce, if not remove, the risk of crop failure. Perhaps you have the choice of a more expensive drought-resistant crop and a cheaper one that isn't.

Breaking the feedback loop by subsidizing failed crops doesn't create any incentive to invest effort into making good decisions in these areas.

You're making the assumption that winter snowpack has a dramatic effect on farming success. Sure, it helps fill the aquifers when it melts, but farmers depend on rainfall (at least in the US) as much as they do on irrigation. Heat also makes it hard for crops to grow successfully, regardless of how much water they get through irrigation.

The returns a farmer receives depends also on the price the crop can receive. Barring futures contracts, for widely-traded crops such as wheat, soya and corn, this will depend on the global market, i.e. not only the local weather, but also the weather in Brazil, Australia, etc.

Think of it this way: it's a trade-off, like almost all reliable systems have to make. Would you rather have, for example, a server that runs with maximum efficiency but has a high risk of failure and extended downtime or one that is reliable with a 99.9% uptime, but isn't as powerful as the first one?

>I don't think weather forecasting is currently good enough for //

That would be an interesting study. Take weather data and forecast data from the last n years and look at how good various sources are at prediction over various regions and timescales.

I'm sure it's been done?

Your farming example is ludicrous. We need hay as much as we need sorghum. We can't have every farmer planting only one set of crops based how they expect the weather to be. First, it would absolutely crash the market for that crop when the harvest came in, and second there would be none of the other crops that are necessary.

Not only that but you have to rotate what is planted in fields or you'll basically decimate the fields productivity.

The guy putting in hay just got unlucky this year. I grew up on a farm, this isn't unheard of. Also sorghum doesn't grow well in all areas, where I lived corn and barely/wheat/rye were the best crops. Sorghum grew, just not all that great due to growing season. We never ever planted the same field twice in a row with the same crop. Some years we left it fallow (nothing planted) to give it and the microorganisms a rest.

I think the parent poster lacks some fundamental knowledge of crops with his analogy.

That's why there is crop insurance. Humans, last I checked, can't control the weather, so we create systems to make up for that risk.

Your post is endemic of something I see a lot on HN. You know nothing about agriculture, but you see a minor set of stories and you think you're a fucking expert.

You have no idea if the diversified strategy has a higher expected value, or if it's just a variance play based on heat, or if different weather conditions could've affected interplay in a different way. You have no idea what the crop insurances for different crops cost. You have no idea what the weather forecasts were.

You literally know absolutely nothing about the matter.

All you know is that you've got an ideology and that you see absolutely everything through the ideas of your ideology, selectively perceiving, remembering and interpreting events to confirm and reconfirm your ideology. And you're sufficiently arrogant that you think you can glance at a farm and know what tradeoffs they considered when they were planting their fields.

And that doesn't even get into the fact that if you travel via air around the globe, nearly all of the airlines are absolutely terrible, not just the subsidized ones in the US. Thus, it's fairly clear that while you'd like to pretend that your religion explains everything, it really doesn't.

Your post is endemic of something I see a lot of on the Internet. You hide behind an account you just made, aggressively, lengthily and rudely responding to somebody who actually desired to contribute to the discussion without contributing much of anything yourself, without seeing the irony in any of this.

Actually I found it to be a pretty compelling and well reasoned indictment of grandparent's utter failure to consider the many complex factors that can lead to the necessity of subsidizing certain industries.

Not really.

The criticisms could be absolutely correct, but the response doesn't "reason" anything.

The response doesn't actually demonstrate that the parent is incorrect or propose a complete alternative. It simply states that it is wrong without a shred of evidence or exposition, only vague phrases suggesting omissions.

That's not an indictment, just a wordy insult.


I get the frustration with what appears to be shallow understanding of something turned into a sweeping judgement, but at least it's attempting something constructive. The response is pure aggressive arrogance.

The response points out several specific considerations that OP failed to take into account. Based on these it is not unreasonable to conclude that OP was making broad judgement about a field he had little knowledge of based on one news report. Making a broad generalization may represent an attempt to be constructive, but when that attempt is based on a number of faulty assumptions, I think that pointing out what those assumptions are and why they are faulty is equally as constructive, if not more so. The implicit assumption in OPs comparison is that the farmer who grew hay is a Bad Farmer and the farmer who grew sorghum is a Good Farmer, and so the Bad Farmer should give up farming or at least apprentice himself to the Good Farmer, so he can learn how to grow sorghum instead of hay. Never mind that the farmer growing hay no doubt took into consideration many, many factors that the OP clearly knows nothing about, and that a crop failure based on an unexpected drought could happen to anyone give that there is currently no way to predict what the weather will be several months from now.

> The response doesn't actually demonstrate that the parent is incorrect or propose a complete alternative.

There is inadequate evidence here to come to any conclusion.

It would be irresponsible of me to claim that I knew all the farmer's capabilities, costs, risks, weather forecasts, crop options, crop rotation requirements, etc. If I did that, I'd be guilty of exactly the same mistake as OP.

Noise is not signal. Noise is the enemy.


You did a great job of noisily pointing out that the parent is noisy, without generating much if any signal yourself.

You don't have to provide a conclusion, just presenting a theory about how to apply those data points that you keep rattling off would be something constructive, a starting point.

Thing is, that would be hard and expose something you created to criticism. It's much easier to simply sit back and poke holes in someone else's flawed theory while alluding to an ability to construct a better one yet demonstrating absolutely nothing.

Ironic that you're not posting under a real name. And your account is only a hair over a year old.

Is it really relevant that his account is new? Or should HN put up a delay that you can only post a reply after your account has aged appropriately?

And this isn't a new thing for the internets. No one knows you're a dog...

My profile links to my Flickr account, which has my real name. I don't currently maintain a blog or anything more meaningful to link to. I use this nickname throughout the net. You can email me at <pick anything>@lusr.org. I'm not hiding anything.

The person I responded to frequents HN (according to their own words); it seems highly likely they know quite well how non-constructive their response was and specifically chose to use a throwaway account rather than stand behind their comment under their normal account.

The hypocrisy of your posts is almost overwhelming.

That said, my original constructive criticism got me hellbanned (as happens to nearly all people who post sentiment that could be construed as anti-libertarian), whereas your idiotic and unaware hypocrisy got you nothing.

Unshocking, given the faggotry of you and this site.

You know you actually did have a very good point and I even agree entirely with it. But the anger and aggression in your writing is such a huge turn-off that it was difficult to fairly consider what you said, and that was the gist of my facetious post.

Evidently some people agree with me. You can continue to be angry that your style of discourse isn't accepted, or you can do something about it and have people give your insight the time it deserves. I believe you're selling yourself short.

Your post is endemic of something I see a lot on HN. You know nothing about agriculture, but you see a minor set of stories and you think you're a fucking expert.

What is with the create a throwaway account to insult people thing? Karma isn't worth anything why not burn it under your real username?

Frankly, HN is a better place if people value their accounts and their reputation. This is a Good Thing.

Some people value being able to mask their account to voice their true opinion.

It doesn't mean he's creating an account to troll necessarily, but to conceal his more reputable account from things we all know if possible; abuse. Something your parent doesn't seem to respect.

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire

I've been struggling and failing for a minute here for a way sum this up. It's likely impossible as it's far from a simple topic.

Anyway, I tend to disagree. Reputation can do plenty to make a place worse - squashing dissenting opinions, incentivizing "gaming" of the system. I do my best to ignore these systems entirely.

Ironically this may increase your reputation, as honesty and genuineness are extremely valued traits.

Most corporations fail to realize this.

HN is a better place if people value their accounts and their reputation. This is a Good Thing.

Only if it makes them valuable members of the community. If patio11(just as an example no offense) logged out of patio11 and logged in as a string of throw away accounts, then him valuing his account hurts the community. It incorrectly values the patio11 persona. It improves engagement of someone who is actively trolling. It actively encourages others to engage in such behavior.

> And that doesn't even get into the fact that if you travel via air around the globe, nearly all of the airlines are absolutely terrible, not just the subsidized ones in the US.

Where does this come from? I find that most airlines around the world are absolutely brilliant.

> if you travel via air around the globe, nearly all of the airlines are absolutely terrible, not just the subsidized ones in the US.

And where are your sources and analysis to back this up?

The original commenter at least linked to a few interesting articles to support his argument.

United are losing it at the moment. I had 2 flights the other week where they couldn't even get someone to move the walkway thingy in line with the plane so we all just stood around waiting after we landed. On one flight the pilot actually phoned because he couldn't get anyone on the radio.

They're really hit and miss with the service - it's either great or it's shit. Sometimes I really love them... I've had two flights where a host has gone out of their way to block off a faulty overhead light and a faulty in seat entertainment system so I could sleep, another flight where I didn't have a long enough layover to get food and they had no snack service so they gave me two main courses (and I wasn't even elite back then). Other times they're like a bad fucking movie - 6 weeks ago at 1am after a cancelled flight they just arbitrarily closed the elite line with "a dozen people left" and told us to go to the end of the economy line with 100s of people waiting in it already for reticketing and hotel vouchers.

Services like operating the walkway and the tugs that push-back the plane from the gate are often outsourced. Perhaps that's the connection... in most of the cases where the people did a terrible job, it's because the role's been outsourced.

I think the article nails this on the head, management doesn't care about it's employees, and the employees pass this on to the customer.

They care so little that they don't even want core pieces of their business done by their own people.

It reminds me of a cable co in canada called Rogers, the entire thing is a bunch of outsourced services glued together with a couple sales people.

It can go further. Caring can be actively dis-incented. If your caring about a problem causes any disruption to your "normal" work, you will be penalized.

That child you rescued and escorted to their destination or a safe location? That's 30 minutes you weren't "doing your job".

And perhaps you're not authorized to escort children. The liability! Sorry, but we are going to have to terminate you.

When it gets to this point of actively "not caring", it's no longer human nature; it is a contrary behavior that has been actively taught and reinforced.

I don't know anything about this situation, but in some cases there can be other factors preventing people from doing the work, even if they want to. Liability, as you mention, is one such.

I recall many years ago, working at a certain phone company (I was a college student on a summer job). I needed to get some information off a circuit board that was sitting in a box on a warehouse shelf -- I could see it from where I was standing, but couldn't read it. Yet I was forced to stand around for 1/2 hour until a warehouse worker could go fetch the box for me. I was told that union rules didn't allow me to walk 50 feet over to pick up a box, and the union would file a grievance if I did so.

I don't mean this as a rant against unions. I just mean to say that there can be other extenuating factors. In the long run, management should be aware of these problems and act to mitigate them. But in the short term -- when there's a problem right now, that I'd like to fix -- both I and management may have our hands tied.

Fair enough. Unions, and their members, can act badly, too.

There is plenty of idiocy and self-serving turf warfare to go around.

I was in a union -- by default -- for a while, one time. It meant that in exchange for a small amount in dues, my wages were 25% - 30% higher than those of other jobs available to me. And, I worked my ass off. With other people who worked their asses off. And who still had the time and energy for some good humor, perhaps in part because there were limits to the amount that management could jerk them around. We were all "blue collar stiffs"; nonetheless, it was one of the happier places I've worked.

I have an uncle who ended up president of his union (in an unrelated field and business). One of the most decent people I know. And he's busted his balls for his folks; it's been necessary, in order to try to counteract some of the very typical, abusive management techniques that have become prevalent -- and increasingly written about -- in the last 20 years.

Unions do bad things. Short-sighted, self-destructive things. But no worse than Management. And often, it seems that the "badness" is symmetric; the worse one side gets, the worse the other becomes in response.

Some of the more compelling arguments of economics occur at the macro level. And there, the decline and destruction of the union workforce has a strong correlation -- if arguments continue over causation -- with the decline of the American workforce and productive industry.

Unions also, at their best, epitomize a characteristic oft lauded as an American ideal: When the chips are down, we "rouged individualist" Americans step up and take care of each other. We're in this together. (A sentiment having significant base in WW II.) It ain't pretty, but it works.

The decline of unions seems to correspond with, symbolize, and perhaps represent the decline of this ideal in the American population and psyche.

These days, to be caustic, we seem to be lauding "ever dog for himself".

P.S. Your story about having to wait 30 minutes to look in a box disgusts me. That definitely is not the way things should be -- I agree with you.

The push-back and walkway are usually managed by the airport, the airline doesn't really have a choice in this particular case.

Ultimately I think it comes down to cost. As airlines predominantly compete on ticket price, they'll do whatever it takes to reduce that (outsource their logistics, operations, flight planning, etc.) Hell, Ryanair in Europe make their pilots pay for their uniform. All about getting the fare as low as possible, consequences be damned.

Except they can't easily reduce labor costs because of the unions. Southwest is not unionized yet almost every employee there seems happy and friendly. Flying on Southwest is almost fun and they have low ticket costs. Southwest knows how to properly hedge against fuel increases and as such they're one of the few profitable airlines around.

My experience is that it's very simple:

- What was previously Continental, works well.

- What was previously United, doesn't.

I'm sure the Continental parts will converge to mediocrity given enough time - but for now, they're still closer to Continental quality than to old-United quality.

The reason Continental part works is because CO systems were chosen as a part of merger and UA agents are not well trained in the mainframe commands. Airlines still use Mainframe systems with green screens for agent use

That's not what I mean.

I'm talking about overall experience - the plane being on time, the agents being clueful, the air crew being competent and accommodating, etc.

I might have accepted your hypothesis about the merger, if it wasn't for the fact that my experience with united for YEARS before the merger had been dismal, whereas my experience with Continental was top notch.

In the last two years, my experience with continental degraded visibly (though not to the pre-merger united levels), and the very little united experience I did have was not really improved.

Note: My dichotomy might be wrong - I used to use continental mostly for international flights (with a few domestic), and only flew united domestically. It's possible that Continental/United is paying more attention to international flights than they do domestic, rather than the "pre merger" status of a flight or terminal.

As someone who traveled many times as an unaccompanied minor (without a cellphone) in the early 2000s under United Airlines, American Airlines, and Northwest Airlines, I'm shocked to hear this story. I always felt safe and knew who was in charge of taking me from place to place. I'm astonished that United's service has deteriorated to this extent. Yes, it was only a very small sample size of United's service staff, but the fact that this situation happened does not bode well for the quality of their service and will hopefully spark something in the administration and leadership to revitalize the culture that currently tolerates such treatment. If not, well, there are plenty of cheaper airlines with superior service and United's marketshare and reputation will suffer. There's always someone willing to provide the service you do for less. You have to figure out what you can do better than the other guys and capitalize on it.

My experience with United/U.S. Airways/American has been, shit to say the least. I'm astounded by how generally large North American carriers pale compared to either small companies like Westjet and Porter, or large Asian airlines like Singapore and Emirates.

Wow. This is one thousand times worse than breaking guitars. I would love to see that band make another video about this incident. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

I'm astounded at how terrible United Airlines is, and seemingly always has been. How have they been able to get away with such terrible customer service for so long?

In 1995 I flew with my brother and mother to America from Australia, a 12 hour flight. I was 5 years old and my older brother was 7. They knew our ages, and had seated us with 1 seat at the back of the plane, and 2 near the front. My mother was pretty frustrated. Was she supposed to sit up the front by herself and leave us two at the other end of the plane? Or sit with one of us and leave the other by themselves?

I recently took a very similar flight at the end of last year. I was flying by myself, but sure enough, once the bulk of the passengers had boarded the plane, an attendent over the loudspeaker told us that they were aware that family members had been separated due to seating arrangements and they ask that we please just sit in those seats for take-off and rearrange ourselves once we were in the air. I couldn't believe that after 16 years they were still having the same problems.

United is clearly very wrong here and treating their customers poorly. But, and I'm sure this is going to be an unpopular opinion, who sends a 10 year old across the country on a plane alone? I wouldn't send a 10 year on a 30min bus ride alone. I understand United offers a service to make this possible but it seems like a ridiculous thing for a parent to take advantage of. Maybe it's a cultural difference and this is common in the US (is it?) but I don't know anyone who would even consider doing it.

> who sends a 10 year old across the country on a plane alone? I wouldn't send a 10 year on a 30min bus ride alone.

Wow. Overprotective much? At 10 I went to school by bus, alone, with 2 or 3 changes along the way (and a ~10 minutes walk between home and the bus station), total travel time was maybe 45~60mn and same thing the other way around in the evening. And I had friends boarding who took the train at the beginning and end of the week, same age, hours of travel on their own.

> Maybe it's a cultural difference and this is common in the US (is it?)

I'm not in the US, and I'd definitely consider that fine. Taking the plane is probably less common around here but considering the plane culture of the US I don't see any issue with it.

> I understand United offers a service to make this possible but it seems like a ridiculous thing for a parent to take advantage of.

1. No it's not, the whole point of the service is to use it.

2. I'm pretty sure United created the service because parents were already sending children across the country by plane alone, that's not a rare occurrence. Most children of 8 or 10 are reasonably bright and can actually take care of themselves reasonably well unless you spent 10 years making them completely dependent.

I'll second this, in North America everything that is possible to make a child absolutely dependant is done. Parents who try to raise functioning adults are shunned.

There was a national outcry because someone let their 12 year old ride a subway.

You can find most of the roots of helicopter parenting in attachment parenting, the idea that a child should always be touched by their parent until they're about 5.

The child was 9, not 12. http://www.creators.com/opinion/lenore-skenazy/why-i-let-my-...

Futhermore "attachment parenting" is not the antecedent to "helicopter parenting" and certainly does not require constant contact past 1 year of age much less fife.

I grew up in Moscow, before I turned ten I would regularly take the subway all the way to school and back. I find it ludicrous and offensive that some of my peers weren't allowed to walk or bike ten blocks to school in a suburban neighborhood.

Yeah, there's a strange sense of danger in north america, my father used to play in bomb craters out front of his families' apartment.

Sucks to grow up in a town that makes ball bearings.

When I was somewhere around that age, my younger brother and I flew to Spokane from Eugene, changing planes in Portland. Granted, PDX is fairly small, but I distinctly recall them announcing the flight, and someone not coming to get us, which made me nervous. So I took my brother and we went, and everything worked out ok.

- I wouldn't send a 10 year old on a 30min bus ride alone

That attitude is rather a shame, I think. How are we expected to raise a generation of functioning, independent adults if the default expectation is that kids are constantly chaperoned? The societal dangers are familiar to anyone who's tried to deal with the average intern.

Unaccompanied minors on US airlines are very common. The service works well, most of the time, but when it fails the result is always a lost, scared child and some very angry parents. Headlines inevitably follow. In this case, United's callous treatment is utterly deplorable. Please understand that it's the airline that's at fault here, not the parents for availing themselves of a tried and tested service.

Children are humans, therefore highly adaptable and a lot smarter than anyone thinks. Lone children as young as six are frequently put in charge of an entire family's herd of goats in Kenya; now, granted, there aren't the same dangers from traffic or population density that you'd find in a city, but the herd represents the majority of the family's wealth and it's therefore an awesome responsibility. Imagine herding your parent's entire net worth at that age! Kids that young take the bus - the regular commuter service - to school alone in the UK all the time. I see young kids in NYC taking the subway alone every day. Very, very rarely is there a problem; certainly no more so than a mother doing the school run rolling her SUV.

This is yet another case of modern parental paranoia. Your child's greatest risk factor comes from people already known to you - statistically Uncle Bob is many times more dangerous than a random stranger.

As a society we have a tendency to focus our attention away from where the data leads us. We will act extremely suboptimally to prevent an incredibly remote risk, while ignoring much more likely ones altogether.

If the goal is to prevent child predators, we would do a whole lot better by starting with the people already in our immediate lives, rather than worry about a stranger on a bus.

>statistically Uncle Bob is many times more dangerous than a random stranger.

Well, that's because Uncle Bob is around your kids much more often. I'm not sure if that would be true after adjusting for exposure rate.

As a kid, I used to make intercontinental flights frequently as an unaccompanied minor ... maybe 6-8 a year between the ages of 8 and 16? Airlines make this all OK by offering an Unaccompanied Minor service where where a member of aircrew is responsible for the kids, the kids need to be deposited (and signed for) at both ends of the flight, etc... In this case, the airline screwed up, but the concept is pretty straight forward...

Are you me? :) I used to do this exact same thing in the exact same age range.

This was in the 90s though - what I still regard as the Golden Age of Flying (tm), and the Unaccompanied Minor service offered by most airlines was absolutely fantastic. You would be under constant supervision in the airports, get access to the nicer lounges.waiting areas, have priority for boarding/disembarking, and be generally treated like royalty.

Even if you were flying coach/economy.

It was totally brilliant, and I was heart-broken about losing this aspect of flying when I turned 16. (IIRC that's the age limit)

Come to think of it, the reason that UA screwed the pooch so badly on this could be because of the death of the Golden Age of Flying.

Chiming in from Sweden, I also loved flying as a young kid. These days I'm a parent myself and have sent my kids on flights (domestic only) using Unaccompanied Minor services several times, and it's always worked out well.

BTW, in Sweden the age limit for using this service is 12 - if you're 12 or older you're considered old enough to fly (again, domestic) alone, something my 11 year old daughter who turns 12 in a few months looks forward to as the last time she flew alone she felt that she was too big to've been "babysat" on the flight.

Yeah, you're right, I just looekd it up as well it would appear that "12 or older" is the cut-off now for most places. Ah well, those were just better times for air travel.

This makes it seem more reasonable to me. If you drop the kid off at a secure area of the airport, they are accompanied to the plane and accompanied again as soon as they get off the plane until a relative (or someone prearranged) collects them there is little that could go wrong. Obviously, as the article proves, their is still a risk that the airline screws up which I'm not sure I'd be comfortable taking but I can see why many other people would be. Explained like this it seems like sending a child across the world alone would be safer than sending them on a 30 minute bus ride downtown alone.

So long as your kid can handle him/herself for a few hours, what's the big deal? I believe parents are allowed to go through security to meet their kid at the gate, so really all the kid has to do is board, entertain him/herself, and deboard.

As to why, specifically? Well, suppose you split custody of a kid with your ex-spouse, and you live in L.A. while ex-spouse lives in New York. Or, suppose your parents want your kid to visit, but you live in L.A. while your parents live in New York, and you can't take time off from work (or you want your parents to get a little time to monopolize the kid).

all the kid has to do is board, entertain him/herself, and deboard.

No, at least not in this story. She had to make a transfer in Chicago.

When my parents split up in the early 70's, I lived in San Diego and frequently flew by myself to Seattle (from age 8 til adult). It was a great experience, and I wouldn't trade it for much. Now as a father of two daughters, I'd be a little less cavalier, but I'd still want them to stretch their wings and learn a little resilience/independence.

In Japan you send your 1st grader kids across the city to school by themselves. They take the train by themselves...and they survive well enough.

My parents sent both me and my sister on planes by ourselves several times when we where kids (in Europe). Now this was a good 25 years ago, but then it seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do and there where often two or three other kids flying unaccompanied and the airlines and great routines for handling it. Basically we'd be assigned a staff member who would follow us from check-in until we where seated on the plane, and then there would be another staff member that met us on the plane when we landed and followed us out to the arrivals hall and made sure we where met by someone.

Until right now I never even reflected over that anyone would find this strange or abnormal.

There is no way for a child to become self-reliant if it's overprotected. I had a 40 min bus and tram ride every day to school when I was 7 years old.

Good article on the topic http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/raising-suc...

I've once witnessed how a friend of mine picked up his unaccompanied daughter from a flight in MSP.

I can assure you that handing over the daughter, who was accompanied by an airline employee at all times was not taken lightly.

They very thoroughly checked his identification and checked it towards a list of the person authorized to pick her up.

Alas, this was in the early 90s.

Unaccompanied children are not that far-out as you seem to imagine and virtually any airline (I can speak for Europe and the US, but that probably also goes for Asian carriers) offers the service.

However, it shouldn't be outsourced to some dodgy outfit, which "forgets to send a representative" to pick her up for connecting flight. No matter. It's United's 100% responsibility and the only comfort is that they pay an extremely high price for this (in terms of publicity).

There is simply no excuse for their despicable actions here.

Used to do it via Qantas as a kid. The staff would watch you like a hawk. They even let you hang with the pilot for a bit.

Ahh, the old times of flying.

When I flew from Zurich to Vienna with my sister she knew the purser of the flight.

While she was immediately seated in business class I was asked if I would mind to enjoy the entire flight in the cockpit on a jump seat

(yeah, I know: stupid question :) )

Even though I was in my late 20s it was a kid's dream come true.

Needless to say that this was before 9/11 and that this would be completely impossible nowadays.

Which is a shame.

I remember getting to sit in the flight engineer's seat while he took a break. My grandfather had been a Pan Am pilot, so this was heaven for me. Nowadays they don't have flight engineers, jump seats etc. All squashed up like a bus, and we wonder why they treat us like cattle.

What surprised me most - in addition to the fact that flying a plane is definitely not quite like driving a glorified bus - was the old timey manuals that actually hoged a lot of valuable cockpit real estate.

Imagine about seven quite massive ring binders on the floor on the right side of the first officer.

Today they probably have that all on an iPad. I could imagine, though and given how conservative the aviation industry is, that they still have to lug around the entire amount of paper.

That, however and admittedly, is just a guess.

iPads are actually being adopted in aviation precisely to get rid of all the crufty old manuals and maps.

I flew to a conference in Vegas last month on a 737 (via Southwest). Chatted a bit with the pilots and was reminded how cramped the cockpit is these days. Even with multi-function displays, there were a billion levers/buttons/knobs. How they ever were allowed to have a hyper-curious kid in the cockpit back in the day is unthinkable.

The author of the blog post seemed to think that United was a terrible airline before this happened.

So your point about unaccompanied minors seems even more valid; who would send a child cross country, and who would do so using a crappy airline?

It wasn't the author's kid.

I seem to remember having a 30 minute bus ride to school through elementary school, and if I missed the bus, it was an hour's walk (though I could do it in about 10 minutes by bike if the swampy bit was mostly dry).

I guess I'm fortunate that my parents not only trusted me to do that, but encouraged it.

That said, I have a face for radio - they probably didn't think anyone in their right mind would even attempt to try and steal me...

Doesn't this sound like many large internet companies? Paypal? Ebay? Google? Facebook? Yahoo? All of them seem to ignore their customers. At least that's my experience. They only seem to solve issues when either you have connections to someone on the inside or manage to get your story carried/notice on some major news website (HN included).

No, the two experiences are nothing alike. Those companies make it impossible to contact a human being in the first place.

This article very specifically touches upon how the United employees were asked directly by a scared child for help, and yet did nothing. There are a lot of other associated failures, but this is the central idea: that the individuals working for the company felt not even a little responsibility to help their customers.

Google, the company, ignores you as a matter of policy. That might be a dubious practice, but it is categorically different.

I'm being as polite as I can say this, but how is it that when you read this article you think it is yet another, "company ignore customer story?" I think most people read this and are appalled by the fact that United is so far over on the wrong side of the line that they can't even be bothered to worry about a human being anymore. They are so far gone that no one in the system cared that a kid is alone by him/herself. Imagine the shitstorm that would have happened had something happened to the kid.

But to answer your question, no. Paypal, eBay, Google, Facebook, Yahoo. None of these companies are in the business of transporting humans (at least not yet, and I guess yes only if you count those self-driving cars Google has).

They aren't in the business of transporting human beings, but they are in the business of transporting and storing things that are really, really important to human beings. Their financial information. Their family photos, records of who they talked to and what they said, etc. Real human beings got hurt when Yahoo handed over information about who they were talking to to the Chinese government. If you spend 99 cents on an MP3 from Amazon and something goes wrong you'll almost certainly get a really good customer service experience. There's no reason that a company you're trusting with all of your communications can't have the same level of service.

At least losing my Facebook profile (or even my money) isn't nearly as bad as losing a child!

"So some United executive called Annie and Perry at home yesterday to try to cool them out."

Interesting. I would make this guy wait some 40 mins on the phone, then tell him "something has happened" and that he would have to call later. In the meantime he would have to wait and watch the news getting widespread in media. A little bit of reciprocity would be nice to educate this corporate people. It's absurd that, IMHO, parents of a missing child who have not received proper care for days, now have to give all the attention and care to some executive.

I want to know who the the passengers were sitting next to this child were that didn't help her with her transfer. The lack of human decency is a cultural problem as much as an airline problem. What the fuck is wrong with people that don't talk to a child traveling alone and make sure she makes her connection. I blame humanity as much as the airline.

Well, if you're male, you won't be sitting next to any unaccompanied children, much less helping them:

- http://www.theage.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/seat-swap-o...

- http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/nurse-humiliat...

- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3634055/Com...

If that's standard policy in the airline industry, then half of the adult population wouldn't be able to help the poor child even if they wanted to.

And if you did, you would be likely to find yourself in cuffs.

As an investor I looked into United and I believe the issue was that, being staff owned for a long time, there was no effective management and poor performers could not be fired. As a result a culture of not-my-problem arose. Cultures, once established, are hard to shift.

I remember coming in to the US on a 16 hour flight, I was having trouble getting my bag out of the overhead compartment and was treated to an extended harangue by a fat, ugly, unpleasant woman (stewardess) about how stupid all men were. All I needed not to hear after a long trip (with another 8 hours to travel to look forward to). This was in business class. Last time I traveled with United.

That's... wow. I mean, even overlooking the obvious flaws in this logic, even if it is a paedophile sat next to the kids, what are they going to do in the middle of a flight surrounded by other people?

Groom them and talk them into coming with them outside the plane, for example. Having been on the receiving end of that stick (not on a plane, but still), I'd ask you reconsider how easy it is for an adult to have power over kids.

Fair point, I would have assumed that even a long-haul flight isn't enough for that to really make any difference and therefore be a waste of a predator's time, but I'll bow to your experiences

Yeah, imagine if they said black men couldn't sit next to white women. There would be an outrage of the highest sort. Or single women couldn't sit next to married men lest they be temptresses. It's nuts.

It sucks to say this but in the US if you're male, the smart/safe thing to do is not have any contact with an unaccompanied child at all. There is a non-trivial chance that may be misconstrued as something else and you could find yourself in a whole world of trouble. Of course this should not stop someone from bringing a distressed child to the attention of the flight crew and other passengers.

Fuck. That. If you're not willing to take the negligible* risk of the situation being misconstrued to help a lost scared child, you are no better than the United Airlines employees.

* Yes, it is negligible. For every scare story you hear, thousands of people interact with minors with absolutely no issues at all.

If it happens to you it is a 100% result.

Just today a man was ordered to move his airline seat away from two young children. Until he proved they were his children.

In another story out today a woman aggressively approached a man and threatened him with arrest for taking his own children to a store.

Another man found a lost child and returned the child to its mother, only to be abused and threatened by the mother.

You see enough of this, eventually you conclude "OK, have it your way".

If it happens to you it is a 100% result.

Just like it's a 100% result if your plane crashes. But we know that, statistically speaking, airline travel is safe and crashes are pretty rare.

So, of the million of interactions between men and unaccompanied children, how many result in some crazy, unjustified child-molester accusation? I'm guessing it's about the same as the percentage of flights that crash.

I don't believe that a handful of anecdotes, considered in isolation, are a good basis for making decisions.

The benefits of air travel outweigh the risk of dying in air crash and other modes of travel are riskier.

However the benefits to the person helping the child is minuscule compared to the risk of ending up in prison and being added to sex offenders list. It is minuscule even compared to the risk of undergoing a criminal trial.

So what? Seriously, so what? If 10 people died from eating crisps (en-US: chips) a year, would you stop? There are endless edge-case examples I could pull out. You can't possibly know what the real odds are because it isn't news when someone /isn't/ asked to move his airline seat away from two children. The reason it isn't news is because it is by far the more common event!

So: Do you want to risk a 1 in a million chance of someone tsk tsking at you until you explain yourself to help a little lost girl? If your answer is "no" then I think that makes you kind of a bad person, just like those United employees.

You could look at it this way: The only way of increasing the perceived probability that an adult talking to a child is just being nice is to increase the number of times that exact event happens.

Sorry, are you claiming these as factual stories, or are you just citing anecdotes?

Unfortuately I'm pretty sure they're all real reported stories. In one case the man asked to move away from his own children was Boris Johnson, the mayor of London[1], when he was an MP in 2006.

Edit: There's more on wikipedia [2].

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3634055/Com...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airline_sex_discrimination_pol...

So, a handful of instances out of millions over the last 5 years. Got it.

Captain hyperbole to the rescue!

If you are a grown adult male in the USA, you will have experienced this. People believe these stories because it aligns with their own personal experiences.

So while few of us have actually been arrested for talking to a minor, and definitely very few have ever had to deal with the police over this, a large portion of us have felt the accusing stare for daring to interact with a child. We've felt the suspicious eyes of every single mother on us as we jog past a playground. We've seen our colleagues and acquaintances make paranoid, disparaging remarks about strangers around their children.

We're not scared of children because of a few scary stories in a few newspapers - we're scared of children because this happens incredibly often and the scary news stories demonstrate just how far these situations can escalate out of control.

All it takes is for one person getting burned to affect their entire social circle. Every person who's been shouted at for trying to help a kid has probably told everyone they know about the event; at that point, none of them are likely to help.

This is especially notable in the social media heavy environment we're in now. I personally know someone who got shouted at because he led a kid to customer service so their parent could be found; posted the event to Facebook, and now everyone he knows (who read the article) is going to be a little less likely to help.

There's a reason Good Samaritan laws had to be put in place; people have been prosecuted for attempting to help others in good faith, and that led to others not trying. Shitty situation, but that's how it goes.

If no one cares enough to point this child at the correct gate, I'd be surprised to find someone who cares enough to file a report with the police or to hail down security. We're not talking about putting this kid in a car, we're talking about a little guidance in an airport.

Do you have evidence to support this claim?

Enough people have posted links in this thread. Its also easy enough to search for. However, as mentioned, no matter what you read or infer, if there is a child in distress on an airplane or in an airport the very least you should do is bring it to the attention of airport or airline staff.

This is a very interesting phenomenon.

1) A child approached by an adult man = everyone is alerted.

2) A helpless child that should be helped = nobody cares.

It seems that in case 1 it's more about getting the bad guy then to help the child. This is all sorts of crazy if there is any truth to it. I'd love to see a study on this.

> more about getting the bad guy then to help the child.

Another way to look at it is that the worst outcome of one is the child gets lonely and scared for a small period of time, the worst outcome of the other is they get kidnapped and worse.

That said, I'm playing devil's advocate here, not arguing that the above logic should be used by anyone.

> worst outcome of one is the child gets lonely and scared for a small period of time

Actually the outcome could be the exact same thing in both cases.

The child remains on the aircraft after all other passengers have disembarked. She should then be taken by a member of staff to her connection.

At no time would another passenger be in a position to assist. The only people who could have helped were likely United's staff and the out-sourcing firm (who are also by extension United staff).

The passengers have nothing to do with it. If a kid is seating next to me in an airplane, I won't engage in conversation with her. How would I even know whether she's accompanied or not? A normal assumption would be that her parents were sitting elsewhere, maybe with another kid.

In flights I've been on with obvious unaccompanied children, someone from the flight crew tells the child to stay in his/her seat until everyone else has gotten off the aircraft.

Nobody is responsible for other people's children. Not making sure an unaccompanied minor gets to her next flight is not "lack of human decency".

> Nobody is responsible for other people's children.

He didn't say anybody (other than United) was responsible.

> Not making sure an unaccompanied minor gets to her next flight is not "lack of human decency".

I'd say not helping a fellow human in distress, especially a vulnerable one (such as a child) in a situation where you can help at next to no cost, definitely qualifies for "lack of human decency".

Incorrect. He imposed responsibility on the passengers next to her.

> "I want to know who the the passengers were sitting next to this child were that didn't help her with her transfer."

And, no, you don't know she was in obvious distress, nor do you know the passengers next to her were aware of her problem as they were disembarking.

Not taking the time to help a child to the next gate is normal, any rational actor would expect the airline to take care of it; the fact that they did not does not mean the other passengers lack human decency, what the hell.

I don't think this blog post's headline is quite right.

"Losing a child" is putting a child on BOS-EWR instead of BOS-CLE and not noticing the problem until the child's family in Cleveland calls the parents and the parents call Newark, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2009....

It sounds like what happened here was "causing a child to miss a connection" (and also separately "delaying the delivery of a child's luggage"). This is of course a very bad thing.

Missing the handoff of an UM from the aircraft to their connecting gate is the same kind of service delivery failure that routinely happens to pax with disabilities who, when the third-party wheelchair vendor fails to show up, occasionally may be stuck at a gate waiting for someone for an hour. It's a really bad way for a third-party vendor to fail.

The unaccompanied minor fee is supposed to cover a really, really good white-glove service, so it's really sad to see this break down. The service is supposed to include a gate pass so you can accompany your minor to the gate; a complimentary onboard meal (food-for-purchase these days); careful handoff of the pax by flight crew to the ground staff who are supposed to be waiting to escort them to their connecting gate; and in the rare event of an overnight delay, guaranteed overnight accommodations with airline staff staying with the minor at the hotel. (This last perk is so expensive to the airlines that in the event of irregular operations that require a rebooking, UMs typically get top priority for rebooking, ahead of all other displaced pax.)

Total bummer to see service delivery fail here.

If my luggage didn't make a connection and I arrived at my final destination without it, I would think of it as "lost luggage." Would it matter to me if it was stuck in the connecting airport or sent elsewhere? No, it did not arrive with me, the airline lost it, even if temporarily. In lay person terms, the luggage is lost--the airline lost a child, yes.

Yes, I understand your point -- colloquially, one might say that the "child was lost".

Your mileage may vary, but when someone who works for a company has done something horribly wrong and I'm trying to clean it up, I often find it helpful to be careful with my language so that I can express precisely and correctly what it is that they did wrong.

This is mostly a matter of showing empathy, not being a stickler for technical correctness. When I talk to someone who can fix a horrible mistake, and I show that I understand precisely what went wrong and who's responsible without overreaching, I gain credibility and the person I'm talking to (who is after all a person, if perhaps one who has done something horrible) is more likely to believe that I understand them. If I can express that I know exactly how their system works and what part of it broke, it helps them realize that I'm seeing things from their point of view, and this can help bridge the gap between "my side" and "their side" to help them realize that we're trying to get the same thing done.

I've found empirically that practicing empathy with people makes them more likely to try harder to fix mistakes and gets better outcomes. It also saves a lot of time to be able to say "X happened", which is exactly what happened, and not waste anyone's time re-explaining the problem instead of fixing it.

But, again, this is just a thing that's worked for me in practice (as it happens, mostly with airlines). Concise, precise communication about what went wrong, who's responsible, and what I'd like to fix the problem has helped me get great outcomes dozens of times.

In my mind, "lost" implies that its location can't be figured out at that moment. While airlines certainly do lose luggage like that, many times the airline knows exactly where your bag is but due to operational reasons it didn't make the same plane.

Sometimes it goes on an earlier flight, as was the case with my bag last month flying IAH-LAX on United, a route where United has a dozen flights a day. If you're connecting, your first flight may have been delayed and they couldn't get the bag from one end of the airport to the other.

I'm not trying to say the situation doesn't suck but there is a certain logic, twisted it may be, to airline operations.

And I'm certainly not trying to defend United's actions in this instance.

Total bummer to see service delivery fail here.

You are logically correct. From the parent's point of view the initial impression was 'lost'.

They put the kid on the plane in one airport, she failed to show up at the destination. This was all the parents knew for several hours.

This kind of first impression is going to stick with a person, and it's going to be retold that way.

Yes, it's great to be able to attract a lot of consumer attention by telling a good story -- the "United Breaks Guitars" guy certainly proved that! There is an even better option that I would be fascinated to hear whether this blogger used: the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Airline Service Complaint form, or the "DoT complaint", http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/problems.htm.

Domestic airlines treat statistics about these complaints as a core KPI. As a result, filing a DoT complaint has a few distinct advantages over just writing a blog post and hoping it catches on: (1) it guarantees you a response from a senior executive, (2) you can present the facts exactly the way you want (something this blog post complains was impossible when asking a customer service rep to file an internal complaint), (3) aggregate statistics about DoT complaints become public record and can help other people make informed decisions about where to spend their travel money.

In my experience, when you file one of these forms, you get a response within a week from a senior executive in Houston who has read your entire complaint, has investigated the problem, and is empowered to fix it.

It's good for other consumers to file one of these complaints, in addition to writing a blog post, because the aggregate information the DoT publishes can help consumers make better decisions. We actually have data to show that this person's horrible experience was not an isolated incident of a few misbehaving staff who did not represent the company; instead, the data suggest a pattern of increasingly scary service delivery failures. In the first half of 2012, United's DoT complaint numbers doubled year-over-year, according to the DoT's latest Air Travel Consumer Report. (See discussion at e.g. http://consumerist.com/2012/08/united-airlines-now-responsib...).

To loop things back around: the "United lost a ten-year-old" headline would be totally unnecessary in a DoT complaint, because it would rapidly reach an expert who understood the real problem and knew how to fix it.

There is an even better option that I would be fascinated to hear whether this blogger used: the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Airline Service Complaint form, or the "DoT complaint",

I had no idea there was such a thing. I'll file that data away, just in case.


This may sound like a stupid question, but what does 'pax' mean? I presume it's something like 'traveler' or 'client' or something similar, but was really curious what it was short for / meant.

As for the rest of your post, it was really interesting: I had no idea that there was so much involved in handling a UM (an acronym I learned about 5 minutes ago :) ).

what does 'pax' mean?


I don't know how accurate it is, but this article


provides an explanation of the chronic financial problems that airlines find themselves in. Briefly, the senior pilots get to negotiate their own pay rates, and since they have the airlines over a barrel they always wind up taking any profit themselves.

Of course that means that airline management is permanently strapped for cash and has to spend the bare minimum on everything else.

Simon Sinek in his book makes very similar observations and also has his take on why this is happening and how to fix it.

The book is at http://www.startwithwhy.com/

TL;DR folks this is the "trailer" for the book: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/en//id/848

Not really surprising, in my opinion once these organizations become large enough that diffusion of responsibility become institutionalized. It doesn't necessarily indicate that the individuals don't care, just that they feel that it isn't their responsibility to do so.

I flew on U.S. Airways a few weeks back. Lining up to board the plane, a passenger noticed someone left a purse at the gate. A passenger said to the U.S. Airways attendent, "Do you think it makes sense to announce to the gate and the plane that someone left a purse? Maybe someone will come and pick it up." The attendent shrugged his shoulders and kind of said, "meh, not my problem."

This is the kind of rage-inducing stuff that makes you want to choke a flight attendant.

I cannot even imagine what it would feel like to be told over the phone that the company lost your child, and the baggage, and that they don't really care... or even think it's a big deal.

As someone who is dating a flight attendant, may I say: Please don't choke a flight attendant. They are absolutely the least culpable people involved with airline incompetence.

At least for Delta, flight attendants' primary compensation is based on scheduled flight time. Not actual flight time. Not tarmac time. Not delay time. Scheduled flight time. And even then, only with passengers!

So when you're stuck at the gate, waiting for some nincompoop to fetch the jet bridge, and you start giving the flight attendants hell, you need to understand that waiting there sucks for them too. They have only a few short hours to get a half night's sleep and enjoy the destination; the only perk that justifies their lifestyle. The rest of their job boils down to glorified waitress and underpaid babysitter.

If you think you've got a travel horror story, you ain't got nothing on a flight attendant. One night, my girlfriend's phone woke us up at 3 AM. She was on call and was needed immediately for a flight from Anchorage (we're in Seattle). It's about 40 minutes to the airport and this was a "short call", meaning she needed to be there in less than 2 hours! She and 5 of her co-workers, had to jump out of bed and haul ass to the airport where they boarded an empty flight to Anchorage. They were there to relieve a crew that didn't receive the legal minimum rest time due to a weather delay. While they were in the air, scheduling decided "fuck the FAA regulations" and put the overworked crew back on a plane anyway. So my girlfriend's crew arrives, finds that the flight they were supposed to work has already departed, and the pilot who brought them required a legal rest period. So they were required to spend the night in Alaska and take another empty flight home. It was the dead of winter, so it was far too cold to go anywhere outside the hotel. All in all, the crew received one days worth of per diem and no compensation for either flight, as they were "dead heading", which is unpaid. That per diem is fixed for "domestic" travel, so it's relative value varies by destination. It generally doesn't even cover the cost of meals in Alaska.

Fuck airlines.

>As someone who is dating a flight attendant, may I say: Please don't choke a flight attendant.

Everyone is responsible for their own actions. It doesn't matter if those are your "orders", you're still completely responsible if you carry them out.

My first flight was unaccompanied at 10 years old, to Maine via Boston. All the airline's flights were delayed indefinitely due to some malfunction. A stewardess took my brother and I around Boston airport and kept an eye on us for 6 hours while things got straightened out. I've had respect for Delta ever since, even if all the people involved are long gone.

O'Hare is gigantic airport. And, I know from experience that some flights from O'hare to GRR are running tight,sometimes as little as 10 minutes before the connecting flight taxis. I once sprinted through O'Hare to catch a connecting flight to GR. So I'm not surprised at all by this.

That's a valid excuse for missing the connection. Not so much for anything else.

I'm not United's biggest fan, but this story sounds one-sided.

I know for a fact that flight attendants have procedures where a child is handed off from person-to-person, by signature. The agent comes with the child and paperwork, gives it to the FA, and then when the plane arrives at a new location, the paperwork and the child are handed off to the next person. This article does not mention any of the procedures, but I know they exist -- If a flight attendant loses a child, her job is on the line. The company does care.

2 months back my 13-year old nephew flew from USA to India as an unaccompanied minor in Lufthansa, with a flight changeover in Frankfurt. This is a 21 hour journey. It went off without a hitch. In fact, Lufthansa staff took good care of him, and he had a great time.

scary story.

Reminded me of this kid's story (almost same age):


This shouldn't be on HN. Flagged.

Yes, the Management should feel like the scum they are.

So should all the self-serving, money-grubbing, union-busting, career-exporting, not-in-my-backyard scum that have come to infest the U.S.

You want to blame someone? Look in the damned mirror, reader.

I think the moral of this story is not to send your 10 year old unaccompanied on an airplane...

The responsibility lies with the parents. What are they doing sending a child so young alone? United is not a baby-sitting service.

> United is not a baby-sitting service.

They are, the parents very specifically opted into (and paid for) United's $99 "baby-sitting" (unaccompanied minor) service. Let me quote from the parents's letter:

> The United personnel who gave her the wristband and instructions told her very loud and clear to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times”.

I don't think this even needs additional emphasizing, it stands on its own.

United has a service where someone acts as a baby-sitter for the child. The story is about how that service failed and how United Airlines recovered from that failure.

"recovered" heh

The child was going to camp. Is it reasonable to expect the parents to spend the money and time to fly to and from the destination? When I was eight years old I flew unaccompanied between Butte, MT and Los Angeles. It involved two different airlines (including United) and stops in Spokane, Portland and San Francisco. I got there and back without a hitch. My parents couldn't afford the extra tickets or the time off from work. Airlines have been dealing with unaccompanied minors for a long time. It's really not hard.

There are such things as services to ensure that unattended children are looked after. United have a duty of care towards the child. Let me put it this way - if a school "lost" a child, they'd be damned sure to raise a ruckus when they found out. United offers a service to ensure unaccompanied minors get to their destination, and they damned well better make sure it works 100% of the time. And if it doesn't, they'd better have smoothly operating contingency plans to fix the matter.

Are you fucking joking? Yes, perhaps the parents shouldn't have sent the kid, should have gotten a cell phone etc. But there is ZERO excuse for what happened to that child at the hands of United, in a service they provide and charge for. This isn't a black and white issue, though using percentages, fault is 85+% United, 15-% parents.

> This isn't a black and white issue

How's it not? As you noted United charge for an unaccompanied minor service[0], the parents believed everything was squared and United completely dropped the ball. Had the service not existed they could have opted to not send the child to camp, try to get what to do drilled into her and sent her on her own or found somebody to accompany. Then they could have been at fault if things had gone wrong.

But here? I fail to see how any fault can be put on the parents. We can debate between the fault being 100% United or 80% United and 20% bad luck, but the parents? Not in the presentation of the article.

[0] And the complaint letter adds details:

> The United personnel who gave her the wristband and instructions told her very loud and clear to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times”.

I say not black and white b/c as a parent I would have taken extra precautions. The cell phone being a notable one. Also, some written instructions to give to people (police, security etc) in case of emergency is just another that comes to mind. Perhaps they did these (or other things), I don't know, but it didn't sound like it.

Even so, you're right. It should be like 99% United, 1% parents.

They actually are, or they pretend to be. They charge a $99 unaccompanied minor fee.

Why didn't the parents give the kid a cellphone? There's no way I'd just leave my kid to travel alone on a flight, let alone without a cell phone.

How on earth did people travel some ten or twenty years ago I wonder? You know, before cellphones were widespread or even affordable? For fuck's sake, children aren't dumb. Always treating them as if they are results in them not growing into independent adults.

Besides, unaccompanied flights are awesome as a child. I did that once, don't remember how old I was. Flew with the German Lufthansa from my parents to my grandparents. You can't imagine how adult I felt, flying (almost) all alone. I remember the attendants were all friendly and helpful, and the gentleman next to me even swapped his seat with me so I could look out of the window. It was a valuable and memorable experience.

They are quite awesome. I remember my childhood flights as well

Me too, I traveled to Europe unattended (from South America) when I was 11, all flight crews were great, passengers were very friendly and it was an awesome experience.

Still doesn't address the key issue which was noone at United cared enough or had the initiative to deal with the problem of a missing child / missed flight situation and left the children unattended.

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