A traveler speaks on the phone as he views the...

A traveler speaks on the phone as he views the arrival and departure board at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco on Jan. 22, 2016. Credit: AP

And now this?!

The United Airlines debacle is more than a case study in bad business practices. It’s a metaphor for the country. We’re cranky. We feel put-upon. And we resent that air travel is increasingly segmented into haves and have-nots. We can pay more to get through security faster. We can pay more for a little more legroom. We can pay more for extra bags. But on some flights, even water isn’t free.

That’s why millions of Americans reacted with sputtered indignation when they watched one of the endlessly replayed videos of a man dragged violently off a full United Airlines flight in Chicago, and when they saw a clueless chief executive blame the victim, a bad move no matter whether the passenger responded well to his bloody removal. They were instantly transported to all the crowded cabins of their own travel nightmares, and felt a visceral disgust at the latest of the thousand indignities foisted on the flying public by a deregulated industry that might be offering cheaper fares but a more miserable experience.

Shrinking leg room, disappearing meals, ever-expanding fees, long security lines, hours trapped on the tarmac — all of it compounded now by spring break crowds and the Delta disaster in which bad weather down South followed by bad management by the airline led to days of cancellations that cascaded through the industry.

The news — that United forced four ticketed passengers already seated on that flight to Louisville to get off to make room for four company employees — hit like a sucker punch. And the company was allowed to do it because with few exceptions, carriers set the rules. In similar situations, airlines offer compensation to entice volunteers to deplane. United tried that, but it clearly didn’t try hard enough. Had it upped the ante, it surely would have found more takers.

But the viral vitriol that ensued was not in vain. United’s stock plunged, recovering only partly, and the chief executive was forced to make a profuse apology and promised to re-examine company policy.

Chalk one up for the fliers of those friendly skies.

— The editorial board