Why the United Airlines Incident Was Bound to Happen

April 10th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

The United Airlines incident — which led to the forcible removal of a 69-year-old passenger from an overbooked flight on Sunday — is the product of institutional problems that go beyond any given airline, or so writer Patrick Blanchfield argued this week.

In a string of tweets, Blanchfield made the case that passengers have become complacent about travel security protocols, choosing to focus on the "inconvenience" of invasive screening practices rather than question their "necessity," for example. Failing to challenge those fundamental policies invites abuses, he maintained.

In other words, this isn't just a United Airlines problem. The fact that a passenger was bloodied and dragged off a flight by Chicago aviation police after refusing to deplane is an extreme example of a broader trend: consumers conditioned to accept subtle infringements on civil liberties, and consequently emboldening officials in the security sector.

Increased airport security efforts, especially in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have raised concerns among civil liberty advocates. Though it's difficult to draw a clear parallel between intrusive "pat-down" policies and what happened to the United Airlines passenger on Sunday, Blanchfield's argument is that accepting the "necessity" of such measures leaves the system unchecked and passengers vulnerable to civil rights violations.


Rejecting travel protocols doesn't mean refusing to submit to a pat down at the airport; rather, it means pushing for reforms and policies that could mitigate abuses and improve security.

In 2015, for example, the Travel Security Administration (TSA) failed to detect 95 percent of the fake weapons that federal investigators brought through airport checkpoints, NBC News reported. That doesn't prove that such precautions are unnecessary, but if fundamental security measures fail to achieve their stated goals it does raise questions about accountability.