Air Travel and Anarchy


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“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Nothing brings out the worst in people like air travel. Sadly, flying has become the crossroads of selfishness and self-righteousness, a road-rage hybrid unmasked, more akin to mob action as a result of being seated together rather than in isolated vehicles, but angry, loose-tempered and looking for a reason to go off just the same. Throw in a fashionable side order of latent outrage at anything individually determined to be offensive and you have the airborne tinderbox that regularly explodes into passenger non-compliance, misconduct, diversion and ultimately, yet another ruined travel experience.

Maybe in days past there was less opportunity to exact compensation for perceived slights. Maybe there’s righteous consumer outrage over the corpcomm buzzword “inconvenience” overlaid on any type of service disaster. Mix the two well, sprinkle with a litigious seasoning and pour into a social media crust, then bake on the internet for less than thirty minutes. We’re serving up outrage–and selfies–get it while it’s hot.

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That tired, sad urban legend-gone-digitally viral cry for attention would be little more than a Spam-ish nuisance except for one elephantine reality: it’s dangerous as hell in flight.

In a world that prizes personal choice, self-importance, sacrosanct self-image, and the all-important digital self-reflection (“That’s us in ____!”), compliance is a dirty word. Problem is, flying is a difficult, at times risky endeavor that relies on discipline and its ugly stepchild, compliance, from the cockpit all way back to the aft lav.

Unfortunately, the all-important “me” is societally- and media-sanctioned, so individual choices are thereby easily disconnected from consequences in the aircraft emergency crew commands as well as in the midair violence wall-papered over in corp-speak as “passenger non-compliance.” That often starts with choices easily blamed these days on those offering the choice rather than those making the choice itself.

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Crewmembers are attacked, other passengers are physically (or worse) assaulted, but the individual acting, “non-complying,” is seldom held responsible for the consequences of an individual choice.  Sadly, it gets so much worse, so much more dangerous.

But I can hear it already: yeah, but I’m me. That’s a two-headed monster–first, the perception that others are the problem and second, that you aren’t one of the “others,” but you are. The command “take nothing with you” in an emergency evacuation is based on the life-and-death certification of the aircraft: 90 seconds, timed with a full load of passengers from evacuation command to everyone safely clear of an aircraft that had no luggage aboard.

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In real life, enough of the “I’m me” others refuse to comply with the command to take nothing with you (“I’m not leaving without my [fill in self-absorbed priority]!”) at the expense of those seated at the far end of the tested, proven, but now destroyed time to escape a burning aircraft. That can and will be fatal, yet the death of some is lower on the hierarchy of self in an “everybody gets a trophy” legacy of some “others.”

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Airline regulatory agencies like the FAA and NTSB do little to actually enforce compliance. Even beyond the glaring headlines attending an aircraft emergency evacuation sabotaged by passenger non-compliance, there’s little that regulators can and will do to eliminate flight risk factors other than to urge passenger “compliance.”

There again, we careen headlong into the absolution of “I’m me.”  The FAA recently recognized the disastrous inflight potential for a lithium ion battery fire in a very commonplace piece of technology. The remedy? Screening? Enforcement? Legal consequences?

Nope. Just, “we told you not to.”

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Granted,  you’re not one of the “others” who’d readily drag their bags along on an emergency evacuation at the risk of other passengers’ lives. You don’t over consume alcohol and disrupt a flight. And you don’t ignore the toothless “prohibition” and bring your very expensive but hazardous phone on board.

But they’re out there, self-justified, media-enriched, societally excused, and dangerous as hell.

Better hope “they” aren’t on “your” flight.

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11 Responses to “Air Travel and Anarchy”

  1. […] samsung galaxy 7, transportation, travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  2. comanchepilot Says:

    I was told by someone close to the SFO Asians crash that in the case of several persons bringing their baggage with them in the evac, those were basically their entire worldly possessions.

    I can understand that motivation.

    I may not agree with it. But I can understand it. Their culture does not have the legal ‘restore your damages’ cure that we have. They don’t know they’ll get their stuff and more …

  3. Kris Cook Says:

    What a classic photo. All you can do is bang your head on something.

    Or shoot everyone who comes off the plane with a bag.

  4. Cedarglen Says:

    Thanks Chris. It had to be said and you finally did so. I’d add: tobacco use was banned decades ago. Perhaps the time has come to ban alcohol as well. There is only one problem with that idea… Your airline and all of the others reap HUGE profits while selling those miniature bottles to folks who have already exceeded their capacity for the stuff. IMO, get the bars out of the airports and off the airplanes and we’ll all be safer for it. Sadly, it won’t happen because there is too much MONEY at stake.

  5. Terri Hodges Says:

    Very scary – so self-centred we don’t see the downside to others…..

  6. Only immense ignorance and total lack of reason can be blamed for the stunning disrespect the flying public has for crews, the aircraft, and the almost incomprehensibly complex ballet that all work together to ensure their well-being. As I’m fond of elucidating (with regular frequency), consider your situation as an airline passenger: you’re hurtling through the sky, in an aluminum tube several miles high and several hundred miles per hour fast, it’s smooth as glass, and you’re sipping an icy gin-and-tonic as you watch video entertainment beamed to your portable screen from space. This remarkable experience—more likely than not thanks to the hard work and discipline of figures like Captain Manno—will conclude with rubber safely and delicately connecting with tarmac at a far-off destination. The mind reels when witnessing how people, to the point of white-hot rage, will find complaint over even minor imperfections with this scenario.

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