Jim -- You probably don't remember me but I interviewed you some years ago on KING Radio in Seattle after you wrote Containing Japan. I'm still writing, and doing a travel blog www.TravelPro.us
and in that context am very interested in your story about the family tossed off a plane for complaining. I wanted to alert you to a similar story, also on United, about a travel blogger tossed off for taking a picture.
Here's my post on the matter.http://www.travelpro.us/2013/03/blogger-thrown-off-united-airlines.html
There have been several incidents of people thrown off for failing to pull up their sagging pants, and other similar seemingly minor issues.
Ironically, federal law requires obeying flight crews WITH REGARD TO SMOKING AND SEAT BELTS ONLY (that's all that is mentioned in the Code of Federal Regulations) and not interfering with or intimidating them in the course of their duties.
It seems we have seen several recent examples (including several on United) of flight crews who are either easily intimidated or think they have much more authority than they actually have. I recently put up a blog post about that aspect of the issue as well, here: http://www.travelpro.us/2013/04/commentary-authority-of-flight-crews.html
I'm happy to discuss further, share thoughts, or whatever. Please feel free to contact me if you're interested. My best contact is CarlDombek@sbcglobal.net.
Thanks, and stay well!