Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bye-Byes to the Friendly Skies

For thirty-five years of my professional career I was a very busy flier, traveling around the nation and, occasionally, globally, to pursue my profession and support my family.  I started before there were anything like frequent-flier clubs, so I didn't care much what airline I flew then.

I packed an OAG in my briefcase in the late 1970s.  I don't know if there even is such a thing as an OAG anymore, but the abbreviation is for the Official Airline Guide, a monthly publication listing every flight from every airline, going anywhere.  There's probably something like it online these days, but back then before Al Gore's Amazing Internet, it was maybe a 3" by 8" soft-cover bound booklet, listing all the flights anywhere, in an arcane coding system.

If you were in Indianapolis and needed to get to Dallas, the OAG would give you all the flights, their times, stops, airlines, aircraft and service available, as long as you could decipher the coding.  So yes, I flew a lot, and that was my life and my profession.

Once the affinity programs kicked in, I got frequent-flier cards from all the major airlines.  But realizing that you needed to focus on one single one to get the best status, I settled on United, which had a hub right there at Washington-Dulles, from where I could get to most all of  the places I needed to go.

Over those years, I flew over 580,000 miles with United alone, far more than needed to go to the moon and back.  Many years I flew with them at the 50,000 mile-per-year level, getting upgraded almost all the time and treated with a measure of respect.  Although my flying tapered off in recent years for work, I still looked to United as my main carrier.

I have had a lot of good experiences with them, too.  My best girl and I went to Hawaii while I had a trade show there that required a small level of my time; the flight over to the islands was an upgraded trip that is a great memory two decades since (and the topic of a previous piece last year).

So it was with great sadness that I read last week that United Airlines had no more spine than a jellyfish.  Tweaked by one of the activist kids at the high school in Florida where last week's shootings took place, United decided to end its relationship with the NRA, wherein members (as is the case with myriad other organizations) received modest discounts on airfare.

No longer will those members, law-abiding firearms owners exercising their Second Amendment rights, be regarded as valuable customers by United.

Now, I was an NRA member for almost all my youth, as an avid recreational and competitive target shooter.  I joined again decades later for a few years, when I lived where I was doing target shooting with my sons.  I am not currently a member, so the actions of the airline do not affect me.

But I have utter contempt for spineless wimps, and I am disgusted by a company as big as United making stupid decisions that devalue its own business, influenced by idealistic children with half their brains still uncongealed drool glands.  I am flabbergasted that such a company would fail to realize that people vote with their wallets, and they do so without hesitation in a competitive environment ... like airlines.

So on Monday I sent this tweet to United:

@United -- I am notifying you, United Airlines, that after 600,000 miles on your airline I will never again buy a ticket and fly with you. I detest wimpy companies too able to be strong-armed by leftist bullies who have accomplished nothing. #NRASavesLives  #NRA

I didn't bother to look to see how many other people have done the same, but I assume there are many who have, and I daresay that few, if any, will decide to fly United because they stopped their program with NRA members.  From a business standpoint, it is appalling; and if I held stock in United I would be questioning the sense of keeping it.  Their management may sleep better, but only until their Board of Directors starts looking at the lost revenue and scratching their heads.

The NRA did not cause, nor did they influence, the Florida shooting.  The shooter appears to have had a serious mental issue, whose expression was so clear that both the local sheriff's office and the FBI were alerted.  They knew not just that he was a community risk, but that he was at direct risk of being a school shooter, and said he was going to do so.

In terms of responsibility, in descending order we find the shooter, the shooter, the shooter, the sheriff's office, the FBI, the deputy who stayed outside while firing was going on, and so on down the line.  The NRA is far, far down that list.

But tomorrow, if the sheriff there in Broward County wants to get on a United flight, he'll get the discount negotiated by the National Sheriff's Association, to which we assume he belongs, and whom United, along with Hertz (another spineless outfit, that also just lost my business when they dropped their NRA members' discount program) and many others, offers to its members.

The sheriff is decidedly more accountable for the deaths in that high school than the NRA.  But NRA members lost their discounts, while the sheriff will continue to get lower prices from United.  Now, I do not advocate for United to drop its discount for members of the sheriffs' organization, but I also condemn their advocacy in dropping the NRA member discount program.

United should have stepped far, far away from making political statements, no matter what some kid from the high school tells them to do.  They are an airline.  In bowing to mob mentality, they simply empowered the notion that the bully really does have the power.

They will lose far more business than they will ever gain by this action.  They have been embarrassed as a company and shown to be incompetent to manage the investment of their shareholders.  Airlines are a pretty challenging business to be in.  The margins are tight, the competition is fierce, and ticking off customers is a pretty stupid practice.

But hey, it's their choice.  And I have a choice, too.  Bye, bye, United.  Fly safe without me.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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  1. I'm keeping a list of said companies and will not do business with any of them. Money talks!

    1. Yes, and cowardice walks. As I mentioned, I also cancelled by account with Hertz and checking through the list of others so that if any are ones I use, that relationship will end.