By Robert McGarvey
I have been talking with airline elites a lot in the past couple weeks, sorting out their willingness to speak up against the stunning mistreatment of passengers by legacy carriers – read United and American.
The more I have talked, the more I find myself thinking of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, a core building block in leading an ethical life.
With elites I have asked a simple question: since you have status with an airline, are you willing to use it to express distaste for how airlines are treating passengers?
What I have heard, again and again, is no, and “airlines don’t treat me badly.”
Enter Kant, an 18th century German philosopher who usually is ranked among the top five philosophers of all time (along with Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and probably Descartes). Kant has a lot of relevance to where we find ourselves in regard to airlines and he is especially relevant to elites.
Kant would like American passenger Tony Fierro who, witnessing an American Airlines’ flight attendant’s mistreatment of a mother, stood up and defended her. Apparently the flight attendant grabbed the woman’s stroller, possibly hitting her with it and also hitting an infant, according to some eye-witness reports. Fierro stood up, saying: “No, I’m not going to sit here and watch this stuff.”
He said to the flight attendant: “Hey, bud. You do that to me, and I’ll knock you flat.”
Meantime, the union that represents flight attendants issued this statement: “There are really two stories here related to this incident aboard a San Francisco to Dallas flight,” the statement reads. “One, we don’t know all of the facts related to a passenger who became distraught while boarding a plane and therefore neither the company nor the public should rush to judgment.”
The union continued: “Second, it appears another passenger may have threatened a flight attendant with violence, which is a violation of federal law and no small matter. Air rage has become a serious issue on our flights.”
The union statement has been widely excoriated and, really, nothing more needs be said about it.
Except to point out that just maybe the attitude reflected in the statement makes it easier to understand the American flight attendant’s behavior.-
That’s also why we need applaud passenger Fierro.
Things have sunk to incredible lows in the air.
I get that flight attendants are overworked and – very probably – dissed by their own employers. I empathize.
But passengers, too, deserve better. A lot better than they are getting from the legacy carriers in the US.
So where are elites in all of this?
Nowhere to be seen or heard as far as I can tell. I’m not saying every elite I know has taken cover in the fray. But too many have.
They tell me, quite accurately, that they just don’t see themselves suffering such blatantly bad behavior, so what of it
What of it is the Categorical Imperative where Kant advises us to act only in such a way that you can will that action to be a universal law.
Do elites really want everybody just to shrug off the bad behavior many passengers are exposes to on airlines?
That is what they are in effect suggesting with their passive indifference.
The Categorical Imperative says: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law [of nature].”
That means protesting when a Dr. Dao is dragged off a plane in Chicago, or when a mother is apparently hit with her own stroller by a flight attendant. Such behaviors just are wrong – universally wrong, by the way – and the right thing to do is to speak up.
Some elites have told me it just is not their character to make a public scene. Fine. There is no necessity to emulate Fierro. Write an email to the airline’s executives. Or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Or past comments and thoughts to traveler focused websites. There are many ways to get heard and standing up in the aisle and going toe to toe with an irate flight attendant is only one of them.
A non elite, coach class passenger does not have a lot of weight.
An elite with lots of miles in the bank does.
And it’s time to deploy the Categorical Imperative and do the right thing.