You want to see people angry? Like really, truly seething? Give them a story that exists where air travel and abuse of power intersect. Give them ordinary folks trying to get from point A to point B, pitted against flight personnel enacting brittle policies. Give them kids with leggings, awkward pat downs, and YouTube stars speaking Arabic. Then watch as their collective disdain for the entire aviation industry pours forth across social media.
Airlines greet us when we’re at our worst — the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and the tempest-tossed travelers, racing between connections. Then they offer up similarly agitated humans to assert protocols that are muddled at best. It’s not a shock that we have so many airport-related dramas, it’s a shock that we have so few.
Sometimes, our shared rage at this treatment seems to outpace the issue at hand — we accuse TSA agents of pedophilia as casually as we accuse baggage handlers of tossing our suitcases around. Sometimes it exists in a murky gray area, as it did when YouTuber Adam Saleh was ejected from a plane for either “speaking Arabic” as he claimed, or “being disruptive” as the airline asserted. Then there are times when our anger seems fully justified, like yesterday when a United Airlines passenger was dragged off of a plane by law enforcement when he refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.
Looking at the United video, it’s not too difficult to understand why the public generally hates airlines.The agenda of these companies is to maximize dividends and they often do so at the expense of passengers. This has been exacerbated by the fact that the industry is an oligopoly, with four major players owned by the same few power-wielding stakeholders. In pursuit of profits, these giant, consumer-facing brands can seem terribly rigid or devoid of compassion.
“Flying,” we grumble, as the person in front of us jams his seat into our kneecaps, “is the fucking worst.”
But though the airlines rarely seem in a hurry to do us any favors, there are still important questions to ask of ourselves as we “partake in the miracle of human flight,” namely: What do we want from our carriers? What do they want from us? And where do these two competing interests overlap?