Believe me, I never thought I’d write about something as inane as the ‘United Airlines versus three interline traveling girls ignoring their dress code policy’ issue, but here I am. I’m not suggesting that leggings will bring down an airliner. However, the political correctness nonsense and the pressure to control the conversation are driving us to make decisions based on saving face, not lives.
This exaggerated controversy by celebrities is representative of what is wrong with the main stream media and social media today; indeed, it’s what’s wrong with public safety. Let’s look at the insipid argument: an anti-gun organization founder who was on the aforementioned flight tweeted that the ban was, ‘sexist, ridiculous and an unfair decision’ and told the Washington Post that the Interline policy ‘sexualizes little girls.’ Seriously?!
So far celebrities, e.g. William Shatner, Patricia Arquette, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, and a celebrity by the name of Chrissy Tiegen (I have no idea who she is) joined the bandwagon to defend the young girls breaking of the rules, converting it into something beyond the true nature of the controversy and turning the heat up on an airline for something so absurd, it makes you wonder: Is there no limit to what celebrities will defend in the name of Ignorance? At what point do we put aviation safety aside to appease the celebrity community?
Several years ago, Alec Baldwin refused to turn off his cell phone on a flight, berating the flight attendant until the airline removed him from the flight. That story about poor Alec Baldwin lasted for weeks; he played the martyr to an illegitimate cause. And for what? Because Mr. Baldwin ignored the requirement mentioned in a safety briefing moments before.
The reason electronic devices are to be turned off is because of the interference they cause to the airliner’s electrical systems. Whether Alec Baldwin – or anyone else, for that matter – agrees with this safety assessment or not is irrelevant. I agree with it because I’ve dealt with the electronic systems of new age aircraft; many of the systems operate on the level of microamps, which is one one-millionth of an ampere of current, that is 0.000001 amps; they are very susceptible to unshielded power sources. To give this proper perspective, when I worked on some of the avionics equipment in the Electronics bay on digital airliners, I had to wear static dischargers; these wrist-straps allowed static electricity on my body and clothes to discharge to the aircraft so that the circuitry in the computers didn’t get FRIED. So, the bottom line is, some of this equipment is very sensitive to currents and radio waves used in the aircraft that are not discharged properly. This is why what Mr. Baldwin did was so important; his selfishness was putting the safety of all onboard that airliner at risk.
As an FAA Inspector conducting safety checks on passenger airliners, I’ve witnessed at least three people removed from airliners for refusing to power down their electronic devices. They lost their seat because Alec Baldwin and his celebrity kin raised their inexperienced voices to ward off the ‘unfair’ safety practices of the airlines.
Is it because of ‘sexism’ or ‘profiling’ that airlines and airport security act the way they do? In November 2001, I was pulled out of the boarding line because I have a dark complexion and a beard; it was exactly two months after 9/11 and I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma; I was working for the NTSB on the American Airlines 587 accident; I was in town to investigate American’s hangar facility. Two months prior, I worked in Shanksville, PA, The Pentagon and the Twin Towers terrorist sites. I didn’t cry about profiling or even flash my government credentials, but accepted the ‘inconvenience’ in the name of safety.
Celebrities exert the same pressure that has enabled untrained animals to fly as ‘comfort’ animals, a complete distortion of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many legitimate people who are handicapped or served with distinction earned the right to have a trained pet accompany them. Now, every selfish person crying that they need their pet with them has corrupted an Act meant for worthy individuals; these ‘comfort’ animals serve no extraordinary purpose; they only serve the owner’s purpose of keeping the animal with them during the flight.
However, when an emergency breaks out, these animals represent a very real and critical danger to all aboard in an evacuation. The ‘comfort’ animals come in many varieties, e.g. dog, cat, Shetland pony, pig and even a turkey. Let’s use the turkey as an example: the talons on a turkey are sharp and long; the bill is narrow and sharp and can deliver a deep wound; turkeys have weight and can do unnecessary damage to anyone the turkey sees as a threat, even a child that wants to pet it. And do we know the anatomy of an animal enough to know how it reacts to various conditions of a flight, e.g. cabin air pressure changes, lights/sounds, flight crew announcements, turbulence or even the owner’s need to use the restroom (what does he do with Tom Turkey? Bring the turkey into the bathroom or ask the person next to him to hold the turkey?)
What happens when a dog, cat or turkey gets loose in a smoke-filled cabin in an emergency landing situation? Survival instinct will kick in and they will attack other passengers trying to evacuate; they will get under foot or enhance the confusion in a highly frustrating and chaotic situation. If you haven’t been in an emergency evacuation simulation, believe me, it’s unnerving to get to the emergency exit even when you know you will survive. Someday a situation like this will occur; in my opinion, the deaths and injuries of innocent children and other passengers will be a hard question for the FAA and the airlines to answer.
But let’s get back to the leggings incident: Interline rules have been around for decades, since before I was in elementary school; even though I worked for an airline, I don’t enjoy that benefit. Dress codes were mandatory – that’s it, end of story. ‘I’m With Stupid’ T-shirts and frayed shorts were on the no-go list for interline travelers; dress shirts and pants were required. Why? Because it’s a matter of professionalism and company image. These were – and are – small inconveniences for free travel and NO ONE complained in all those years. My opinion: These selfish young girls should have their interline privileges revoked permanently, the punishments should not be negotiable, no matter how trivial they may appear.
As for United Airlines? United’s intention to stick to the rules in the face of celebrity shaming should be applauded. Why? Because if they were willing to risk public ridicule for something so trivial that affects no one else but Interline employees, then how far are they willing to go to protect the lives of their passengers and crew when it comes to a real issue of aviation safety?
There are many terrorists willing to force profiling issues; there are people wanting to transport illegal substances or devices who will cry, “Discrimination,” when forced to submit to further scrutiny. And there are people – especially celebrities – who will bully flight attendants, the very professionals who are there for their protection.
And to those celebrities? Do us all a favor and get your facts straight before you open your mouth. After that, do the world a favor and Shut Up!