Why Are Politicians Staying Silent About the United Fiasco?

April 11, 2017

by Jon Schweppe


Like many of our readers at The National Pulse, I have been following the United Airlines story obsessively. If you are somehow living under a rock and don’t know the details, here are the cliffnotes:

  • United inadvertently overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville and, after boarding everyone, asked for four volunteers to leave the aircraft, offering $400 in travel vouchers for the inconvenience. No one budged.
  • Instead of increasing their offer, United randomly chose four paying passengers to lose their seats.
  • Three of the passengers begrudgingly agreed to leave their seats and deplane the aircraft. One did not.
  • United brought in several police officers, including one in plain clothes, to handle the situation and remove the passenger, at which point this happened:

Several issues could be — and have been — addressed on this. Did United handle this altercation properly? (No.) Should airlines be allowed to overbook flights and deny a paying customer the seat they were promised? (Opinions vary.)

But here at The National Pulse, we’re also interested in the political angle. However, that’s been a difficult angle to find because, right now, very few politicians are weighing in on this story. In fact, we have been able to find just four politicians in Washington who have publicly commented on the debacle, one of whom isn’t even a real Member of Congress (sorry, D.C., you’re not a state). Four.

This is a nonstop 24/7 national news story right now. Why are media-hungry politicians who like to weigh in on everything suddenly staying silent about a viral story?

Well… this might explain it.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the airline industry donated more than $3.6 million at the federal level during the 2014 election cycle. That number increased to more than $6.3 million in 2016. Additionally, the industry spent $27.3 million on lobbying efforts in 2016.

These donations and lobbying efforts go across party lines, demonstrating the true power of the airline industry in Congress, with many of these contributions specifically targeting party leaders. Take a look at just some of the top recipients of contributions from the airline industry during the 2016 election cycle:

  • Hillary Clinton, $598,781
  • Donald Trump, $220,567
  • Bernie Sanders, $176,747
  • Ted Cruz, $164,148
  • Marco Rubio, $50,277
  • John McCain, $49,660
  • Chuck Schumer, 48,016
  • Paul Ryan, $44,390
  • …and many, many more.

No wonder politicians are staying out of this one. It would appear, at least for some, it’s all about the money.

UPDATE: President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer weighed in this afternoon:

Clearly when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled… Watching another human being dragged down an aisle, watching blood come from their face after hitting an armrest, I don’t think there’s a circumstance you can’t sit back and say ‘this probably could’ve been handled a little bit better,’ when you’re talking about another human being.

Spicer said that President Trump had seen the video. He added that the White House does not believe the situation requires federal intervention at the present time.


Jon Schweppe is the Director of Government Affairs for American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @JonSchweppe

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