America’s airlines have their faults, but they can’t be accused of discrimination. All passengers are treated the same, reduced to cargo, and the beauty part is that the cargo is self-loaded.
Lucie Bahetoukilae, a French tourist who does not speak English, can count herself lucky. She boarded a United Airlines flight in Newark, thinking she was on her way to Paris, and wound up in San Francisco. But she was allowed to get off the plane upright, unlike a United passenger last month who was dragged off a flight, bloody and missing two teeth, kicking and screaming, when he wouldn’t give up his seat to a deadheading United flight crew.
Two United agents had inspected Mrs. Bahetoukilae’s boarding pass, clearly marked “Newark to Charles de Gaulle,” the name of the airport in Paris. Perhaps the crew thought she was visiting an uncle named Charlie.
And it’s not just United. Other airlines seem to be trying to extract that last ounce of pleasure from air travel. Getting there is no fun at all.
An American Airlines “flight attendant,” as stewards and stewardesses are called now, became so frustrated with dealing with a young mother with crying twins in her arms that he swung a baby stroller at her, barely missing the child. Delta Air Lines kicked an entire family off one of its planes, even threatening to have the parents jailed and their children given to foster care if they wouldn’t give up a seat for a standby passenger on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles. Another Delta passenger, this one in Milwaukee, was kicked off a flight when he tried to use a toilet — he “really, really needed to go,” he told a stewardess — while the plane was waiting to taxi to a runway for take-off.
The really, really good news for abused passengers is that other passengers are likely to take a video of the drama, quickly post it on social media and a lawyer or two, or even three, is likely to be waiting at the arrival gate. United announced last week that it had “settled” with the bloodied passenger it dragged off the Chicago flight, but declined to say for how much. The passenger’s lawyer is famous for his settlements, never settling for peanuts, or even cashews.
Delta offered the typical apology for having stranded that family in Hawaii, a bit of boilerplate becoming familiar to the public. “Our flight crews are extensively trained to ensure the safety and security of all customers.” But just not trained enough.
The airlines have become so loosely managed that everyone suffers, beginning with overworked flight crews. Passengers dress like bums, often in tattered short pants and flip-flops. Air travel has exploded, and the planes are getting bigger and bigger, too big for anyone’s comfort. Tempers grow short, and the air aboard is too dry to breathe. Worst of all, lawyers and accountants have taken over the skies, replacing executives who managed as aviators. They took considerable pride in the planes that plied the friendly skies, thinking themselves more than streetcar motormen working for short-term managers, who might have been manufacturing ships, shoes or plumbing supplies only yesterday.
An airline trip was once eagerly anticipated as a brush with glamour and adventure. Now a flight into the clouds can be an adventure, but without the glamour. Passengers embarking on a trip, alas, are well-advised to carry a smartphone with a good camera, and a list of good tort lawyers.
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