United Airlines chucking a passenger is one of those "internet things everyone has an opinion on."
Two interesting responses. Socialist blogger Carl Beijer asks "Shouldn't capitalists be okay with the United incident?"
Techno-libertarian John Robb considers "How Algorithms and Authoritarianism Created a Corporate Nightmare at United."
The news reports I read weren't clear at all on what happened, particularly that "algorithmic decisionmaking" was at the bottom of this.
Robb explains how it worked:
United employees board a full flight from Chicago to Louisville. A United flight crew headed to Louisville arrives at the gate at the last moment. A corporate scheduling algorithm decides that the deadheading flight crew has priority over passenger fares and that it needs to remove four passengers to make room for them (the flight wasn't overbooked).
United asks for volunteers. A corporate financial algorithm authorizes gate employees to offer passengers up to $800 to take a later flight (offering a bigger incentive wasn't an option). No passenger takes them up on that offer.
United now shifts to removing passengers from the flight non-voluntarily. To determine who gets removed from the aircraft, United runs a customer value algorithm. This algorithm calculates the value of each passenger based on frequent flyer status, the price of the ticket, connecting flights, etc. The customers with the lowest value to United are flagged for removal from the flight (it wasn't a random selection).