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The United Airlines Situation and Parallels Within IT

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The United Airlines Situation and Parallels Within IT

United recently forcibly removed a passenger from a flight. While a PR disaster, given how much we favor convenience, not much is likely to change. The same goes for IT.

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Recently, a routine United Airlines flight from Chicago (IL) to Louisville (KY) became the center of a media frenzy and social discussion, when the airline decided to unwillingly bump individuals on the flight so that a crew could assume their seats for a future flight by the airlines. One individual, who did not wish to give up his seat, was forcefully removed from the plane - while mobile phone video cameras captured the events as they unfolded. Not surprisingly, a Wikipedia page has been created to document this incident.

Public Reaction

Reading about and listening to the discussion around this situation has resulted in comments such as:

The public response from United, more defending their action than admitting to a mistake, only increased ire from the general public. But I wonder if they know more than we realize.

The Reality

Like everyone, my initial reaction was in line with those thoughts above. The situation reminded me of the days when fuel stations continued to raise gasoline prices — calling for the public to attempt to not buy gas on a particular day. An event that did not have the financial impact that was expected.

However, as I thought about this more, I wonder if United Airlines believe that PR issues do not have the impact we believe they actually do. I thought about the following situations:

  1. What if I am looking for a flight and the United Flight is lower than the competition? Will I really pay more of my money just to show United Airlines I remember flight 3411?

  2. What if United has the only direct flight? Will I be willing to spend more time at the airport to reach my destination — just to teach United Airlines a lesson?

  3. What if the only departure flight that matches my needs is a United flight? Will I actually drive to another airport so that I can keep my money out of United Airlines' pocket?

In all three cases, I believe most would not be willing to pay more, take a longer flight or drive to another airport — when their time and money is put to the test.

Similarities With Information Technology

The situation with United Airlines made me wonder if we are dealing with similar issues within Information Technology. Three concepts came to mind: software licensing, proprietary technology, and cloud computing.

  • Software licensing: Whether paying traditional software licensing fees or paying for software/platform/whatever-as-a-service, customers are required to pay on a periodic basis to continue to legally utilize the service being provided. At times, the customer feels in control to negotiate better pricing, but in the end, the vendor must agree to the terms and ultimately maintains control over the situation.

  • Proprietary technology: Over the years, companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple have had their share of proprietary technology. Focusing on hardware alone, there have been periods of time where the associated hardware and peripherals were produced by the vendor — with some elements being produced by others, but licensed by the vendor as well. Meaning, when the third-party elements are sold — licensing terms would return a portion to the vendor. Again, the customer was bound to the terms the vendor created.

  • Cloud computing: With cloud computing, the barrier to entry is very attractive and I am an advocate of cloud computing for the benefits the approach brings to Information Technology. Where I have heard challenges with cloud computing is when companies attempt to move away from the cloud concept. This migration process tends to be more involved than one might expect - with the control fully in the hands of the cloud provider.

In each of these cases, there is really no alternative toward utilization of the service or product being offered. There are competitors, but similar situations exist with the competition. In the end, we have to accept these terms in order to do business with the providers of the technology or service.


The fallout from United Express Flight 3411 has uncovered a practice utilized by the airline industry that has caused few issues over the years. In this case, the results have led to a challenge with public relations. However, I believe United Airlines understands the real cost to PR issues and that it may not have the impact that we expect (or hope) to happen — including the rare case where an individual is forcefully removed from his seat on the airline to make way for an employee for the airline.

Like United Airlines, software agreements, proprietary hardware manufacturers, and cloud providers are exercising their options to maintain a steady revenue stream to compete in a very competitive world.

In all cases, we as the consumer are the ones who end up paying.

What are your thoughts? Do you see similar situations in your day-to-day life as an Information Technology professional?

Have a really great day!

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cloud ,cloud computing ,software licensing ,proprietary

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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