Amy Roberts: Fly the disorderly skies
Though it’s not something I’ve experienced, I’ve been led to believe there was a time, decades ago, when air travel was comfortable, luxurious even. Personalized service, gourmet meals served on fine china, complimentary alcohol, spacious seating, in-flight lounges and ample room for your belongings were the norm. People actually dressed up for the opportunity to sit in a sealed tube of secondhand smoke for several hours. The Golden Age of Flying is fondly recalled with a sense of nostalgia, usually in movies depicting life in the 1950s and ’60s.
Today, of course, air travel is more like catapulting through the sky in a porta potty. Space is tight, the lines are ridiculous and you certainly don’t want to touch anything. For the most part, nothing about flying is pleasant. But it appears there’s a concerted effort by some to make it even less so.
Last month the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned airlines and travelers of a “significant” increase in unruly passengers and dangerous in-flight behavior. Since Jan. 1 of this year, the agency says it has received about 2,900 reports of threatening or disruptive conduct, which is quite the upward spike from the typical 100 to 150 reported in an average year. Of those 2,900 reports, roughly 2,200 are attributed to passengers who refuse to comply with the federal mandate that they wear a mask while airborne.
I have flown numerous times in the past 18 months. I have had COVID and since been vaccinated, and many of the places I’ve traveled to require proof of a negative COVID test prior to boarding. It’s safe to say I’m not infected. And yet, like most sane or otherwise not entirely self-absorbed adults, I understand that I have willing purchased a ticket and agreed (multiple times in writing) to comply with the rules prior to doing so. I have made a choice that my destination outweighs the inconvenience of a face covering. Even though wearing a mask might be silly given my personal situation, expecting to be an exception to a federal requirement would be next-level entitlement.
While a pretty big chunk of the FAA’s recent reports is related to mask wearing, roughly 700 are not. That’s still an alarming increase from the status quo — what was once the annual number of incidents is now the monthly number.
A few weeks ago, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant lost two teeth after a passenger punched her in the face. This assault led a few airlines to suspend serving alcohol during flights. Which might help, but the reality is there are bars, lounges and lots of places to buy booze past the security checkpoints. In-flight minis aren’t the most efficient way to drink yourself into a violent rage. And not everyone needs booze to be obnoxious. In another recent incident, a passenger tried to enter the cockpit on a Delta flight, which resulted in an emergency landing. This came just days before an off-duty flight attendant wearing a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads assaulted two flight attendants, took over the intercom and announced he was “going to take the plane down,” on a different Delta flight. In this latest case, passengers said the situation caused the captain to request “all able-bodied men please come to the front of the plane for an emergency.” It was not clear if able-bodied women were preferred to able-bodied men who were not wearing masks.
What is clear, however, is that we seem to be flying through a perfect storm of entitlement, general incivility and a dire need for mental health support coming out of isolation.
The Transportation Security Administration’s mask requirement is in effect until Sept. 13, which means we’ve got several months of turbulence still ahead. Passengers unwilling to honor the mandate should book their ticket on Karen Air. And pay any surcharges added to cover the cost of MMA training for flight attendants.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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The hesitancy among some to be vaccinated reveals another pandemic, Amy Roberts says. “[W]e’d rather double down on being wrong than admit we’ve learned something new and changed our mind.”