Mike Rowe ‘terrified’ over United Airlines debacle — but for a reason some might not expect

Mike Rowe, host of “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” addressed the United Airlines debacle on his Facebook page, responding Monday to a reader who asked him, “Were you as disturbed as I was? How can a company treat their customers like that and remain in business? I know you fly all the time — what would [you] do if you were the CEO?”

Rowe acknowledged that he didn’t enjoy seeing the passenger dragged down the aisle by security and that he was bothered initially because of “the obvious ease with which it could have been avoided. A little common-sense and the freedom to apply it could have resolved this situation in a dozen different ways.”

Dr. David Dao is dragged off a United Airlines flight. (Image source: YouTube screen cap)
Dr. David Dao is dragged off a United Airlines flight. (Image source: YouTube screen cap)

However, after he watched United CEO Oscar Munoz on Sunday telling ABC News that passenger David Dao “did nothing wrong,” Rowe said now he’s “no longer disturbed … I’m merely terrified.”

Why, you ask?

Rowe said that Munoz, by saying Dao did nothing wrong, “suggested that millions of passengers are under no obligation to follow a direct command from United employees. And that’s a hell of a lot more disturbing than a beat-down in the main cabin.”

More from Rowe:

Here’s the thing. It’s easy to forget that we have no right to fly. Buying a ticket doesn’t change that. So, when we board the plane, we have no right to remain there. We can be legally removed if we’re too drunk, too loud, too creepy, too suspicious, or too big for the seat. We can be removed if we stink. We can be removed if we’re insubordinate. We can be removed for whatever reason the airline deems necessary.

Obviously, airlines don’t like to remind us of such things, because it makes them sound mean. So they bury the truth in the fine print of a 37,000-word contract, and tell us how much they love us in sappy commercials and mandatory safety briefings that try oh-so-hard to make us smile. But the facts are clear: If you want to travel by air, you must agree to do what you’re told. If you don’t, you subject yourself to fine, arrest, constraint, forcible removal, and/or a permanent ban from the friendly skies. It’s all there in the fine print.

Personally, I support this policy. I support it because I don’t want to fly across the country in a steel tube filled with people who get to decide which rules they will follow and which they will ignore. I’ve been on too many flights with too many angry people to worry about the specific circumstances of their outrage, or the details of why they took it upon themselves to ignore a direct command. A plane is not a democracy, and the main cabin is no place to organize a sit-in. The main cabin is a place to follow orders.

While Rowe noted that “the policies that led to this particular fiasco need to change,” he emphasized that “what matters most to me is a heightened respect for the rules, and a heightened respect for the people who enforce them.” Otherwise, Rowe said there’s potential for “anarchy.”

“And I have no interest in flying with anyone who doesn’t follow orders,” he said. “Do you? Does anyone?”

More from Rowe:

Let me say it again. United made a business decision that was unbelievably, incomprehensibly stupid, and now they’re paying for it. (Seriously guys – what did you think was going to happen with two hundred citizen-reporters armed with cameras?) Point is, this is how the market is supposed to work. Their stock is down hundreds of millions of dollars, their customers are flying on other carriers, and, according to CNN, they just might be the most hated company in the world today. But that doesn’t mean Dr. Dao ‘did nothing wrong.’ He did. He ignored a direct order from a United representative while sitting on a United plane. He was told to leave and he refused to do so — multiple times by multiple people — all with the proper authority.

Does that mean he deserved a beating? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean he’s innocent. Like the airline, Dr. Dao had options. He had recourse. He could have deplaned and pled his case to the gate agent. But he didn’t. He chose resistance. That was dumb. United chose confrontation. That was dumber. Now, here we are. Dumb and Dumber.

Rowe offered several different ways United could make things right, but he stressed that apologizing for enforcing the rules shouldn’t be one of them.

“I’d make damn sure the world understood that passengers on my airline still need to follow the orders given by my people — even if they think those orders are stupid or unfair,” he wrote. “And for that, I would make no apology whatsoever.”

Rowe added a post-script with what United Airlines pilots now should tell passengers over the loudspeakers before takeoff:

“Morning folks, and welcome aboard. This is your Captain speaking. I realize you paid a lot of money to rent the seat you’re currently occupying, but let’s be clear right from the get go — you have no right to be here. We’re glad that you are, but I don’t care how much you paid to fly with us today, or what you think you might be entitled to as a result. I’m in charge of this plane, and everyone on it. That includes you. So — if a flight attendant asks you to do something, don’t argue — just do it. We’ll try to make your flight as comfortable as possible, but make no mistake — your comfort is not our priority, and neither is your opinion about the decisions we make during the journey. As for safety, you’ll be pleased to know I have much to live for, and so does my co-pilot. So rest assured — we’ll be doing all we can up here to get ourselves back on the ground in one piece. That’s good news for the rest of you, assuming we can keep the main cabin attached to the cockpit. Finally, we value your business here at United, sincerely. And we appreciate the trust you’ve placed in us. But let’s not guild the lily. For the next few hours, we’re all in this together, so keep your hands to yourself, don’t get drunk, and listen to the flight attendants. In other words, try not to be an a**hole. I’ll see you on the ground…”