When United Airlines decided to remove that passenger by force, the result was that it lost something like $650,000,000 in market capitalization, probably millions of customers, untold damages in a future lawsuit, and future millions spent on PR—all because some low-level employees acted stupidly.

The whole megillah could have been avoided had someone in charge simply upped the voucher offer high enough to get two more volunteers. It took $800 to get the first two volunteers; there was a price at which two more would go. Was that price $1000, or $1500? A first class ticket to Paris? We don't know. But the decision to stop at $800 and instead ask for cops will go down in history as one of the top corporate blunders of all time. Whatever it might have taken to get more volunteers, the price would have been trivial compared to what the event is ultimately going to cost United.

Getting the police in on the act was a second stupidity. But without the first stupidity, neither cops nor anybody else would have been required.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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