U.S. airlines have received some well-deserved criticism lately for their routine mistreatment of customers.
Their sins include, but are not limited to: overbooking; tinier and tinier seats; bigger disparities between the comforts of first class swells and the human cargo in economy; and fees, fees, fees. The event that brought all this into focus, of course, was the outrageous assault on a United Airlines passenger who was dragged off a plane last month.
But maybe it’s time air travelers also look in the mirror to see why so many jetliners have become venues for Mile High cage fights. Those folks might see a reflection of the Ugly American. The whiny American. The entitled American.
Just this week, we’ve been treated to a fight night on a plane at Burbank Bob Hope Airport in California that ended with a Southwest Airlines flight attendant buried somewhere in the scrum. At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, passengers started duking it out with sheriff’s deputies and each other after Spirit Airlines canceled hundreds of flights amid a labor dispute with pilots.
On Wednesday, a Kansas City woman went on the evening news to talk about her “humiliation” after she had to pee in a cup on a United Airlines flight last month because she has “overactive bladder,” KCTV News 5 reports. The TV segment - which contains grainy re-enactments of the moment The Cup is passed - said that flight attendants forbid the woman to get up from her seat after takeoff, even though they were handing out drinks. The woman told the TV station that the seat belt light was still on because of turbulence.
The airline, however, told the news station in a statement that the woman had tried to get to the lavatory, in violation of federal regulations, while the April 9 flight was on its final descent.
Before the pee cup, there were the leggings girls, and several diverted flights after fighting broke out over reclining seats and efforts to thwart same with the “knee defender.”
Many of these incidents were captured on video and posted on social media, the many-eyed watchdog that has given us firsthand looks at abuses people endured from the airlines or law enforcement that might otherwise have gone unreported.
But smartphone cameras have captured scenes of a lot of people acting badly, too. Some incidents even have a whiff of having been ginned up to create faux outrage, perhaps for someone’s 15 minutes of Facebook fame or in the hope that the airlines can be shamed into coughing up free seats or more.
“We are definitely seeing a small number of passengers who appear to be manipulating the public outrage at airlines to try to get something, or to disobey crew member instructions,” Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), said Wednesday. “We believe this is unfair to the vast majority of passengers who just show up for a flight that they want to be safe, efficient, uneventful and friendly, and get on with their travel plans.”
Garland said she knew of a recent budget flight where a passenger took a seat in an exit row, which costs more than other seats and to which the passenger was not assigned. A flight attendant told the passenger to return to his seat, and the person complied. But for the rest of the flight, the passenger hurled verbal abuse at the flight attendant, Garland said.
“Because everyone’s on edge, there wasn’t much action taken,” Garland. “It wasn’t a firestorm national media event, but little things like that undermine the role the crew plays in the cabin, which is to enforce federal regulations for the safety and security of everyone on that plane.”
There’s no doubt that the airline monopoly has inflamed everyone’s nerves with its casual callousness toward customers. A day after members of Congress wagged their fingers at United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz and other airline bosses, news broke that American Airlines would soon be shoehorning more passengers into some of their planes.
But the problem - to view the video from Fort Lauderdale and California - is also us.
Fredrick Kunkle runs the Tripping blog, writing about the experience of travel. Freddy’s also covered politics, courts, police, and local government. Before coming to The Washington Post, he worked for the Star-Ledger and The Bergen Record.